Veteran’s Day 2017 – A Special Ceremony

Veteran’s Day this year was a special one. Your Uncle Perry and I had the privilege of escorting Opa to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. Opa participated in a ceremony with his 1956 West Point classmates. Each year they gather at the wall to honor one of their classmates who perished during the war. They read the names of the fallen, share the story of one in detail, and then walk down to where the name of that person is etched on the wall to place a wreath. Family members of the fallen participate. It is a simple ceremony – nothing fancy. No long speeches, no politicians, no fanfare. Just a small group of veterans honoring one of their own. Below are some pictures from the ceremony.

West Point Class of 1956 Veteran's Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial
West Point Class of 1956 Veteran’s Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial

Visiting the wall is difficult for my dad

I am really glad that Opa was brave this year and decided to participate in the ceremony. He usually does not. As you know Opa is a Vietnam veteran. He served three tours there. He lost a lot of friends in the war. Visiting the wall is a draining event for him. It is an emotional one. The wall reminds him of the war, battles fought, lives lost, and the complicated aftermath. I need to let you know that Opa was able to return to the states and live a healthy and productive life after the war. Perry and I are the direct beneficiaries of Opa’s ability to put the war behind him and fulfill the American dream – to provide for your children so that they have an even better life than the one you lived. I have the same dream for both of you and will do all that I can to make that happen.

Visiting the Vietnam Memorial with Opa
Visiting the Vietnam Memorial with Opa

Veteran’s Day is for telling stories

Opa is a generous person, and always willing to help others in need. I have experienced this first hand as his son and witnessed it as he interacts with others. I saw another example of it during this ceremony. After we walked down to the wall Opa called over one of the family members who was there. He was the grown son of a fallen classmate. He is probably my age, or maybe even a little bit older. Opa let this family member know that he was good friends with his father many years ago. Opa shared a funny story that the man had never heard before. Then Opa proceeded to tell this son of his fallen classmate about his father. What his father was like as a man. How he was strong, smart, and a brave soldier. Opa thought the world of his classmate and was very sad when he learned about the untimely death of his good friend. Opa was emotional – his eyes welled up with tears. Fond memories mixed with painful memories from the past. It was a difficult thing for Opa to do, but he did it anyway. Opa gave this man a special gift that morning. The gift of knowing that his own father was a great man. Afterwards, the man thanked Opa for his service, and more importantly for letting him know what his own father was like.

Opa talking to son of fallen classmate
Opa telling story to son of fallen classmate – the gift of memories

Thank you to all the veterans

It is impossible to calculate the toll a war takes on a nation, especially its veterans. So it is important that we honor those who have served. The brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. They deserve our respect and gratitude. Opa is from a generation that fought an unpopular war, in an unknown part of the world, for reasons that are still somewhat of a mystery to this day. It was tough, but he and his generation did their part. Nowadays our country remains entangled in a long war that has cost our nation dearly. Today’s veterans face many of the same challenges that Opa and his classmates did many years ago. One day many years from now they too will gather together and talk about the wars they fought. As for you – do your part. If you see a veteran – thank them for their service. They deserve it, just like Opa.

Opa in Vietnam - Big Ranger
Opa in Vietnam – Big Ranger

Happy Birthday Riley!!

Today is your birthday Riley. Happy birthday. I hope it is an awesome one. You have always been a great kid. I have watched you grow over the years – you are becoming a fine young man. Since today is your special day – I will dedicate this blog post to you. When I think of you as a person three thoughts come to mind. Three things that make me appreciate you as a son, and a young man.

You are curious

You always have enjoyed learning about things. You know more about a lot of topics than most people in the world. You are a curious young man. At times I am amazed at what you know. You also enjoy traveling which is an excellent method for learning more about the world. I have been on numerous trips with you, and have enjoyed each one. I especially like the fact that you take lots of pictures while we travel to capture the experience. I hope that you never lose your curiosity and desire to learn new things.

Riley taking a photo in the Marienberg castle garden.
Riley taking a photo in the Marienberg castle garden.

You are athletic

You have played numerous sports while growing up and have been good at all of them. You are a gifted soccer player. You love the game. Playing it brings you joy. I share your joy as I sit on the sidelines and watch you play. I can also tell that your teammates respect your abilities, and enjoy having you on the team. You are also an excellent runner. You have both speed and endurance which is a rare combination. I hope that you keep playing soccer later in life, and continue running well into your later years.

Riley wearing a soccer medal from one of the many tournaments.
Riley wearing a soccer medal from one of his tournaments.

You are impish

You like to have fun. I am glad that you do. Life is too short to be serious all the time. You have an active sense of humor and have been known to get into mischief every now and then. Even as a child you were known for playing pranks. Always remember the first rule of mischief – don’t get caught. Your sense of humor brings a smile to my face on a regular basis. Thanks for making me laugh many times. I will do my best to return the favor.

Riley having fun as we eat ice cream in Charlottesville
Riley having fun as we eat ice cream in Charlottesville

I could keep going, but I will end my thoughts here. You are a great son. I am proud of you and really glad that you are my son. Happy birthday. We will celebrate more next weekend when we are together again.

If your approach is not working – change it

There will be points in your life when you have to decide if your approach is working or not. You may ask yourself the question am I making progress, or am I just spinning my wheels going nowhere? It can be really hard to tell if a change is needed. Oddly enough, the easy path is usually to continue down the path you are on. The older I get the more I recognize that staying on the same path may not be the best choice. Changing your approach may be difficult, but it is worth considering. Over the next few weeks I am going to share my perspective on this topic – how do you change your approach. In this post, I will discuss three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should consider making a change. I hope you learn something from my experience.

You are not making suitable progress

Measuring your progress can be challenging. In some scenarios calculating your progress is pretty straightforward. Let’s say you are trying to lose weight. Clearly, you can calculate your weight using a scale, body weight composition test, or other methods. The good news is that the scale does not lie. As many of us have learned, the bad news is that the scale does not lie. I actually weigh myself just about every morning. I am not obsessed with my weight. Rather studies have shown that weighing yourself every morning is an effective way to prevent putting on extra weight which is a challenge I face at my age. It will not appear overnight. This article explains more details about why weighing yourself every day is not a bad idea. Remember – it is just one data point. Don’t panic.

Weighing yourself everyday
Weighing yourself every day

In other situations, it can be difficult to accurately measure your progress. Some goals may take years to achieve, such as earning a college degree. In this case, I would monitor your progress against the graduation requirements for your degree. If you are off track, then you will likely need to change your approach. For example, I changed majors during my undergraduate years. As a result of this change, I was not on track to graduate in four years. Rather than stay in college longer I decided to take several classes during the summer so that I would still graduate on time. If I had not changed my approach, then I would have required more time and money to graduate. When it comes to professional goals, measuring your progress can be even more tricky. You are several years from that, so I will not cover that topic right now. Suffice it to say that if you are not making suitable progress then you may need to change your approach.

You are causing more harm than good

Achieving your goals will take time, energy, and effort. In a previous post, I talked about the fact that some days you have to grind it out. I am a big fan of putting in your best effort, even when times get tough. Having said that I also think it is important to make sure that you are not causing more harm than good. You need to monitor the impact you are causing to yourself and others. The ends do not justify the means. You should not sacrifice everything to achieve your goals. This point is especially true when it comes to relationships and your health. If you are causing more harm than good in any of your personal relationships, then you need to reevaluate your approach. You may need to make changes to include ending a relationship. No one deserves to be miserable. Also, if your approach is causing health issues, then you need may need to change it. I am not saying that some pain is not needed for physical progress. Rather I am saying don’t be foolish when it comes to your health. Learn from my mistakes in this category. Many times I ran when I should have rested while training for an upcoming race. In my mind, I was doing the right thing. But, what I was really doing was tearing up my body. It seems like every time I took this approach I paid the price later with either poor performance on race day or an injury. Don’t’ be stupid like me. Listen to your body, and take care of yourself. Trust me – if you don’t you will pay the price later.

Take care of your body or pay the price
Take care of your body or pay the price

You lose your why

When things get hard I often ask myself “why am I doing this”. I think most people do. A strong reason why makes it easier for me to keep going. If I cannot answer that question clearly, then I may be in trouble. Sometimes you may lose your why. It does not happen all the time, but this question will show up in your life at some point. I remember being in Graduate School. At the time I was working a full-time job, trying to be a decent husband to your mother, and a good dad to you boys. Needless to say, I had a lot going on at this time. When I asked myself why I was getting a graduate degree the answer was clear. I was preparing for the future. I was getting ready to leave the Army and needed current skills to enter the civilian workforce. That why helped me get through some late nights and tough times. If you do not have a good answer to that question, and you have lost you why then it is time to consider changing your approach. I am not saying just quit. I am saying that you may need to come up with a new approach which is what I plan to talk about in the next post.

People lose their way when they lose their why
People lose their way when they lose their why

Start off by making your bed

Today marks the first year anniversary of writing this blog. It has been a great experience, and hopefully both of you have learned something from the blog posts. Several people have provided positive feedback about the blog, and indicated they enjoy reading the weekly posts. I plan to keep on blogging, to keep looking for wisdom to pass on, and to discover new topics worthy of discussion. I learn a lot from others, so I will pass along their wisdom to you, rather than just fill the page with my own thoughts. With that in mind, I am going to start the new year off sharing some simple advice from one of America’s great warriors. Admiral William McRaven.

This time of year is graduation season. Celebrities, politicians, scholars, and many others take the graduation stage to dispense advice to high school and college students as they end one chapter of their life, and start a new one. Many graduation speeches are dull – full of cliches and dumb jokes. Occasionally, you will hear one that is excellent. In 2014, Admiral McRaven gave the commencement speech at the University of Texas. It was called 10 Lessons from my Years as a Navy Seal. It is a brilliant speech full of wisdom and insight. Below is a short excerpt from his speech. It is a simple idea, but a powerful one.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

It may sound trivial, but the act of making your bed every morning helps get the day off on the right foot. I recommend you take up this habit. In case you want to hear the rest of Admiral McRaven’s speech, here is the link to the Youtube video. It is well worth watching.

Be a learner – avoid repeated mistakes

It is impossible to always make good decisions. Everyone makes mistakes – some big, some small. Making a bad decision does not make you a bad person. What is important is that you learn from your mistakes, and avoid repeating them. One of the reasons I enjoy traveling so much is that you get to see the world, and you learn a lot about life. Unfortunately, some of it is due to mistakes I make, bad decision, or short-sighted judgments.

Making a bad decision does not make you a bad person.
Making a bad decision does not make you a bad person.

A simple example

For example, it was a mistake not to use the free wi-fi that was available at the resort on our trip to Cancun last year. As a result, we wracked up hundreds of dollars in extra roaming charges – a costly mistake. Another example – it was a bad decision to return a rental car in Germany without the gas tank full. The customer service person was not thrilled, and it cost me a lot of grief and money. Lastly, I was short-sighted when I received a parking ticket in Rothenburg and “forgot” to pay it. The rental car company added a hefty fee for dealing with the ticket when they billed my credit card.

Use WI-FI when traveling, especially overseas. Otherwise you will make a costly mistake.
Use WI-FI when traveling. Otherwise, you will make a costly mistake.

We can learn from our mistakes

These mistakes were learning experiences. I will make sure these mistakes do not happen again. Be a learner – avoid making the same mistakes over an over. Pay particular attention to your mistakes that result in loss, waste, or destruction. You want to avoid mistakes that create broken relationships with family and friends, results in losing large amounts of money, or wasting your time. Instead, learn lessons from your mistakes and apply those in future situations. Smart people learn – fools don’t…and none of us want to be a fool.

“Wisdom comes from life experience; life experience is the result of repeatedly taking corrective action while courageously learning from mistakes.” ― Ken Poirot

Be a creative force – the world needs ideas

This time last year the world lost two musical geniuses – David Bowie and Prince. These two men were very different people, but both of them were extremely creative. They each produced a large body of work (over 30 albums), full of both hits and misses. I am impressed by the breadth and depth of their creativity, and their drive to make new music. Many rock musicians have a moment of greatness and then sink back into obscurity…never to be heard from again.

How do you stay relevant?

Somehow David Bowie and Prince were able to remain relevant for many years. Each of them changed the music scene with their creative ideas. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust and released one of the best albums of the 70s. He returned a decade later with the album Let’s Dance which was brilliant. Prince ruled the 80s for a few years with his new music and movie Purple Rain. He was already popular by then but took it to a whole new level. These landmark efforts made each of them a household name which is pretty amazing. Both of them continued writing and releasing music until their last days on earth. They never really faded away.

Prince was a musical genius who kept releasing music for years.
Prince was a musical genius who kept releasing music for years.

You have the ability to be creative

I encourage you to be a creative force in the world. I am not saying that you need to be musical, or emulate the lifestyle of either Bowie or Prince. Both of them struggled with drugs and relationships. What I am saying is that it takes time, energy, effort, and discipline to be creative, and generate new ideas. Too many people fall into a rut and never get around to bringing something new into the world. Don’t be like that – contribute your ideas. It is one of the main reasons that God created you. I have already noticed that you are very creative, full of unique ideas. Cultivate and share your ideas. They will make the world a better place.

“Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today, 2 get through this thing called life. Electric word life. It means forever and that’s a mighty long time.” ― Let’s Go Crazy by Prince

Nothing in this world is free – not even you

Last year you will recall that we stayed at an “all inclusive” resort in Cancun Mexico for Spring Break. While there you did not have to pay for any food, coffee, snacks, or drinks. It felt like everything was free…but it was not. The reality is that I paid the resort a fixed price for all of us before we left for the trip. Also, my parents paid for the room so that we could afford the trip. This type of vacation is designed for convenience, and I hope that you truly enjoyed it. I know that I did.

Gavin and Riley chilling  on the beach at the resort in Cancun.
Gavin and Riley chilling on the beach at the resort in Cancun.

The lesson to learn is that nothing in the world is really free. There is a cost for everything, even if you are not the one paying. It is easy to walk in this world without fully knowing this truth, particularly when it comes to your own life. Today is Easter Sunday. A special day for all of us who choose to follow Christ. Today we celebrate Christ rising from the dead in order to give us new life. I want to make sure you understand what Christ has done for you. He has paid the ultimate price with his own blood for you so that you can have new life. No one else could do what was needed. Don’t forget to thank Him for what he did so that you can live free.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Know your friends – spend time with them

We live in a day and age in which many people do not know each other. Neighbors do not know one another very well. Adults commute to the office, work a long day, drive home, eat dinner, watch television, and then off to bed before starting another day. Some weeks it is a struggle to figure out what day of the week it is since they all seem to run together. In fact, we use sayings like hump day, Throwback Thursday, and TGIF as verbal cues to remember what day it is.

Technology keeps us connected

Modern technology has made the situation even more challenging in an unexpected way. We are connected to many others via social media, but we don’t really spend time with them. We can text, call, and FaceTime someone whenever we want, but do we really spend time getting to know them. The ability we have to connect with others is truly amazing. Nowadays you can login to Facebook or Instagram and see what all your friends are doing. You can contribute your own pictures and videos so that others get a glimpse into your world.

I upload pictures from our vacation to Facebook so others can see them.
I upload pictures from our vacation to Facebook so others can see them.

I grew up without all the technology

The world was different when I was your age. We did not have many ways to connect with our friends or endless forms of entertainment. If we wanted to touch base with friends, we would go to their house and hang out. I cannot recall how many hours I spent over at Jim Fuhs house growing up. Companies like Netflix, YouTube, Google, Amazon, Snapchat, and Spotify did not exist, so we had to come up with other ways to entertain ourselves. Lord knows, we were up to no good on a regular basis, but the fact is that we knew each other.

Be present when with friends

I am not suggesting that all the new technology is a bad thing, at all. I enjoy watching movies on Netflix like many other people. Rather, I am challenging you to spend some quality time relaxing and growing meaningful relationships with your friends and others. Stop staring at your screen and talk to people. Ask them questions so that you know what is going on in their world, and share what is going on in yours. As I have mentioned previously this area has been a struggle for me over the years, so I am making an effort do more of that nowadays. In fact, Jill and I just spent many hours with friends catching up, and it was great. I hope you do the same.

I’ll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I’ll be there for you
(Like I’ve been there before)
I’ll be there for you
(‘Cause you’re there for me too)
– Theme from Friends, a popular 90s TV show

The weather can change quickly – just like life

Wow – what a week. We went from great spring weather to a snowstorm within a matter of hours. I was on the road late Monday night, and it was miserable. Snow, rain, and ice wreaking havoc on the area. I cannot recall the last time that the weather changed so quickly. I have to admit that I was caught somewhat off guard. I knew it was going to snow but did not prepare myself for the change, unlike last year. You will recall that last year we experienced the blizzard of 2016. The storm lived up to the hype, dumping over a foot of snow.

Bad weather makes us slow down

Three life lessons come to mind when I think about how a storm affects us. First, we have to slow down. The roads are slick, and it is dangerous to drive too fast. If you do not slow down, you will end up in a ditch. The roads on Monday were rather dicey, and I was not sure I would make it home unless I took my time. In life, sometimes slowing down is the right thing to do. We tend to rush through life without paying much attention to what is going on around us. If you are not careful, you may end up in a dangerous situation.

Riley, Ruger, and Gavin in the 2009 snowstorm. It was a big one.
Riley, Ruger, and Gavin in the 2009 snowstorm. It was a big one.

We stick to the basics

Second, the storm forces us to prioritize our needs. Everyone flocks to the stores for supplies to stock up before the storm hits. Notice that we buy what we need like milk, bread, beer and toilet paper. This lesson is helpful when thinking about how to spend your money and your time. Both are limited resources. Don’t waste them on things that are not important. You will regret it.

Riley and Gavin standing on a snow pile in Reston Town Center.
Gavin and Riley standing on a snow pile in Reston Town Center.

We change our plans

Third, the storm teaches us to be flexible. Think about all the plans that had to change. Thousands of flights were canceled, stores and schools closed, and we all had to hunker down during the blizzard. Being flexible is critical because you cannot control the weather at all. You may experience a similar situation at some point in your life. It will change in ways you do not anticipate and you will need to be flexible to deal with it. Hopefully, Spring is here, and we will not have any more weather surprises…but you never know.

And you may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”
And you may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go to?”
And you may ask yourself, “Am I right? Am I wrong?”
And you may tell yourself, “My God! What have I done?”
– Once in lifetime, Talking Heads

Some planning will move you towards success

I have noticed that many people do not spend much time planning for the future. It seems like they are waiting for success to happen, for life to get better, for things to change. I believe that a little planning will take you far down the path of success. I am not saying that you need to plan every step of your life – that will drive you, and everyone around you crazy. Rather, it is worth investing some time in planning when it comes to fulfilling your dreams and succeeding in this world. The bigger your dreams the more planning it takes.

Making a dream reality

For example, many people dream of taking a European vacation, but few actually go. In fact, most Americans do not even have a current passport. I lived in Europe years ago and love traveling, so I set a personal goal of visiting there on a regular basis. You will remember that we spent some time brainstorming, discussing, and planning our trip to Germany and Austria two years ago, and last year’s adventure to Germany and France. We identified the places we wanted to see, the resources to pay for it, and made our reservations in advance. Every minute was not set in stone, but we had a general agenda for every day. All that planning paid off – we had two great trips. The pictures prove it. The video below is about the plan we used for our Germany Summer vacation in 2015.

Now we are figuring out the details of this summer vacation. I challenge you to do some planning for your future. It will be worth it.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry