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.

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Letters From the Front, And a Hero’s Remembrance

dominick wwiiWhen my grandmother passed away four years ago, she left behind many possessions that my father had to take into his house, and keep in storage. Some of those most prized possessions are documents and letters written by Dominick DeGiorgio, from his time served in World War II.

Dominick was my great uncle, my grandfather’s brother, and the “life of the party” within my immediate family. While he was in training camps here and in combat overseas, he wrote many letters to let the family know he was doing well, and send his love and regards.

Many of the letters are in his native Italian, but a select few were written in English, showing off a skill with a language that was not his first. The letters are poignant,  and at times funny. The one I’ll share with you within this post was postmarked a week prior to his being killed in action.

He survived the D-Day invasion that took place 70 years ago today, but could not stave off the inevitable fate that some will say was God’s plan. War was Hell, and it extinguished a bright life from our family.

This letter in particular was addressed to my grandmother. At the time, I don’t think my grandfather could read English very well.

Words Of A Soldier

Dear Rosa:

A few lines to let you know I’m in the best of health. I hope this finds you, my brother, and Joey the same. I’m sorry for not being able to write more often, but we have been moving fast, and on the go all the time.

I guess you have been reading the papers how we are beating the Germans here in France. Well, this paper that I am writing on is German paper they have left behind while running away from our tanks. You would be surprised if you could see with your own eyes and the things they have left behind so that they could run faster towards Germany.

We have been doing a lot of walking, and some days are very hot, but at night it cools off so much that you need two or more blankets to keep warm. Of course, we don’t sleep much, and when we do, it’s usually without blankets.

Rosa, in your next letter let me know if you received any more mail from my family. I really miss everyone, and wish that I could be more near all of you.

I hope that this war soon ends, and then we can all start over again, just as if there had been no war at all.

The people that we free here in the cities are very happy. Did you see the newsreel of the parade of Paris?

It’s getting dark now, so I am closing by sending my regards to all who ask of me. Hello to Tony and family. Regards to your mother. Love and kisses to you, my brother, and Joey, as always.

Dominick

No War At All

As I go through life, I feel an immense gratitude for all that I have. Like many other people, I feel that family is a big part of that. To read these words again from the razor thin German paper they were written on, to be able to type them here and share the thoughts of a man who has been gone for 70 years, boggles my mind.

The old-school man in me can’t take for granted the technology that allows this. As I see his words on a page, I imagine Dominick with his pen in hand, still in his sweat and mud stained uniform, with artillery shelled city blocks surrounding him and his brothers in arms. Fearful of his fate, with the hope it’s all just a nightmare. As if there had been no war at all.

Like many others, he would pay the biggest price there is. His fear would be realized, and he would become a war time statistic. The battles are faded history. Many of us have forgotten.

Seventy years later, as the anniversary of D-Day looms, I’ll think of Dominick. The family man. The life of the party. The fighter. The patriot.

Hero.

 

An Epic Life

World War II veteran Dominick DeGiorgio, on the left, with his brother and sister in law: my grandparents
World War II veteran Dominick DeGiorgio, on the left, with his brother and sister in law: my grandparents

 

A photo can tell incredible, complex, wonderful stories.

You are looking at one of my favorites. The man on the left gave everything. His life for his country. He was a soldier who knew great fear in the heat of battle. He wrote letters home, talking of the smell of death. He dreamed of a world where there was no war, no conflict.

The man on the right never had to run from the bullets of enemy attack. He had to make a living in the country that was home, but not his place of origin.

He didn’t die young in a war, like his brother. He lived 92 years, a physically challenging life that would include work, until he no longer could. Until his body said “no more.”

Brothers in arms, in blood, in life. They proved their mettle time and again, building the cornerstone of our family. Their influence is felt every day. Long gone from this earth, but always in the hearts of those that were close.

These are the makings of an epic life.

There is the cornerstone, and there is the mortar. The woman in the middle of the photo is my grandmother. The family may have been built by the men, but it was kept together by the women. The women held the vast influence.

Our generation was shaped, formed, and molded by the women. They taught us our truth, our ethics, our way of life.

My grandmother, and her sisters, represented generations of tradition. As our incessantly frenetic modern lives attempt to strip away any semblance of tradition, values, and common sense, we must fight back in their name.

Fight to keep traditions, values, and a vision of the world as a kind and decent place.

Legacies left behind should be handled with care.

Working class, immigrant, depression era lives. Lives that were truly epic. You and I would be at a loss to describe their stories.

Epic because of the ashes they rose from.

Epic in the tragedy they endured.

Epic in their relentless nature.

Epic with the love and comfort they created.

We don’t know the meaning of the word. Its definition is far different today.

At the time of this writing, it is the 100th anniversary of the birth of my grandmother, the former Rosa Tagliarini. Who took the name DeGiorgio from her love Sebastiano, that handsome devil to the right in the photo. The date of her birth, December 21st, will be like every other day.

Her influence will hover. Her presence will be felt.

To celebrate one hundred, my wife and I will raise our wine glasses in a birthday toast. In remembrance, and thanks.

With gratitude. For the path she helped pave, to our unquestionable abundance, by living her epic life.

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How To Stave Off Old Age

Two favorite video subjects: Nonna and my infant daughter, 1995. Forever young.
Two favorite video subjects: Nonna and my infant daughter, 1995. Forever young.

First days of school. Halloween, complete with princess costume.

Christmas and Easter, northbound trips to camp, birthday parties for young and old alike.

Magical footage of my kids on the Cape Cod beaches that we still haunt. The ritual of making homemade macaroni with my Grandmother and Godmother, with my very young children “turning the crank”.

One project I’m undertaking (on a list of many) is to review old video tapes that need to be converted to DVD before the tapes disintegrate. I was able to watch all of the above and more.

The old is new again. Overcome with everyday events which, as we were running the camera so many years ago, seemed ordinary. But not so. They were sure and concrete steps that turned out to be the details of a big life – a time on Earth that can’t be replicated or replaced.

In a previous post, I turned 50 and wasn’t sad about it – I was in pretty good health. Then the knee, the left one to be exact, turned to a pile of shit. Had me using the elevator for the first time in a while. The original diagnosis at the doctor’s office was osteoarthritis. An x-ray revealed an injury, what is referred to as “soft tissue damage”. Just a little something that needed to heal.

Bullet dodged. There you go.

Although I’m glad not to be in the throes of arthritis, there should be no kidding myself. The sands of time are marching on. To keep the concept of advancing age at bay, the most important thing to do is think young. The videos helped. Access to a video camera and using it with any regularity provided me with the quickest trip to the fountain of youth.

You can see amazing things. Like:

  • Seeing a friend who was gone away, directly in front of you, smiling back at your camera
  • Watching your mentors apply the tasks that had built their lives – and influenced yours
  • Watch your son bounce uneasy through a tiny wave on the Cape Cod shoreline, basking in the glory of a June sun
  • To see your daughter in that princess costume, stalking your old neighborhood, taking candy from the people you grew up around yourself

Easy Ways To Stay Young

With a title like the one this post has, you probably came here with the idea of finding useful and pertinent information, and not just listen to me wax poetic about the recent past. Fair enough. Though I think most people aren’t much for following advice, I’ll put in my two cents.

Feeling young for me includes having a catch in the yard, running/walking with/chasing my dog, or beating a heavy bag while listening to Aerosmith and Van Halen at ear splitting decibel levels. The most important way to capture that elusive essence of youth is movement, or exercise. If you’ve got that one covered, fantastic. The following tips may be helpful as well:

1. Fast Food? Really? – Neither inexpensive nor convenient, fast food is still a go to for millions of Americans daily. And I still don’t get it. The advertising is sultry, but the food never looks that good when you finally get it. Yeah, I may take my son into the drive-thru occasionally for a treat. But the kid has probably just played a game, a practice, or has run sprints for twenty minutes.

I’m guessing your average American isn’t involved in that kind of activity before going to McDonald’s.

Skimping on food and buying to reduce expense in this way is idiotic. I once knew a guy who would go to Subway and Burger King because it was cheap, but he had multiple cars and boats (and insurance policies) sitting in his driveway. Now there’s a way to prioritize your spending.

Stay young by avoiding fast food.

2. If It’s Not Life And Death, Forget It! – You know the drill: stress is the silent killer. Work place stress equals financial stress, leads to marital stress, yada yada yada. Everybody has stress. I’ve had plenty of the workplace variety myself, in the past. I decided that working for that particular company wasn’t worth the stress. Inevitably, we parted ways.

I know people that stress out because their IPhone isn’t working right, or their Starbucks isn’t hot enough. Or they found out they didn’t qualify for the financing on a $400K house. Poor babies.

Although it’s not perfect, one rule I try to remember whenever I’m feeling any type of stress is this – if it’s not a matter of life and death, it’s just not that important. Unless you’re dealing with death or severe illness, your perception is worse than the actual likely outcome.

To stay young, chill out.

3. Take It Easy On The Carbs – This is one that’s hard for me. Imagine an Italian American that has completely given up pasta or Italian bread. No such thing, right? Correct. I’m starting to think there’s a bit of good sense tied to a diet of protein, vegetables, fruit, and good fats, hence I’m working to reduce the amount of refined carbs that I eat. Although I could never see myself not eating pasta at all, there is a fantastic product called Dreamfields that I love. It’s what they call low glycemic index, and quickly becoming the only brand of pasta I’ll use.

Watch the stuff that makes you fat: white bread, potatoes, rice, and yes, macaroni. In moderation only.

4. Catch Your Zzzzzzzzs – My wife has this one right, for sure. She tends to be in bed most nights before 10PM, and she always tries to get me to come up with her. 😉 But, I have always been a night owl, and as much as I want to change that, there are still going to be nights when I’ve got things to do. I’ll stay up late. If I’m writing a post like this, rest assured I’ll be at the laptop past 10, or even 11PM.

I’ll keep trying to make it an earlier night. When your body’s used to being up late, it’s a difficult transition.

5. You Are The Sum of The 5 People… – There’s an oldie but goody. Want to stay young, energetic, and stress free? Get rid of the jerks in your life. Plain and simple, just like most old-school mantras. Whether they are family or “friends”, people that are negative, unsupportive, nasty, and without criticism of the constructive variety have got to go. If you are not willing to jettison these malcontents, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

With the possible exception of number 3, I’m sure my little old Sicilian mentors would have agreed with all of these. That alone makes the above fantastic advice to stave off your aging process.

Start a conversation in the comments section. How do you keep the attitude of that young person you are or used to be?

Jim Valvano

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”