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People & Places

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 15

Rucksgiving and the New England Spahtens

Over the past year, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to run 50 Obstacle Races by age 50…which then morphed into 46 Races in 2016 for my 46 years…which has again morphed into getting as many done this year as I can.  As part of this evolution, I’ve connected with some wonderful people along the way, see here Joel Chavez the man representing Day 3 of the 28 Days.

One group which which I’ve connected is the New England Spahtens, a local obstacle course racing (OCR) enthusiasts team that has over time morphed (not unlike my race list, nor would that be coincidental to my own list) into other races, fitness activities, and social events.  After all, it’s a team, right?

OCR is an interesting community.  It’s designed as an individual challenge, but we’re social animals and want to engage these pursuits with other similarly minded folk.  I’ve noticed several “teams” of this kind in various places: joining is optional, there are no membership fees, no one gets cut, be as active or passive as you want.  If you want to register for a race, but the team hasn’t been formed, form it.  You can confidentially register for a race, join/create the team and you’ll have the support of others even if you don’t know them.  They’re there to support you, perhaps help you over an obstacle with the sole purpose of sharing the sport and making it accessible to as many as who want to join.

For the past two years, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Spahtens marshal as many volunteers as they can, loaded with donations and carry  ruck sacks stuffed with the gear around a route through Boston to carry donations to the less fortunate. This isn’t an administratively heavy endeavor (read the blog post, linked to here – this is a general call to arms, some pre-planning, and general strategy on the fly).  There are no news crews covering the story, no administrative costs.  Just teams of people caring for others, while living the purpose of the group – health and fitness.  It’s a marriage of the mission and vision of healthy activity, and supporting others.  And it’s ridiculously inspirational.



28 Days of Inspiration – Day 14

Because I Said I Would

Alex Sheen  wanted to pay tribute to his deceased father — and that turned into an international non-profit movement. To memorialize his father, he passed out cards at his father’s funeral that said “because I said I would” and he encouraged friends and family to write down promises. “Just live by what you say” from mundane to life-altering commitments.  On his blog, he promised to mail 10 Promise Cards to anyone who asked for them. This turned out to be a very expensive endeavor (just paying for postage!).

He has distributed roughly 4.5 million Promise Cards in the past four years.  His movement has inspired individuals, organizations, schools and communities. It even brought one person to admit he had killed a man. His Promise Card simply said “‘I will take responsibility for what I have done…’ because I said I would.”Because I Said I Would tells the stories of people following through on the promises they made just because they said they would, albeit perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Mr. Sheen.

One of my favorite things is the TED Talks.  15 minutes or so of well crafted on point story telling.  Here are three such presentations from the Because I Said I Would website that preach the message.  Although my own commitment to building a better person this year was not influenced by his movement, we followed a similar path: we said we were going to do it, built a plan, and followed through just because we said we would.  While the 2016 World Series, one side representing Cleveland, represents the hope and aspirations of two cities, Alex represented three Cleveland women by walking the state of Ohio.

Sheen quit a successful & well-paying  management job in technology to pursue  the betterment of humanity through promises made and kept throughout the world.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 12

Foster Parents

There are some 653,000 children in the foster care system or waiting for adoption in the United States. These are the most vulnerable people in our society.

Foster care is a system in which a minor child has been placed into a ward, certified, or private home of a caregiver, referred to as a “foster parent”. The placement of the child is normally arranged through the government or a social service agency. The institution, group home or foster parent is compensated for expenses.

These people willingly accept someone elses’ kids into their homes, see to it that they get to school, that they’re safe from making harmful choices they may otherwise be making.  It’s a challenge – the kids often don’t want to be there, or if they are they test the rules of the house to be sure they’re really cared about.  They often don’t know how to make better choices.  Foster parents are truly people who are working to be the good they wish to see in the world.

No one is getting rich being a Foster parent.  In fact, they’re legally exposed: they’re responsible for the day to day care of this child, they have to ensure physical well being.  They’re opening their home up to the state to ensure they’re living up to their obligations.

They undergo background screens, go through over 70 hours of training, have their homes go through a home study process so they can care for someone else’s child.

They’re the people who are staying up all night when the foster child decides to take off overnight, they’re the ones taking the kid to the emergency room, they’re the ones who get the call from school.  All this for expense reimbursement.

Without foster parents, there are kids that won’t get a chance in life. Consider the statistics: 23,000 children simply aged out of the system in 2013. These kids have few social skills – 20% will wind up homeless after age 18 and 50% will be unemployed within six years.  Foster parents are sometimes the only chance these kids have.

It’s a remarkably selfless avocation with remarkably little reward.  Foster parents are literally society’s super heroes.


28 Days of Inspiration – Day 11

“Too Fat to Run” Julie Creffield

Julie is a marathon runner and has been for over ten years.  She’s also plus size – Size 18.  Her doctors told her she was too unfit to run after she pulled a muscle in her back. She was so inspired to prove the doctor wrong, three weeks later she ran the London Marathon and later founded a website “The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running” at toofattorun.co.uk.

The idea is to inspire people to get out and exercise.  Overweight people are particular risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke among other health concerns. Julie’s site is part running club, part blog, part motivational speaker booking agency.  She’s all about getting plus size women out and active, running for their health.

Yesterdays entry was about speed.  She’s actively reaching out to women to try out different techniques for increasing their running speed.  Consider this: instead of advising other plus size women they’re too unfit to be running, she’s encouraging them to be out there and active.  Not only active: faster. If they want to be.

I always say to women that are just starting out that your running speed doesn’t matter, the most important thing is to get out there as often as you can and to learn to enjoy the sport regardless of any improvements of speed or distance.

Its incredibly important to find empowerment when perhaps you’re feeling vulnerable.  The last thing someone needs to hear is that they can’t do something.  Here’s someone asking people to get out there, be active, and enjoy themselves. To continue to work toward their goals.  Consider this tidbit from the CDC: “Physical activity reduces risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes beyond that produced by weight reduction alone.”

It’s more important to be active to reduce the risks of heart disease.  Julie is out there encouraging women to get out there and be active.



28 Days of Inspiration – Day 10

Day 10 – Acting With Intention

Diving into a new routine is always difficult.  Consider this, the conventional wisdom is that it takes 21-days to create a new habit.  To this I would suggest that it takes exponentially longer if that habit is really not something you WANT to do, and considerably shorter if it is.  Consider this: committing to a new exercise program is significantly different than committing to eating a Twinkee every day.  The pay off of that sugar rush, that creamy goodness, really doesn’t take long for the brain to say, YAS!

We spend so much of our lives running on autopilot.  Don’t believe me? At some random point during your commute pay attention to where you have your hands on your car’s steering wheel or the wear pattern on your brake pedal or how you’re holding your phone as you listen to music.  You haven’t even thought about it, but there it is.  Your foot is in the same spot where the wear pattern shows it will be.  “Just a minute” becomes 15 or 20 because you find yourself engrossed in Candy Crush or some other mindless time killer phone app.  What can possibly be more demotivating than heading to bed at the end of the day and realizing that you have accomplished nothing of value?  That’s why we look forward to New Years so much – a new year, a new opportunity to make a difference; yet by December 30th we’ve not done what we’ve set out to do because we’ve failed to act with intention.

What can you do to help yourself do this? Remove sources of temptation.  If Twinkees are the nemesis to your goal, avoid having them in the house; if it’s alcohol, avoid situations where you’ll have temptations.

Define your “WHY.” Why is this thing worth accomplishing.  For me, I have a fitness goal to achieve.  Why? Because my kids look to me as a role model.  I can either be a positive, a negative, or neutral role model in their lives.  I want, more than anything, to be a positive role model.  I see myself as someone who does not quit, therefore I will not quit this fitness program.

It helps to set micro goals or benchmarks along the way.  We make the mistake every January of saying “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year,” and then come December 1 when we haven’t lost any weight, we have the guilt of another lost year and another failed goal.  How about “I’m going to lose a pound a week for 20 weeks” or even better “I’m going to eat 500 less calories a week.”

Our modern lives are so complex, and we’re urged to take the simplest course to a decision.  Stop and consider those choices.  Act with intention, consider why you’re making these choices.  Take control of your life just through the simple act of considering what you’re doing.

28 Days Of Inspiration – Day 9

“I’m Sorry.” 

Some days it’s harder than others to find inspiration.  I’ve deliberately stayed away from typical names or sayings in favor of more frequently overlooked subject matter; inspiration comes from many sources, but trite sources are hardly if ever inspirational.  I also seek to be educational as well: there’s no use in pointing people to things they may already know.  Taking this approach, though, means that I’ve really got to put some thought into the day’s inspiration; each of these days has been pointed by thoughtful consideration.

Today has not been a terribly inspiring day for me, indeed downright uninspiring.  It’s really difficult to “man up” sometimes, admit mistakes, admit misdeeds and try to make them right.  Doing so confronts the all to familiar reality that we’re not perfect, we are capable of hurting people we love through thoughtless action.

But there is a silver lining, and an inspirational one at that.  Realizing our weaknesses allows us the opportunity to confront them, allows us the opportunity to take control over them; to harness that power we all have and focus it on becoming a better person.

That’s the internal, but it also allows for forgiveness.  It opens the door for your loved one to forgive.  Hate and anger are such destructive forces; they eat you up, steal your time and attention with negativity.  But they’re natural, and expected, responses to having been hurt.  Sometimes those who have been hurt aren’t ready to immediately forgive, but the door has been opened for them to do so.  You can’t always undo what you’ve behaved your way into, but recognizing the damage you’ve done and taking responsibility for it brings that healing much faster. Want evidence? Hospitals and Doctors who apologize for medical errors get sued less.  Apologies are medicine.

So today’s inspiration is the apology.  That heartfelt message that you know and understand the consequences of your actions, your regret, your accepting responsibility can be incredibly inspirational for those around you, and empowering for you to make important changes.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 8

Giving Dap
It’s a concept most of us are at least passingly familiar with, that routinized and apparently choreographed handshake between two friends, perhaps teammates, expressing welcome or congratulations.

According to Wikipedia, the practice has it’s origins in the 1960’s early 1970’s among African American soldiers in Vietnam as a means of expressing solidarity with the Black Power movement.

Now, why I find this inspirational.  It’s fun to meet a friend and to engage in a well worn tradition between the two of you, that perhaps only you two can anticipate.  But more than that, it’s a visible expression to all who see it that these are two people who share something in common – maybe it’s respect, or friendship, or a common goal – but whatever it is, it’s shared between them.  You cannot be that in sync with someone with whom you share nothing in common.

It’s an expression of solidarity: anyone who witnesses people giving dap know those two people care about each other at some level.  It signifies bonds that perhaps aren’t spoken, just felt.  Regardless of what they may say, anyone I’ve ever known who have accomplished anything needs to have someone they care about give them some positive regard and this is but one means by which that’s conveyed.

As I see it, there are two ways to see the world: as a great place with some bad actors or a bad place with some good actors. I choose to see the world as a place with a majority of good folks with reasonable intentions. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that, particularly when the politics of my great country are bogged down in appeals to the lowest common denominator. Hence, my 28 days of inspiration. Sometimes all it takes for my world view to be reawakened is seeing two people give each other that regard, showing each other that affection.

Give someone that phat dap instead of throwing shade today.



28 Days Of Inspiration – Day 7

O’Connell Valor Fund

12032154_976861252357160_4209385470131246592_nSo far, the 28 Days have largely focused on individuals: George Washington Carver, James Stockdale for instance.  The first day was dedicated to the observance of a specific day influenced by a person, Ada Lovelace Day, but otherwise the inspiration has been person centric.  Today we move away from that a bit.

The O’Connell Valor Fund is a registered charity with its sole purpose to raise money to help Veterans who may be having a hard time of it and providing them with some of the small necessities of life.  The mission statement is simple:

Our goal is simple – help our U.S. Military heroes, next-of-kin, and families better cope with daily life so they can heal with some peace of mind knowing basic essentials are covered. This might include a monthly utility bill payment, groceries for the week, making sure their child’s birthday is a little extra special, and many other basic essentials many of us take for granted.

Fully 100% of donations are purposed directly to the charity’s programs – 100% – because it’s run as a labor of love by its founder, Richard O’Connell after he set it up in honor of two Uncles who served in the US Military.

It’s a modest mission, but an earnest one.  Food gift cards for a Veteran’s family; a heating oil purchase.  Just the little things that can go unattended because of the demands of the larger things.  I am regularly canvased by huge non-profit organizations  whose donations are often eaten away at by overhead costs  and not one of them can promote 100% of donations going directly to the people the organization serves.

Richard puts the money where his mouth is: he ran a 50k race to raise money for a vet in need, he donates his time to the charity, and he runs it without any salary or expense reimbursement.

It’s inspirational for me to see how one person can take a vision and make such an impact for those who have given their time, health, commitment for this country.  One man, one entity designed to make life better for those who offer to defend this country.

Take a minute. “Like” the Facebook page.  Maybe send a small donation.  Or even better, find out what you can do to raise up people in need.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 6

George Washington Carver

When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.

images-of-lynne-carverHistory remembers this man for his work with peanuts, but the backstory behind his breakthrough work is even more inspirational.  How he came to be in position to help those less fortunate, the rural poor and in the process perhaps saved the economy of the south. His family divided by slavery – we don’t even know his actual birth date or exactly who his father was; indeed “Carver” is the family name of the slaveholders who owned him and his family.

He was kidnapped along with his mother and sister from the plantation where the family were slaves, but only he was found and returned.  He was a sickly child and not very strong, as such the slaveholders kept him in the farmhouse and taught him to read, eventually sending him to school and later moving off the farm to go to high school.

Upon graduating from high school, and determined to engage a college education he applied for and was denied entrance to school owing to his race.  He worked odd jobs – farmhand, railroad work – to save money for that education, eventually enrolling at the first black student at Simpson College in Iowa where he was encouraged to enroll at what is now Iowa State University to study botany. Six years after starting his collegiate journey, he earned his Bachelor’s degree, and two years later a Masters’ Degree.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgewash106292.html

An inspirational story in and of itself, but there’s more.

He gave up his faculty position and its trappings, to go to work for the first African American college in the country, the Tuskegee Institute, to teach former slaves and where he developed work on crop rotation, rotating cotton and peanuts.  When peanut inventories grew too high and prices dropped, he developed 300 different products for their use and demand soared.

An uncommon man, at the time of his death, he left his entire life savings to the Tuskegee Institute.  He spent his life in dedication to others leveraging the education he had worked so hard to achieve.





28 Days of Inspiration – Day 5

Bhumibol Adulyadej


from kyotoreview.org


King Bhumibol the Great  served for over 70 years as king of Thailand, a reign ending with his passing this week at age 88.  Consider the degree of change occurring in this southeast Asian country over the course of his lifetime and monarchy and realize he held this once remote, impoverished country together through the upheavals of coup d’etats, the Vietnam conflict, the bombings of Cambodia and Laos, Cambodian civil war – all going on around his country, without dragging it into the conflict.


Now, it’s hard to know just how genuine the Thai people’s reverence of their monarch is due to the lèse majesté laws in place – it’s illegal to criticize the king – but by most accounts it’s apparently quite genuine. He was seen as a stabilizing force in a country and region notoriously unstable.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said on numerous occasions that he wanted to be seen as “useful,” to have acted for the poorest citizens.  Indeed he spent the 1960’s and 1970’s  deliberately visiting the rural poor, and learning of their needs.

He was born in the United States, educated in Switzerland, spoke English and French, but had no apparent desire to travel – there was too much to do at home. Due to political circumstances early on, he focused his attention on development projects, building away from agrarian to modern industry.

This was an apparently humble man who accidentally became king, and made the best use of his authority for his people as he saw it for more than 70 years.