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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My “Resolution?” Keep Tradition Alive and Kicking

The “New Year’s Resolution” is more popular than ever. I tend to not put a lot of faith into them, however. Always begun with the best of intentions, they soon crash, burn, and flame out quickly.14th Street - Tree

You see the same type of resolution, year in and year out. Many people pledge to lose weight, get back in shape, repair relationships, organize their lives, etc.

A couple of months later, that Christmas gift treadmill that was supposed to be your running partner serves as the prettiest and priciest clothes hanger you’ve ever owned.

My resolution would be to strengthen a habit I already have: keep traditions,  the ones I was fortunate enough to experience growing up, alive and kicking.

Ideally, I would be doing this just for my children, so they could get a taste of the very good life, but if I’m honest with myself… I’m doing it for my own benefit, as well. I never want to forget where I came from.

My old Italian ladies aren’t around anymore. The rituals and methods they practiced survive only if we keep them breathing by our active participation. That guardian of the old school traditions that I want to be? Playing at full strength here and now.

Everyone has cultural traditions that bring them closer to their roots, and to that warm, fuzzy feeling you had when you were a kid. I recommend they be part of your list of “resolutions.” Here’s just several ways I’m going to carry them out in the coming year:

In The Kitchen  My wife and I are no slouches in this area, but for Christmas we received some beautiful cookbooks from some very thoughtful people that are going to allow us to ratchet up our knowledge of traditional Italian peasant dishes. Many of these recipes are what I ate growing up, and are still a staple of our diet now.

At Table  Eating together as a family has always been a high priority after the kids came along, just like I did when I was young. The table is also where I shared great coffee with my immigrant grandparents in past years, and my wife and I still make espresso in a stainless steel pot every morning to continue the ritual. It’s the best.

14th Street GrapesIn The Vineyard  The house where my grandparents used to live has two ample grape arbors that yield the best grape jelly you will ever taste. Making the jelly from those grapes is hard work, but we love to do it to this day. We still have access to the grape vines, so we’re hoping 2012 brings another sweet batch.

At The Holidays  On Christmas Eve years ago, my family would always serve very traditional fish and seafood dishes to celebrate the holiday. It’s a tradition we’ve let slip recently. I felt insane jealousy (and hunger) when Vince posted pictures of a seafood feast at his house this past Christmas Eve. My wife Suzanne and I have pledged to bring this back home in 2012, and host a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner with our relatives.

In My Mind  With today’s need for instant updates and instant gratification and instant everything, it’s little wonder your mind races through the day. My girls (meaning my grandmother and my godmother) had a simple way to quiet their minds—they said prayers. And I think they were on to something, so I’m doing this more lately. Whether it’s prayers, meditation, or just five minutes in the day to sit and be quiet without interruption, the result is clear: it’s definitely good for body, mind, and soul.

Yes, I’m going to exercise more (Had a great workout before writing this) and eat my vegetables, but if I can keep a candle of tradition flickering within my family, 2012 will be a prosperous and very happy New Year.

Photographs of 14th Street courtesy of Gabrielle DeGiorgio

What are your resolutions this year? Is tradition a part of it? Start a discussion in the comment section, and feel free to tweet and/or share. You know someone that needs a little kick in the “traditions”!

Why You Shouldn’t Give a Damn About Athletes and Celebrities

A favorite movie of mine is A Bronx Tale. In a pivotal scene in the movie, the character played by Italian American actor Chazz Palminteri, a gangster named Sonny, has a unique way of comforting a young charge after a Yankees World Series defeat.

The young boy, named Calogero, was upset because Mickey Mantle cried after the heart breaking loss. Sonny, in a rather direct manner, asked why he felt this way – because in a big picture world, Mickey Mantle was a megastar who didn’t give a shit about him, his family, or the struggles they faced every day.

As the boy grew into a man, he never felt the same way about the Yankees again.

The scene has merit – a (perceived) truth was revealed to a boy that couldn’t have comprehended it beforehand. And if Mantle was aloof towards his fans in the ’60s at all, well – he’s got nothing on the modern athlete.

While American families struggled to recover from an economic recession, NBA owners locked out their rank and file players because, much like the NFL before them, they can’t figure out how to divide their billions.

Potential billionaire LeBron James

And while negotiations take place, and the matter eventually gets resolved, please remember that these players, like Mantle decades ago, won’t give a damn about you or your struggles either.

Yes, there are players that care. Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints still helps recovering Katrina victims from his home base. Fellow football player Warrick Dunn created a foundation that has purchased many homes for struggling single families. It’s my belief that guys of this caliber are few and far between.

Maybe that’s just perception. We hear so many more stories about players involved in domestic violence, drunken driving, and in the case of Plaxico Burress, literally shooting themselves in the foot. Ironic. We need better from those in the spotlight.

But the athlete, or any celebrity for that matter, is a fallible human being, who’s really not required to care about anything but themselves if that’s their choice.

I am a big Yankee fan. My grandparents loved the Yankees, especially legendary shortstop Phil Rizzuto. I harbor no illusions, though. As much of a fan as I continue to be, I realize the Yankees were, in the past,  the cream of the crop of the spoiled rotten gazillionaire athlete. And that may never change.

But I’ve changed my attitude. And maybe you should too. The next time you arrange your day to spend your hours watching your team’s game and cheer for your favorite player – in lieu of maybe doing something with your family – keep a thought in the back of your mind.

Just like in the movie, Mickey didn’t care.

ARod doesn’t care, and neither does LeBron.

The striking NBA players don’t care about you, just about the bucket loads of cash they will fight tooth and nail over. So return the favor – and don’t care about them so much.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Monday Night Football is on. I’m anxious to see which millionaire plays the hardest tonight….

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent” – Lorenzo Anello (Robert DeNiro) in “A Bronx Tale”

Did you like this article? If so, don’t keep it from your friends! Share it, tweet it, and tell me what you think of today’s modern athlete in the comments section.

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!

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?