Monday, August 30, 2010


About 10 days ago I was mowing when I looked up to see a massive tractor on tracks coming down the lane pulling this enormous box scraper. It was a friend of mine named Scott Plummer who was there to start putting in a pond for us.

Coincidentally, the area I was mowing was the same place where the pond was going to be, which was great because the uneven ground bumps you all over the place. Formerly a bunch of scrub brush and scab trees, we knocked it down a few years back to start the process.

The first few years we lived there, we used to walk all over it dreaming. There was a small ravine with a couple of run-offs that converged in a low place just right for a pond. It took me a couple more years but finally I’d cut down all of the scab trees, leaving the bigger hickory trees.

It was kind of ugly, all those stumps sticking up the next couple years, but things take time, and we kept thinking about how nice it was going to be when we got the pond in. Finally we had a guy come and take out and bury the stumps, giving it a cleared but rough appearance.

That’s when I started mowing. All but this ugly center part, because there was a broken field tile in there somewhere that kept it pretty wet, so the ground started eroding, little by little each year. We also got a bunch of wetlands grass that stood around eight feet tall in the summer, along with a bunch of other varieties and even a couple trees that started growing back.

The ugly part slowly started taking over, a little more each year, so I’d keep mowing around it. Every time I mowed, the bumps would knock me all over the place, and I’d tell myself, “It won’t be long, and I won’t have to mow this anymore.”

When Scott told us he’d be there sometime in August to put in the pond, we got pretty excited. Now when I mowed, it was “just a couple more times” until finally, “this is the LAST time I’ve got to mow this!”

So you can imagine how I felt seeing him come down the lane with his big scraper, even bigger excavator and bulldozer! He wanted to do it while it was dry so he could work the ground better—plus we’d stand a good chance to see the pond start to fill in once the rains come later.

It was pretty entertaining, watching him work. We sat on the front porch with iced tea as he made trip after trip with the tractor pulling the scraper. He’d fill it up with clay from where the pond was going to be, and take it to the edge of the property where he was building the dam.

I mean it was hundreds of trips. After an hour or so, you could tell he’d built the dam up a little bit, but there was still a long way to go. But little by little, trip by trip, he kept scraping dirt from the bottom of the pond and moving it to the dam.

One afternoon he showed me how he used the laser to locate the edge of the pond, all the way around. It also showed him how high the dam had to be to hold the water. It was hard to get perspective until you actually went out and stood there.

Scott had to excavate a few more trees in a few places to make it all work, and shape the rest of the property so it would help drain into the pond. He used his excavator to haul the wood over to my wood cutting area and saved some of the stumps for the fish to use for nesting.

After about three days of moving dirt and clay and packing it down, we had about a two acre pond. The dam was now big enough to keep the water back, but with contours on each end to release water if it got too high.

Scott also found and released the water flow from the field tile coming in there, and viola, we had water. It’s still flowing 24 hours later, so I can’t wait until it rains and really gets going!

The water will be about fifteen to eighteen feet deep by the dam, with the rest of it gently tapered, especially up closer to the house, by the swimming area. It’s a very gentle grade down so you can just wade out there, with no big drop-offs. I mean this guy thought of everything.

He was telling me about grass carp, one of the species of fish we need to put in next year after it fills up. Apparently, you get about three of those guys, hybrids that are neutered (how do you neuter a fish?), and they’ll grow to around 2-3 feet and eat the algae and help keep the pond clean.

We learned about putting in some bluegill, bass and catfish, along with a bunch of little feeder fish, so they don’t eat each other. Then, once the bluegill get old enough to have their own babies, the bass will start eating them, and the pond will find it’s own balance.

One of the hickory trees we saved has a big branch that’s just perfect for a rope swing at the deep end of the pond. I was also thinking back to YMCA summer camp years ago where I’d swim out to a diving platform anchored out in the lake. Hmm.

As I sat out there on the swing each afternoon watching Scott work, it reminded me of a couple things about my job. First of all, when we needed help, we got an expert (maybe even an artist) with that excavator and scraper.

I would never try to tackle our “big dig” myself. I don’t have the tools or the knowledge. And people don’t need to try and figure out how to take all that weight off on their own. With a little help and the right equipment, it’s pretty easy (except for the hard work part).

It also occurred to me that just like Scott moving that dirt, taking the weight off is kind of like him taking another pass with that box scraper. That dirt’s not going to move unless he moves it. Likewise, you’ve got to show up and get your workout in. Get enough of them in and you’ll start scraping away at it.

In some cases, people want to tone up and put on some muscle. To me, it was like when Plummer was building the dam. It took some time before we could start to see it growing. After a while, though, it started taking shape, and finally, it became pretty robust.

And he kept working at it until it was exactly the way he wanted it. That’s how it is in the gym. You keep showing up, and keep chiseling away, until you’ve reshaped your body the way you want it.

I think back to how that ugly eroded part of the property had started taking over, each year getting more and more out of control. It’s the same thing with our weight. Take a break from working out, quit watching what you eat, and the next thing you know, you look down and discover you’re fat!

But now, with some expert help from Scott and his life-size Tonka toys, we’ve taken an eyesore and irritation, and turned it into something we’ll be able to use and enjoy for many years. It’s kind of like getting your body back. It takes some time, and it takes some work, but it’s definitely going to be worth it!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


While I left home to come up and write this, Kathy stayed behind so she could continue scrubbing and spraying off the front porch. Over the past few months we’d been pretty busy dealing with other things, so it had gotten a little neglected.

Meanwhile, the spiders were weaving their webs and rolling their prey up in those little sticky balls. That green grime was starting to appear on the rails and decking, and there was quite a bit of dirt that had gotten blown in on the siding and up on the ceiling.

Now we’re usually pretty good about maintaining things. Just yesterday, we were putting some more paint on the walls in the center, and I’ve been busy doing trim at home to finally finish up a remodel job I started last year.

But sometimes, you get distracted. There’s always a lot to do, and in this case, the porches got left in the lurch. We actually started on the back porch last weekend after installing the last of 8 replacement outdoor lights on the back deck. Once again, it was spider balls everywhere.

So yesterday, Kathy finished it up, and this morning, I found her out front with her brush and soap bucket. She said she knew how much we used to like sitting out there and just had to clean it up. We’d gone through some tough times earlier in the year, and lots of things were just left undone.

Over the past four or five months, we’ve been working pretty hard to go back and fix things, and we’ve been knocking them out, one by one. When you’ve got a pretty long list, that’s the only way you can do it. Pick something and just jump in. When you finish it up, pick something else from the list and move on to the next one.

I remember when we first bought the property. It was just a mess of undeveloped trees and scrub brush. I guess I went a little crazy with the chainsaw and before we knew it, we had a couple acres of trees cut helter-skelter in every direction. It was like someone had just dumped a big box of giant tinker-toys.

It was pretty overwhelming. I cut up the trees and she dragged the brush to the burn pile. Lots of it. For days. Every weekend, that’s what we did. I cut, she dragged. She dragged, and I cut. Even in the winter. If I thought about how much there was to do, I’d get depressed.

The only way to handle it was to pick out an area to work on, and say “today, that’s how much I want to get done.” Then, we just hit it. At the end of the day, if we cleared that section, we felt pretty good.

Over the course of the fall and winter, we actually got it all cleared out and they were able to come in and remove the stumps and all of a sudden, we had a nice space for the house. Looking back, it doesn’t seem that bad.

Have you ever felt that way? When you’re in the soup it seems impossible to swim but later you realize you made it through O.K. I wish we had pictures of that mess of trees all piled up. We need to remember how we made it through the tough times, and who helped us through, too.

When we’re facing another big challenge, we’ll be able to say, “We’ve done tough things before, we can do this, too.” I think that’s why God told the Israelites to tell the stories to their children and their children’s children. He said to write it on their hearts. We need to remember.

You can’t let things get too bad before dealing with them. Ignoring little pains early can let bad things grow and fester that left unchecked, can be life threatening. Some forms of cancer are very treatable if you catch them early. But a lifetime of too much bad cholesterol can clog your arteries to the point where only bypass surgery will save you.

It’s the same way with relationships. If you quit talking, sooner or later, someone’s going to start walking. I’ve learned the hard way that burying old bones doesn’t keep them from coming back up. Sooner or later you’ve got to deal with them.

This year we’ve been so distracted that even the garden didn’t produce like it should have. We’ve focused so much time on us, making sure we were going out for walks, talking, and just spending time together, that the weeds took over the tomato plants.

Usually it’s a bumper crop with more tomatoes than we could ever hope to eat, can, or give away. Because of the lack of maintenance, the weeds stole the energy needed for our vegetables to thrive. But it’s better to have weeds in the garden than weeds in our hearts. Next year, things will be different.

I just spoke with someone in the gym. He said they’d been away for two weeks doing different things and now it’s almost like starting over. I told him that we really need to learn how to keep active when we’re traveling.

It’s not too hard if you plan for it. There are daily passes at gym memberships. Most YMCA’s let you attend free if you’re a member elsewhere. If nothing else, I’ll do pushups, sit-ups and body squats in the hotel. If they don’t have a workout room, there’s always walking or jogging outdoors.

But that won’t work if you’re not maintaining things already. It takes regular effort to keep things alive and even more work if you want things to thrive. And if you’ve neglected things for quite awhile, it can seem overwhelming.

But you can turn things around. Unhealthy hearts can become stronger. Gardens can grow again. Sometimes surgery is required, but hopefully you catch it in time. You’ve just got to dig in and get started.

Don’t let things get too out of control. Trust me on this. It’s much easier to nip things in the bud early. A little talk now can prevent heartache later. A little maintenance now can keep things running smoothly. A little exercise now will actually keep you running.

As for me, right now, I’m heading home to enjoy sitting on that nice clean front porch! Then, I’ll probably get on that baseboard trim. There’s work to be done!

Monday, August 16, 2010


This week one of our regulars named Nicole has been struggling with a shoulder/arm injury. She’s not sure quite how it happened. At first they thought it was a torn tricep. Now they’re leaning toward a slightly herniated disc in the cervical spine, which could put pressure on the nerves that feed the biceps and triceps.

She’s handling it pretty well, though. While it’s driving her nuts that she can’t participate in kickboxing, running or weight lifting, she’s determined to keep training by riding the bicycle for another week until her arm gets better.

Now it might sound like I’m talking about some elite athlete that does triathlons, but actually, I’m talking about a fairly regular gal that started exercising about 8 months ago. She’s had remarkable success since then, losing over 100 lbs to date.

I say fairly regular, because she’s just like the rest of us, but actually, she’s pretty extraordinary. Not only did she make it into the top 50% of people that didn’t quit after starting an exercise routine, she made it into the top 25% of people that never miss a workout.

She started a month before one of our Biggest Loser groups, to get a jump on things, and then did two Biggest Loser sessions in a row. Since then, she’s been doing cardio on her own, Kickboxing class on Mondays (a really barn burning workout), and coming into our Level 4 group workouts several times a week.

But with this injury to her shoulder/bicep area, she said she’s got to pull back to just the bicycle for awhile. “This is really putting a kink in my workouts!!!” I really like her attitude, though. She told me, “Oh well, guess this is one of those bumps in the road I’ve got to overcome, and I WILL!!!”

Is there any doubt that Nicole will continue to reach her goal? Even with a week of being limited in what she could do, she still lost another 5.6 lbs! Where once it worked against her, now her body is working for her—even when she can’t do quite as much until her arm heals up.

Think of it. Losing 100 lbs. If that’s difficult, come in to the gym sometime and I’ll have you pick up 100 lbs and walk around with it for a little bit. Just walking for a couple minutes carrying two 50 lb dumbbells is beyond most people’s grasp.

I’ve got a 40 lb backpack we use for adding weights to pull-ups and dips. What can be a tough exercise anyway becomes VERY difficult with that pack on. One time I put it on and walked a mile on the treadmill, just to see how it felt. That was just 40 lbs.

The first half mile wasn’t too bad, although I could feel the weight pulling down on my shoulders and back. By the end of the mile, the weight was getting heavy, and my breathing was getting a little labored—and I’m in pretty good shape.

I’ve got friends in the military that do forced marches with 50 lb rucksacks. They’ve got my respect. Imagine doing that with 100 lbs. That’s what Nicole had to do when she first started working out. No wonder half the people quit!

If you’re overweight, think of all the extra weight your frame has to support. It’s kind of like overloading an elevator. It might not snap and crash this time, but it can’t be good either. It’s no wonder that people complain of pain in their joints and back. Or that their muscles get sore. But it’s not just carrying around the extra weight.

When you’re morbidly obese, all that extra fat is actually pressing in on your lungs and other organs, making it difficult to breathe, so you can’t get enough oxygen—literally smothering you. And if you do get a decent breath, your heart has to pump that blood and oxygen through all those miles of extra blood vessels, making it work way harder than it should have to.

Now imagine walking around that way but then being able to throw 100 lbs off. How would it feel? What would it be like to not have to carry that weight around? How would your heart be working? How would your muscles and skeleton feel?

Before, your metabolism would be running slowly, but now, due to all that exercise and more muscle mass, it’s soaring right along. That’s why even though she hasn’t been able to do as much, Nicole still lost 5.6 lbs! Now, her body is working for her.

It is, too. You should see her doing the workouts. It’s like seeing freedom at work. I know how she feels. It used to be that I couldn’t run without having a serious asthma attack. Now, with the new asthma meds, I can run like the wind. OK, like a small breeze.

Folks, there’s freedom here. Figure out what you’ve got to do, make a decision like Nicole did—to just get started. Make up your mind, and then do it. Get started. Keep doing it. When it’s tough, do what you can. Work around things. You’re going to hurt. But you’re going to hurt more, later, if you don’t do it.

I’m sure Nicole would tell you that if she can do it, you can do it. But maybe not. After all, this pretty regular person is pretty extraordinary. So what about you? What are you going to do?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I was watching one of our cats the other night. He’s the spitting image of an older cat we have called Sylvester. Since this one follows him around like a little buddy, we decided to call him Buddy.

One night last week, I noticed Buddy just lying there by the water bowl. That was a little unusual. Typically they come over, get a drink of water, and then go find something to do.

But he wasn’t moving and it looked like he was staring at the cupboard. He stayed that way for a couple hours. As it turns out, there was a mouse in there. When it finally came out another way, he found it, caught it, and…well, you know the rest of the story.

Now Buddy wasn’t that hungry because he’s always sticking his nose in the food bowl. What he had, though, was a genetic need to find and pursue prey. Those cats are all pretty loving, but if we were little, we’d be cat food.

They can’t help themselves. Put a small rabbit in front of them and they’re gonna drag it home. It’s the same thing with a bird that doesn’t get away in time, or in this case, our little house mouse.

Another cat named Jack likes to sit near the edge of the lawn by the field. He likes it at dusk, or even right after dark. We’ll go out for a walk and there he is, like clockwork. The other two cats have their own routines.

What impresses me is their commitment to the idea. They are dedicated. Buddy’s still a kitten really, and he’s usually all over the place, getting into everything. But that night he was so patient, he waited until the little guy showed his nose. Then he lowered the boom.

And Jack never misses a night. He’s a hunter and knows it. Prowling and growling. We need to be more like cats.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that half the people quit after starting working out. That’s a real shame, because if you need to lose weight, you need to increase your activity—not decrease it.

What’s interesting is that of the 50% left over, about half of them NEVER miss! Or if they do, it kills them. They are so dedicated that you can set your clock by them. They’re typically the ones who are at or near their ideal weight, or well on their way to it.

They’re like Buddy and Jack in their mousing. They’re consistent in their approach, always persistent, and they’re completely dedicated to the idea. It takes high priority in their life and is part of their regular routine.

That’s what you need if you want to turn things around. Half measures generally don’t get the job done. They just get you halfway there. It’s why they call them half measures.

If your goal is to lose weight, build muscle, stop smoking, make repairs, or anything else you’d like to do, it’s going to take a little bit more than half measures. Figure out exactly what it is you want, and then write it down, or even tell others so now you’re on the spot about it.

Then break it down into measurable smaller goals—like a weekly weigh-in. Figure out a schedule that is consistent. Every day at such and such time, this is what you’ll be doing. Don’t deviate—no exceptions, no excuses.

Finally, you’ve just got to get start. I mean really. Just get started. Many people never get past the dreaming stage. If you want to get something done, you’ve actually got to do it.

Once you’ve gotten started, take a lesson from Buddy and Jack. You’ve got to be consistent. You’ve got to be persistent. You’ve got to be dedicated. If you can learn how to make it your mission in life, I promise you’ll get it done. Now get out there and get going!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


One of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves is engage in competition. It helps our country too. Competition to provide goods and services is what drives our economy. Competition can also drive our quest to get and stay in better shape.

But sometimes competition can get a bad rap. You’ve probably heard stories about some school programs that have begun to de-emphasize competition in the classroom, to level the playing field. The theory is it’s bad for kids to be told they’re “average.” It’s too much of a blow to their self-esteem.

Well, getting a “C” might affect their self-esteem, but what about the kids that are above average, or even at the top of their class? They deserve the recognition for all their hard work.

Frankly, getting a low grade or two might provide a little motivation and incentive for the kid that has the ability but needs to pick it up. If the grade itself doesn’t do it, I’ll bet the parents could find a way to light a fire under their butt.

Life is full of selection, and if you want to be selected, you need to be near the top. That shows you’re capable, and willing to work hard. One way competition can get out of hand though, is in youth sports. We’ve all heard the parent take it just a little too far on the soccer field or ball diamond. And I think sometimes kids can get a little too disappointed when it doesn’t go their way. Winning is good, but it isn’t everything.

It’s the process that matters, where kids learn how to push themselves beyond their limits, and how to focus on a task. It’s learning how to try hard, and sometimes, how to live with disappointment.

In the end, if you did your best, that’s pretty good. If it was good enough to come out on top—sweet! But if you come up a little short, what’s wrong with celebrating the effort of the other guys?

I’ve learned much more from my losses than from my wins. Sure, I had some 1st place finishes back when I was competing hot and heavy in Taekwondo and Jiu Jitsu tournaments. But I had many more 2nd and 3rd place finishes.

For one thing, if they beat me, they were pretty amazing, and I always appreciated that. It’s hard to argue with excellence. The other thing is that I always treated it like an education. What could I take home to work on that would make me stronger the next time?

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying to win. With a competition coming up, we’d intensify our efforts. That went a long way to keep us training, and training hard—which provided other benefits.

The one time I had a shot at 1st place in a national tournament was at Disney World some years back. I was surprised I made the finals and guess I focused a little too much on attacking and trying to win. As a result, a spinning hook kick knocked me into 2nd place and left me with a broken nose and my right cheek broken in two places.

When it happened, I just kind of sat down because I knew it was over. When the referee asked me if I could go on, I didn’t want to say I quit, so all I could think of was “I resign.” Later, I realized that I was probably in shock due to the injuries.

As a result of that match, and a couple other injuries, the national Master’s council decided to make face shields mandatory, and now thousands of kids and adults have a little extra protection. Sometimes I wonder if we’re all a little lazier about blocking now, knowing we have that shield, but I guess it’s better than a kick in the head!

I’m always encouraging people to sign up for different 5 K races, half or full marathons (depending on their capabilities), trail runs and bike rides. It’s not so they’ll win the event, because that’s usually pretty unlikely for people new to running or riding. It’s because they’ll have to train for the event, and that will keep them focused.

Then, during the race, they’ll always push a little harder, because others are pushing too. It’s also quite inspiring, when you see others that are better than you. Of course, it can also be a little demoralizing so you need to keep perspective.

I remember my second marathon. The first one was a disaster with a knee injury. The second one was only a little better and I was at about mile 25, just kind of plugging along, when I heard “How you doing honey?”

As that registered, this sweet older lady caught up to me. She must have been at least 65, possibly 70. I told her I was fine, but that it was pretty tough. She slapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s O.K. Sweety, we can do it” and took off!

I tried my best but she pulled away from me and finished a couple minutes ahead of me. I came to find out was that she’d been running for years and does a bunch of races every season. But for a couple years, anytime I was out training, I thought of grandma.

Even when we’re competing with others, we’re really competing with ourselves. We’re trying to bring out our best performance. If we can learn how to live up to our true potential, that’s when we really become winners!