Sireadh Toileachas

It has been some time since I have blogged. I have many excuses. Work is busy. Life is busy. The dog ate my computer. But the truth is I have not made writing a priority.

Those that have followed this blog (all 5 of you) may notice I have changed the title. The new title is Sireadh Toileachas – which means seek happiness in Gaelic (Scottish). I changed the title for a few reasons. First, change is good. Though I am uncomfortable with change, my life is better when I include change – hopefully for the better. Second, Scotland is in my blood. According to Ancestry DNA, I am 18% Scottish – also 28% England & Northwestern Europe, 14% Irish, and 5% Welsh. 23andMe classifies me as 58.7 British & Irish – clearly they don’t know there is a difference!!! Also, my middle name is Scottish. Third, I recently returned from a trip to Scotland and remain in love with the country.

But the most important reason, is I haven’t been as happy or healthy in recent months. The title was no longer accurate. A new title is needed to better reflect where I am. Further, the new title describes happiness as a journey rather than a destination.

I believe it is better to focus on the journey than the destination. I’ll write more about the experience of the journey. This may include a discussion of things I am working on to improve the world around me. This could include things that I have tried that didn’t work. It will definitely include any travel or adventures.

This blog and adventure began with my description of my three steps to success – focus, facts, and forgiveness. Focus on what you want to achieve AND why. Gather the facts, prepare a plan based on facts, implement the plan, and make adjustments. Finally, forgive yourself when you lose focus or deviate from the plan. Forgiveness allows you to restart the journey.

In recent months, I forgot about the importance of these three steps. As a result, I have slipped. Bill Gates gave a commencement speech titled “5 things I wish I heard at the graduation I never had”. He reminded all that life is not a one-act play. So, it’s time to start over and make health and happiness a priority. Over the last few years, I have relearned that life is full of second chances.

I close with an interesting anecdote about the new title. After I decided on the title, I typed the name into a search engine to find out more information and verify its meaning. Unfortunately, my short and chubby fingers accidentally misspelled the title. Instead of Sireadh Toilechas, I typed Sireadh Touleachas. Only one letter different but completely different meaning. Turns out Sireadh Touleachas means “seek help.” While I find this phrase wise and I try to apply it in my life, it is not the title I want for my blog. So for now, the title is Sireadh Toilechas – seek happiness.

Until next time – Slàinte Mhath – look it up.

Behind Every Picture is a Story

It’s been a while since I posted here. I could provide a list of excuses but that is all they are. Today, I want to talk about pictures, the stories they tell, and the stories behind them.

I have always loved taking pictures. From my first Kodak Instamtic to my present Nikon Z6, I have loved to capture moments. I don’t like to stage the moments (which is why I abhor portrait photography). I refused to spend money on a “good” camera for many years because it was just a hobby. Then one year I asked my wife to buy me a camera for Christmas – which she did!

I started by taking pictures of the birds in our backyard. When the snow melted, I took pictures of my son playing tennis.

Any parent who has watched his/her child compete in sports understands how nerve-racking this can be. I found it calmed my nerves. It allowed me to enjoy watching my son and his friends play without excessive nervousness. So I kept doing it.

Taking pictures of my son playing tennis evolved into taking pictures of my son, his team, and his friends. Eventually, I started taking pictures at Augustana sporting events. Sharing the pictures with the student-athletes and coaches. (I have taken pictures at all sports except golf (I tried but got the time wrong), track, and cross-country (maybe someday).

(still my favorite picture)

Truth is, I am not very good but I occasionally get lucky. I have no formal training. For every picture that turns out, there are ten failures. I have spent countless hours going through the pictures and deleting them. Nobody sees that side of the hobby.

I try to capture moments – like this.

And action like this.

Behind every picture is a story. The picture at the top of this post has a great story. I will think of the story every time I look at it. It’s not a great-quality picture BUT it captured a moment. The picture is of legendary Augustana basketball coach Dave Krauth. Since 1989, he has been the Head Women’s Basketball coach at Augustana University. Thirty-two seasons with only one season below .500. He coached his last game this week. A heartbreaking one-point loss in the NCAA Tournament.

I took this picture a couple of weeks ago. It was taken during the pregame of his final coaching win. I was wandering around the arena during warmups. As Coach Krauth was heading into the locker room, a fan named Scottie (if have been to Augie games you know who this is) began thanking Coach Krauth for his service and wishing him good luck in the game. It was a special conversation. As the conversation started, my camera was off and the lens cap was on. I noticed the smile on Coach Krauth’s face. It was genuine, kind, and rare in the arena. Quickly, I turned my camera on, removed the lens cap, and tried to capture the moment.

My autofocus didn’t fully focus and my framing was off. Yet, I mostly captured this moment. This picture will always be special to me because I know the story behind the picture. And now you know the rest of the story.

Christmas Eve

It is December 24.  It is a day when families and friends gather to begin Christmas celebrations. Growing up, our family would gather on Christmas eve with friends. We would have oyster stew, cheese plates, and other hors d’oeuvres.  Sometimes my parents would let me have a glass of wine or coke.  Because my father was born on December 24, we also had a birthday cake and gave him presents. At the end of the evening, the kids could open one present before bed.  We capped the evening off by opening ONE present. We always chose the gift from Grandma Harris because she ALWAYS bought us pajamas from the JC Penny in Aberdeen. 

When my father passed away, Christmas eve became a painful reminder of what was lost when he passed. I didn’t really enjoy it much. However, there were two events that changed my view. 

The first was Christmas eve 2001. It was the first Christmas of my marriage.  My wife, our oldest son, and mother traveled to our cabin in the Black Hills.  There is an incredible church in Lead, South Dakota.  It was built in the late 19th/early 20th century. Its Christmas Eve service is amazing. In 2001, the music, the service, the faith, and the fellowship were special. Words can not adequately describe the experience. The church is small, old, and quaint. The pews are wood. The lighting is poor and it was even darker for the late evening service. The sermon gave a great message though I can’t remember what was said. What I do remember is the music. There were two professional musicians with local ties. They shared their gifts with us. Somewhere, I still have the bulletin. To share this experience with my new wife, mother, and oldest son was special. It was the first Christmas Eve after my father’s passing that was not painful. The second was Christmas eve 2018. I’ve written about this before so I won’t bore you with the details.  Long story short, I am adopted. On Christmas eve 2018, after a long search, I received the first communication from my birth mother. It was an overwhelming feeling that I continue to process. Christmas eve is a time of new beginnings and connections.

Tonight, our family will gather. We have established our own traditions which include oyster stew and cheese plate. In recent years, I have purchased five different types of cheese at a local establishment. We all taste, critique, and vote for our favorite. We also enjoy each other’s company. Tomorrow, we will open gifts because it is our tradition to open gifts on Christmas day. From my house to yours, Merry Christmas.

Weekend Musings

This past week was one of corporate Christmas celebrations (i.e. an introvert nightmare). I had four Christmas parties, three work lunches, and big weekend plans.

While my eating (grazing) at the Christmas parties was poor, I continue to make exercise a priority. My morning walk (outside or on the treadmill) has become my sanctuary. During this time, I think, observe, read, listen, or exist for a few moments every day. It frees my mind and gets me ready for the day. The specific way I use this time varies. Sometimes I reflect a n what has happened. Other times plan and/or strategize my day, week, or month. I always spend a portion of the time in gratitude. At the end, I am ready to take on the day.

To be honest, today has already been tumultuous. I wasn’t supposed to get moments on the treadmill today but I did. These moments walking in solitude allow me to refocus so I can attack the day. Today I am ready.

In closing, the experts said it will snow a couple of inches last night. The experts missed the mark. It happens. So today we adapt, adjust, and enjoy the gifts we have been given. Enjoy the weekend.

Day 9 – Gratitude Challenge

Yesterday, after work I was talking with my spouse. She indicated she sent an encouraging note to a dear friend that was going through a challenge. I thanked her for reading my blog posts and taking action. She said “What do you mean?” After forcing her to read my Day 8 post, she exclaimed “This is exactly what a I did.” Long story short, I know few read my posts. This is okay. I am grateful for those that do. Better to help one than none.

Today the challenge is to focus on nature. Think about what is beautiful. Is it the sunrise? Sunset? Beach? Mountain? Trees? Find the beauty and think about it, smile, and be grateful. T

he picture at the top of this post is from a hike this summer. It was an amazing day. I will spend some time thinking about that today.

Day 6 Gratitude Challenge

Today is a pay it forward day. I was hoping that I would win the PowerBall last night and buy coffee for everyone today. Unfortunately, I did not win. However I plan to pay it forward at least once today. So buy someone’s coffee or meal. Enjoy the feeling it gives you and them, Hopefully, others will pay it forward today too.

Small Changes

“Think about the massive positive change that could occur in the world if we each did even the tiniest thing to make a difference every single day.” – Jen Sincero

Twenty-three months ago, I made a decision to change. I made a commitment to be healthier and happier. Most of the physical change occurred in the first four months. Since then, despite repeated efforts to change even more, I have mostly stayed within a 10 pound range. While I have maintained, I haven’t made significant movement towards my ultimate goal. This has been frustrating.

A recent instagram post by Adam Grant may have led to a breakthrough for me. He said, “When you’re committed to a goal, it’s motivating to lookahead at how far you have to go. Staring at the summit fuels grit. When doubt creeps in, you’re better off looking back at how far you’ve already come. Seeing your progress builds confidence and commitment.”

While these quotes can be inspriational, they do little good if you don’t put them into practice. Reading Grant’s words reminded me that early in this process, I was committed to a very specific goal. I started each day with a singular focus. Specifically, I spent the begining moments (about 15 minutes) of each day thinking about what needed to happen that day to move me towards my goal. I thought about what was going to happen that day, where I might be challenged, and how I might deal with the challenges. As I moved through the day, I adapted as necessary and tried to stick to the plan. Obviously, it worked.

Stated another way, speding about 1% of each day to focus on my goal correlated to a tremendous change. Likewise, when I stopped consistently spending 1% in focus, I did not make significant progress towards my goal. Today, I changed my schedule. I started the day with 15 minutes of focus on my goal. Stay tuned!

Progress

As readers know, I have been on this lifestyle journey for nearly two years. While my life has improved immensely, there is work to be done. After a recent trip to the UK, my weight had crept up a bit. Time to back things up again. So, I resolved to lose the weight gained on the trip plus a few more pounds. I announced it here. I created a plan and implemented it. Here is the latest progress report.

Things are going okay but not as well as I hoped. When I started in November 2020, I had a strong why and a good plan. I and amazing early and consistent success. I had nearly total control of my schedule and meal planning. I also had a major event in the beginning which provided more motivation.

This time it is different. With a new job, I have less control over my schedule and meal planning. While I have a good plan, I have been inconsistent in execution. My successes have been followed by setbacks.

While I have a good why, it isn’t a great “why.” My weight loss goals feel more like a should than a must. It’s frustrating because last time, it seemed so easy. I should be more than halfway to my goal but I am not.

This week, I got frustrated which was good. Frustration can lead to failure of you let it. I chose to let the frustration provide motivation resolve. I recalibrated my plan. I recalibrated my why. I committed to excellent execution. The result is significant momentum towards my goal.

So here is the report, since my trip, my weight is down 7 pounds. While I still have several pounds to go, I achieved nearly 30% of my goal. Even if I only added 1% each day, I would reach my goal by Christmas. So this is good news which MUST be celebrated.

But I have to be honest, it is exhausting. Staying focused on this all day along with everything else is often overwhelming. I start running out of gas about 2:00 pm each day. By the time I get home after 5, there is little left to “fight the battle.” My will power is shot. My motivation is shot. I just want to sit, read, pet the dog, and/or watch mindless television.

Because I know the flesh is weak, I make sure there are NO unhealthy options available in my house. Every dinner is planned before the day begins. When I get home, I know what is for dinner and I make it (if it isn’t already made). For snacks, I have simplified it. I have at least one fruit and one vegetable available. My go to vegetable is carrots. For fruits it is either banana or grapes. I eat only this (and limit fruit and binge if needed on vegetable. There are no other snacks available. No chips. No ice cream. No crackers. This makes a huge difference.

So long story short, plan…plan…plan…plan and stick to the plan. Your plan must include options for disruptions. Also, don’t go for perfection but do go for excellence. Execute the plan as best you can.

Momento Mori

Today is a day of reflection for me. Two years ago, I went to bed unaware my life was about to change. My oldest brother Jeff had tested positive for Covid-19 ten days prior. He was holding his own and showing mild symptoms. Many, myself included, thought he was going to survive. Yet, at around 2am, a police officer notified us that my brother had passed.

My brother was the 200th person in my state to die with Covid. As of this writing, the number of deaths is over 3,000. I don’t wish to argue about the pandemic. Rather, I want to talk about one of the things the pandemic taught me.

The pandemic taught me life is precious. It can be taken in a moment. The pandemic also reminded me that we are all mortal. We will all die. Towards that end, each day is important. It is important to embrace what life gives you each day.

So I close by asking a favor, before you go to bed tonight (and every night), tell those you love how much they mean to you. For if something should happen before you wake, let the final words be ones of love and gratitude.

Listen to your body

I spent the last 10+ days focusing on my health goals. I have made a greater effort to listen to my body. Our body sends us all sort of signals. I often ignored the signals. The pain in my knee? I must have slept wrong. Irritability? It must have been something some one did to me. Sore throat? I must be taking a lot. Since I often eat when I am bored, I spend more time listening to the signals my body is providing. Below are three things I have observed.

First, my body does an excellent job telling me when it is hungry. Over the last 10 days, I often woke up feeling genuine hunger. When I snacked after dinner, I didn’t wake up hungry. Eating a proper breakfast of fruit, yogurt, or eggs, the hunger feeling goes away.

Second, my body gets irritated if I eat processed food with sodium. How does my body respond to this? I have a lot more inflammation in my hands and joints and hence some minor pain and discomfort. I retain water and feel bloated. My skin looks and feels terrible. I look older. Depending on the food, I get a stomach ache. These are some of the small things that I notice when I don’t treat my body right.

Third, when I make good food choice, I feel much better. Good food choices included eating plenty of fresh vegtables. A couple of servings of fruit to appease my sweet tooth. And finally, drinking at least 90 ounces of water every day. I sleep better and have more energy. My skin looks and feels better. I have less pain.

As I write this, I admit I am struggling to achieve my present weight loss. I have fluctuated in a four pound window but am down one pound since I started. So today, I am going to plan and prepare for my weekend. Build in flexibility and focus. Make sure the right foods are in the house. Resist boredom eating and drink enough water.

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