It is the season for musing on the year that is rapidly passing away and making resolutions for the year ahead. I tend to use this blog to reflect on items throughout the year (see – among many others – thoughts on the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service, preseason baseball, wonderful European travel, fathers, live music set in the midst of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, “stay-cations”, holiday weekends, our year in photos, and 21st birthday celebrations.) So I have only one additional reflection today…but I have several resolutions. I’ve found that when I call out my resolutions publicly, I tend to keep them. (Funny how that works!) But first, let’s look back.
I am a lucky man. The picture above pretty much explains it all. As Claire and Andrew have passed significant life milestones, I have often written about my wonderful children. They aren’t perfect, but they do give me a great deal of pleasure (when they aren’t driving me crazy. Have you seen those rooms!?!) However, I’ve been reminded over this holiday season how lucky I am – in fact how lucky the three of us are – to have Candice in our lives as wife and mother. I like the Urban Dictionary definition of “marrying up” – as they note that “back in the day this would have been used of marrying someone higher up in society, but nowadays it’s just generally when someone is punching above their weight in the romance department.” That fits me to a T.
We have had a wonderful holiday season in 2013 due – in large measure – to Candice and the way she is so intentional about our life today. Because the twins’ birthday comes close to Christmas Day, we’ve traditionally focused more on Advent during December, leaving the decorations, gifts, and parties until the 25th and the 12 days of Christmas. And this year, we had an especially thoughtful Advent season, that included daily reflections; lots of music, including Andrew’s solo in Messiah, two different services of Lessons and Carols, and the traditional Institute of Musical Tradition holiday concert with the talented Robin Bullock; time to reflect with friends; and wonderful meals both at home and in some great restaurants. (Check out Gracie’s if you are ever in Providence, and then eat breakfast and lunch in their affiliated bakery, named Ellie’s. Candice found them both – Gracie’s on our last trip and Ellie’s on this visit – and I’ve seldom eaten so well!)
This year Candice has led the family renaissance in health. After working faithfully on a daily basis to come back from her double whammy of severe concussion and hip replacement, she has supported me as I’ve tried to live a more healthful life. (More on that below.) With her intentional focus, she has reached out to friends and has made connections a big part of our life as empty nesters. My job wouldn’t be as satisfying without Candice’s support – from listening to concerns to cheering success stories and commenting on upcoming speeches. She keeps the business part of the family on track, which is a big relief to all four of us. When the heating system decides to die (as it did this fall), Candice plays the role of general contractor in researching the new equipment and getting all the workers to the right place at the right time. She doesn’t have many flaws, but she does have a few. She can’t carry a tune in a bucket. (She’s like my father in that respect.) But even that has been good for me, as she thinks I’m a great guitar player and she has supported my mid-life crisis-fueled Guitar Acquisition Syndrome with gusto.
For this holiday season, we’re continuing a tradition of having a special family celebration for each of the 12 days of Christmas. This was Candice’s idea, and she makes sure it takes place each year. On Christmas Day 2013 we helped serve food at our parish’s Christmas dinner for the homeless and those in the neighborhood who don’t have anyone else to celebrate with, then we had a family friend over for dinner and a film. The day after – we simply made sure we exercised! Yesterday, we celebrated over lunch with Andrew’s godparents. Tonight, we’ll all take in a play at Arena Stage. You get this gist…just a little something nice on each day to celebrate community, family, friends, and the season.
I’ll end this reflection of 2013 where I began. I am a lucky man. Thank you, my love.
New years bring new resolutions. I have found that if I make a resolution public then I keep it – such as stating on my then-Facebook page in February of 2012 that I was giving up sodas. I haven’t had a drop of soda in almost two years (and I had a 2-4 Diet Coke-a-day habit) and I feel much better. So here goes.
As I began 2013, I resolved privately – with a great deal of help and prodding from Candice – to focus on my health. My excuse was that in helping to bring Candice back from her injuries, I had let myself go. But that didn’t do much for me. I was fluctuating between 210 and 220 pounds – well above where I should be – and simply wasn’t feeling well much of the time.
But after a commitment to go six months with a personal trainer (then extended for the rest of the year…and then on into 2014), I kept that resolution. At the end of the year I weighed 15 pounds less than at the beginning of the year (and was fluctuating between 187 and 197…a significant improvement! I was visiting the gym on average five days a week. At the beginning of the year I didn’t even know what a “plank” was…now I can hold one for a while before I collapse. Thanks to Sue Immerman at MAD Fitness, Washington Sports Club, and Tanya Colucci at Transform Holistic Healing and Wellness Studio, I’ve made some progress on this front.
So my first resolution is to continue last year’s resolution. I hope to end 2014 another 15 pounds down from where I am now, and to solidify the change in lifestyle.
Several years ago, Candice saw the authors of Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond on television, and bought me the book. I was just turning 50 at the time, and while I was a little overweight, I didn’t feel like I was terribly out of shape. So I read the book, agreed with much I read, and then proceeded to live the way I had for the previous decade. Life was too busy.
But this year, I went back and re-read the book. 58 was much more difficult for me than 49. The book – geared toward men – focuses on exercise, looks, life commitments, and more. I loved the no-nonsense advice of this book – written by a retired lawyer and a young doctor – for the Next Third of your life. My all-time favorite in the chapter entitled “The Ugly Stick and Other Curiosities”: Just Say No to Yasir Arafat.
You may be tempted, particularly when you’re not going to the office every day, to forget about shaving. Don’t. You may think “Bruce Willis!” but you may look “Yasir Arafat!”
Younger Next Year has seven “rules” for living the Next Third. I’ve taken those, plagiarized some directly, reworked others a bit, and added some just for me. They’ve become my resolutions for the year(s) ahead, and they are now my computer wallpaper – the first thing I see when I boot up in the morning. I’ll share them here, with a little explanation.
1. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life. This is also the first rule in YNY. The book makes the point that exercise tells the body to grow. Sitting too long tells the body to decay. My inspiration here is my father, Tom Brown. He often says that the membership we gave him to the YMCA at age 70 saved his life. Dad – who was not the picture of health at the time – now goes to the gym six days a week and has done so for the past 18 years. He can’t hear worth a darn (and could never carry a tune), but he’s very healthy for someone who turned 88 last July.
2. Listen more than you talk. This is one I added just for me. When you are in an executive position (be it at work or just as a parent), the temptation is to enjoy the sound of your own voice. As I’ve become older, I have realized that I need to read this every morning before starting the day, as a good reminder.
3. Spend less than you make. This is another direct take from YNY but it is important for me. I have found that as our financial position becomes more comfortable, I worry less. That’s good, but it also leads to dumb decisions about money. (Some would suggest I look at the G.A.S. post above.) In thinking about sustainability (personally as well as with the family, community, and planet), this just makes sense.
4. Quit eating crap! Eat less of everything else. The first is a direct quote from the YNY rules. The second is my addition to remind myself that I can survive on a lot less food than I normally put into my body on a daily basis. It would be more politically correct to use Michael Pollan’s famous, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” But I inevitably understand what is the crap I should keep out of my mouth (e.g., french fries) and when I think of it that way, it can tend to have more impact.
5. Play music. He who sings, prays twice. I’ve decided that this is going to be a perpetual resolution. Music is one of the key things that feeds my soul.
6. Connect and commit. While this is taken directly from YNY, Candice could have helped me write this one. The authors devote an entire chapter to this critical issue of relationships, with sub-sections entitled “Cuddle or Perish,” “Don’t Retire at All,” “Using the Other Side of Your Brain,” “Make a Job Out of Your Social Life,” and “Just Say ‘Yes’.” As someone who has to be prodded on occasion to accept social engagements, this is an important reminder. Just since putting it up on my list, I’ve taken some steps in this direction.
7. Don’t be a Grumpy Old Man. Enjoy life! I’ve never enjoyed being around older folks who gripe. (Actually, I’ve never enjoyed being around younger folks who gripe either!) But it is easy, as one gets older, to think you have all the answers. That’s one of the great things about having kids. Mine remind me all the time that I don’t know squat about so many things in life. But as I started the post on this note, I want to end here by remembering that I am a lucky man. I have a great wife and children, a father who is still going strong at 88 and a mother-in-law who is a joy in our lives, a caring extended family, a wonderful set of friends, a challenging and satisfying job with fantastic and smart colleagues, and a wonderful community. I have (most of) my wits. I can still play a decent guitar, even if I have given up the dream of flat-picking like Doc Watson, and while I can no longer hit the high notes, I still sing a respectable tenor and do so with gusto when I know the song (to the embarrassment of my children). I love a good joke and like to laugh. Washington has a good professional baseball team and I get to share in a season-ticket package with good friends. My wife is an amazing cook and we both enjoy good food and wine on an almost nightly basis. Our house is not big, but it is big enough. I could go on and on.
So there they are…some resolutions (or musings) for 2014. Now that I’ve put them out there, feel free to let me know when I fall short (as I will). But also, if something strikes you as worth doing, feel free to take it and call it your own.
Happy New Year!
More to come…