Reflections of Ireland (Part 1)

Ireland has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Like many in the US, and like most people from the town in which I hail, I have more than a little Irish heritage. I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland and have a look around. My favorite author, James Joyce, is also famously Irish. Walking around Dublin and seeing the sights of Joyce’s epic Ulysses has been of dream of mine for several years too. Our trip plan is to start in Galway and see the Cliffs of Moher. Then we’ll travel to Killarney and tour – among other things – the Ring of Kerry. Having checked the box on beautiful countryside, we’ll move on to Dublin for several days. I’m a few days into the tour and I wanted to pause for a few reflections.

Ireland feels like home

I’m originally from Southern Ohio. Think, “foothills of the Appalachian Mountains along the banks of the Ohio River.” My part of Ohio is dominated by Scotch-Irish culture that has had time to ferment in a small town environment for a few hundred years since our ancestors predominantly migrated from Ireland. Our people are a heavily accented, slow-paced, kindly folk who are fiercely independent and suspicious of “outsiders” who might be selling solutions to problems that they likely don’t understand. The Southern Ohio landscape is dominated by lovely rolling green pastures, forested hills and plentiful natural water sources that support farming and outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing. I honestly can’t say I was surprised to find a very similar land, culture, and people. Admittedly, I haven’t made it to Dublin yet, but what I have experienced feels like my rural Ohio roots. What I have been struck by is the amazing beauty of the Emerald Isle.

Did I mention that Ireland is Amazingly Beautiful?

So far, I have driven from Dublin to Galway, taken the Cliffs of Moher tour, driven from Galway to Limerick with a brief stop for lunch and a tour or King John’s Castle, and then on again from Limerick to Killarney. The sights are absolutely a.maz.ing. In just a couple of days, we’ve been able to see (pictured in order) 1. The River Corrib in Galway, 2. The Cliffs of Moher, 3. The rocky coast of the The Burren, 4. King John’s Castle in Limerick, and 5. Muckross Lake in Killarney. I am absolutely enamored with the beauty of this country – and, while Southern Ohio cannot totally compete – the sights are at least reminiscent.

The River Corrib in GalwayThe River Corrib in Galway

The Cliffs of MoherThe Cliffs of Moher

The rocky coast of The Burren

View of the River Shannon from atop King John’s Castle

Sunset over Muckross Lake

Until next time… Sláinte chugat!

Five Benefits from Five Years of Journaling

I first started journaling when I was going through a divorce several years ago. The stresses of separating from my spouse, figuring out finances, and helping the children adjust all while maintaining my focus at work was getting to me. I almost started journaling on a whim. I’m a bit of an introvert and I’m not prone to sharing details with others. So journaling was my way out; my way to organize my thoughts and to “say” the things that I didn’t want to actually verbalize to anyone else. I wrote somewhere around 200 pages over 18 months. When my divorce was complete, I purged the file and later started a new one. My second journal turned 5 years old two weeks ago. I’ve decided to start a new one. The file size was getting unwieldy and five years seems like a good cutover point. Starting anew, I reflected on the journaling process and realized how much I’ve learned from it. While there’s probably more, here are my top five benefits from five years of journaling.

1.) Problem solving

I solve problems for a living. Of course, I could argue that everyone who has a job is essentially being paid to solve problems that customers aren’t willing or able to do themselves. But problem-solving is my specialty. I have an engineering background, several technical certifications, and 20+ years of experience solving fairly sizable problems across various industries. With these credentials, one might think that I could solve just about any problem in my sleep. That would be wrong. While it certainly is my forte, sometimes I get stuck. I find that journaling is my unlocking mechanism. The free form of journaling helps me describe a problem from multiple angles or to refine what it is and what it isn’t. I find that spending time writing about a problem not only helps me find breakthrough solutions, but it also stops the swirling in my head. I also use it for household problem-solving. For instance, there was a particularly nasty head and chest cold going through our house from season to season and journaling about it over time helped me figure out how to 1.) avoid getting it and 2.) speed the recovery time from more than 3 weeks to about 5 days. 

2.) Procrastination buster

I’m not one for procrastinating. I’ve always been internally motivated, so when I recognize that something needs to be done, I generally get going. Therefore when I am actually procrastinating on something, I know it’s a special cause. I might not like what needs to be done and I might be waiting on a better solution. Or, it might be that I have too much to do and – if I’m honest – I’m too busy feeling sorry for myself that I won’t pick a direction and move. Bring on journaling! Writing about these situations helps me to be honest with myself about my lack of movement. It really might be that I’m overwhelmed. I’ve often heard the quote, “Sometimes when you don’t know what to do, the best thing to do is nothing.” (Unknown attribution) I wouldn’t say that I do nothing. But I certainly have learned that sitting down to the keyboard, which was no where on the list of things to do, helps me prioritize the work in front of me. When I’m procrastinating out of a sense of being overwhelmed, journaling is exactly what I need. If I’m just hung up on the task at hand or feeling sorry for myself, sometimes I go ahead and have a good complaint session. I write down all the crap that’s annoying me at the time. The act of reading it after I’ve written it helps me see how petty I’m being. Recognizing my pettiness then causes me to shift into gratitude for everything that’s great in my life. And gratitude is extremely motivating. The point is that while I don’t procrastinate often, it can be caused by a number of different factors, and writing helps me get to the bottom of it and get moving.

3.) Better communicator

Have I mentioned that I’m an introvert? One of the key characteristics of an introvert is that we have far, far more thoughts than what comes out of our mouths. A lot of times, I’m just not ready to speak. I might have 4 thoughts on the same topic and if I start speaking without organizing them, I’ll probably confuse myself, never mind the poor listener. Journaling helps me get my thoughts out of my swirling mind. When a topic is particularly complex, the only way to sort it out is to pick up the journal and simply start writing. I may write in circles – making the same point repeatedly with only slightly different angles. But writing it down helps me sort out my thoughts so that I can communicate in a cogent manner. 

4.) Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and exercise control over your emotions, which in turn helps you connect with others. Journaling has helped me in strides on this front by following a simple guide that I learned in college. I took a course on Personal Transformation, which was amazing. Among other techniques, I learned to break down interpretations of an event. I’ll use an example to illustrate. Let’s say I’m running late to work and on the commute, someone cuts me off in traffic. My brain might jump to a conclusion like, “She cut me off just to be a jerk because she could see I’m in a hurry.” In this class, we learned to separate what happened from our interpretations. What actually happened? A lady merged into traffic in front of me, maybe cutting it a little too close given local standards for traffic spacing. When I interpreted what happened, I assigned meaning to the event. She meant harm. She meant to do what she did to prove a point. When I journal about this event, I might rant and rave about it for a few sentences, but then I use the “what happened and what did I interpret” method to break it down. After journaling, I might realize that I created the tight space with my rushed driving. She might have thought she had ample time to pull into traffic had I been going with the flow of normal traffic. Or, maybe she was also in a hurry because she was on the way to the hospital to spend time with an ill child. I really can’t know what was going on with her and I may have had some input in the event. Over time, this practice has become like a muscle that I flex through journaling so that I’m able to process faster in real time, thus giving me more Emotional Intelligence.

5.) Mindfulness Step 1

I didn’t realize it, but when I started journaling on and off about 8 years ago during my divorce, I took my first steps toward a path of mindfulness. dictionary.com defines mindfulness as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” I originally started journaling to sort out my thoughts and feelings during my divorce. I needed to address my concerns about the kids and money and the car and the laundry and the bills and the… you get the point. Through journaling, I was able to feel like I was doing something about my concerns. I could write them out to their logical conclusion and see that things would somehow be okay. I was learning to be present. It was a form of meditation for me. Having logged 300 pages in the last five years, I can easily say that journaling was a HUGE first step in my mindfulness journey. 

Getting Started

If these five benefits sound pretty awesome, there’s not really too much to getting started. You might start with a pen and paper. I personally use Pages on Apple products and simply password protect the file to help ensure that it doesn’t get opened or edited by others with whom I share devices. You can do the same with Google Docs and Microsoft products. Whatever you do, stick with it. You might not see the benefits on your first entry, but over time you’ll have your own top five list of benefits.


Traveling with a Parent

Sunset over Valencia

Traveling can be a great way to share fun and exciting experiences with a parent by following a few simple rules.

The Backstory

I must get my adventurous spirit from my mother. She had always wanted to travel with Dad, but his declining health after retirement made it impossible. Sadly, he passed away about 18 months ago. After allowing herself ample time to grieve his passing and after getting things settled, I’m grateful that she accepted my invitation to go to Spain. So about 8 months ago, my wife and I took Mom to our adopted home away from home, Barcelona and added on a brief stay in Valencia. While in Spain during a casual conversation at dinner, Mom listed off her dream travel destinations: England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. I lovingly pointed out that all of her dream destinations have the English language in common, to which she replied, “Oh, I didn’t even think about it, but I guess that’s true!” Oh Mom, I love you. Anyway, I got the message loud and clear. This year we’re headed to Ireland.

Planning the Trip

There were definitely some lessons learned from the trip to Spain. Most of it went very well. But through a little trial and error, I settled on some general rules for traveling with a parent.

Rule 1 – No third wheels

My wife and I love to travel, but taking others along with us can be tricky. I credit my wife with the stroke of genius to invite her “aunt” (actually a very close second cousin) to go with us on the first trip to Spain and now again to Ireland. My mom and her aunt have a fair amount in common.

IMG_0905
Four of a kind on a train in Spain

Like Mom, my wife’s aunt is also a recent widower and a retiree. They’re both very much involved with their adult children and grandchildren and are active in their communities. My wife’s aunt is a year ahead of my mother’s widowhood, so I think it also helps Mom see the light at the other end of the tunnel. At any rate, having a fourth person in our party means that there are no third wheels. If I want to do a specific activity with just my mother, my wife and her aunt are perfectly happy to go off on their own little adventure. Likewise, this is my valuable time away from work, so my wife and I enjoy sneaking away for a walk on a beach or the a glass of wine in a romantic setting. So it’s nice to not feel guilty about leaving any single person behind. In Spain, the retirees skirted off on their own adventures from time to time, and they really developed a nice bond. So – as I will repeatedly say over the course of this blog – my better half got it right. Thankfully, my wife’s aunt will be joining us again during our trip to Ireland and there will be no third wheels.

Rule 2 – One big thing per day

My wife and I try to stay in decent shape. So when we travel, we’re quite active. It isn’t that uncommon for us to log 40,000 steps or more per day while exploring a new spot. I want to recognize both Mom and my wife’s aunt for their fitness as they age, but these ladies can’t – and probably don’t want to – move around at that pace. So we’re scheduling “one big thing” per day with the option for mini-excursions before or after a main meal. For example, early in our trip to Ireland, we’re going to take a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher. The term “bus tour” doesn’t exactly elicit the idea of strapping on running shoes and breaking a sweat, but there are several on and off bus stops along the way with roughly 90 minutes to explore the Cliffs on foot. The terrain isn’t paved and it will be somewhat taxing. The six-hour tour will be done by 5 PM and, if my wife and I were on our own, we’d certainly line up something else afterwards. But that’s not the trip we’re on. So we’ll leisurely make our way back to our Airbnb and either eat in or find a quiet spot for dinner to reserve our collective energy for the next day’s one big thing.

Rule 3 – Everyone needs her space

We’re a social bunch, but when away from home for a significant period of time, it can be taxing on the mind and body. When traveling with a group it can be tempting to skimp on space and double up on bedrooms or to have someone sleep on a pullout in a common area. That might work for college age folks, but we’ve each had enough time and life experience to get into our routines. Therefore it’s important that each of us have some personal space. That means renting places with 3 bedrooms (my wife still agrees to room with me) and 2 bathrooms. It’s obviously a bit pricier in places like Europe where space is a premium, but it’s pretty important to give everyone some down time to keep the peace over a two-week long, cross-country trip.

Rule 4 – Find the adventure in things that everyone likes

My wife and I are relatively adventurous. As examples, we rented bikes for our main transportation in Sevilla, Spain; we waltzed out into a chilly Lake Michigan in Traverse City in late September; and I was in my element trail-running the petit balcon in the French Alps near Chamonix. These are not things I will plan to do with my mom. My mom is more comfortable having a quiet moment in a cathedral or sipping coffee in a cafe. That can work out great too. After several years of traveling to Barcelona, we finally took the train to Montserrat on this most recent trip with my mom. We were treated to an up close view of the Black Madonna. In Valencia’s central cathedral, we saw what the Catholic Church claims to be the chalice used by Jesus during the Last Supper.

 

In both cases, I wasn’t even aware these exalted artifacts existed until we prioritized visiting cathedrals to help suit my mom’s travel tastes. So… Rule 4 was born. Pick an activity that suits everyone and commit to finding the adventure.

In summary

My lovely Mom and me

Both Mom and I have found it to be extremely rewarding to travel together and we’ve shared experiences that will last the rest of our lives. Importantly to me as well, I’ve also shared these experiences with my wife, so we’re able to maximize our vacation time and make memories with loved ones. By following these few simple rules, I’m confident that we can keep going for years to come.


All pictures in this post were taken by Troy Gregory

Stressed? Try to Find the Long View

Situation

Let’s say I sell cars for a living (I don’t but the illustration will serve the purpose). Instead of selling a whole range of cars, I sell one car; a not-so-sexy little number that will safely and reliably get you from point A to point B. It also has a surprisingly low cost once we factor in maintenance and gas mileage. Now let’s say that another model that was clearly designed to compete with mine has popped up on the market. It has a lower initial cost, but overall cost of ownership makes it much more expensive after just a few months. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had two major buyers who were interested in buying my car for their fleet go the other way. I’m just coming off a strong growth year with my little car, so both times I entered the meeting with the buyer confident that I’d close the deal. Both times I was unceremoniously informed that the buyer was picking the other model. I was dejected.

Within a day of the second rejection, I attended a previously scheduled conference in which my national manager gave a business update. This update featured, among other things, the successes of my little car and me as the last year recently closed out. The content had been put together before these two recent rejections. While my car and I were being touted in the meeting, I was still licking my wounds from the two fresh rejections. During the business update, I felt like a fraud who would soon be discovered. My stomach turned, my blood pressure was noticeably up, and I slinked down in my chair. I didn’t want any of this good attention while I was falling flat. Most of all, I wanted my national manager to stop saying good things about me and my little car. I kept thinking, “If she only knew.” During the update meeting, we run a visible comment board and I started to become hyper-aware that the positive comments had dried up as the national manager was highlighting my results. “They know,” I thought.

Analysis

This is how our brains work. We go on a good run and we’re on top of the world. But, have a couple of set-backs in quick succession, and all of a sudden the world is collapsing around us. My wife is pursuing a Master’s degree in Psychology and she tells me that our brains have developed a somewhat-controlled paranoia over many thousands of years to keep us alive. For example, a rustling bush might not have meant a large predator was about to make a meal out of them, but if our ancestors had always calmly assumed the rustling was “just the wind,” our species probably wouldn’t have made it. In other words, we’re essentially pre-wired to jump to bad conclusions.

Reality

The reality of the situation is…

  • My little car and I did have a great year last year and I wasn’t a fraud
  • Yes, two potentially significant customers DID reject my little car for their needs, but the problem isn’t permanent
  • In fact, the clients may find that the cars they went with don’t meet their needs and they could change back to mine fairly quickly
  • Even if they don’t, there will be other buyers for my little car
  • These set backs do NOTmean the end of me or my little car
  • And finally, the kudos in the comment board had slowed up after the individual recognitions 10 minutes before my car was being presented – so it wasn’t because people were “on to me”

Using the long view to overcome a stressful moment

When I was young, if something bad would happen, my grandfather would say, “You’ll never know it in a hundred years” and then he’d have a chuckle. At the time I thought he was just old and insensitive. Of course I wouldn’t know it in a hundred years – I’ll be dead by then! But he was on to something. He was using the long view and a touch of humor to offer me an alternative perspective. This situation really isn’t that bad. When events we immediately perceive to be negative occur, our minds race to what this could mean. We then quickly begin grieving the situation and piling on “evidence” of further doom. But if we’re able to slow down for a mindful moment and consider the reality of the situation in context with the long view, many times we’ll see that things aren’t so bad. This in turn, frees up our mental resources to begin working on what we can do about the situation.

What I Learned From a Year of Going Vegan*

Before getting started, I want to explain the asterisk on the word “Vegan” in the title. In conversation, I normally avoid calling myself or my diet vegan because A.) of the politics associated with the word and B.) I’m not 100% perfect in eating absolutely zero food products derived from animals. With regards to the politics, I’m no extremist and I want to avoid being seen as one. With regards to my vegan imperfections, I’m respectful of the people around me. My wife likes to go on date nights (I’m lucky) and if my meat-free menu selection was cooked with butter or if the wait staff forgot to leave the goat cheese off of my salad, I eat it without tipping over any tables in a fit of rage. Having said that, I estimate that more than 95% of the food I eat is completely plant-based. Not bad for a guy living in a mid-sized city in the Midwest.

How I got here

In short, this started as an experiment. I like to run, and like many runner-types in America, I read Christopher McDougall’s super-entertaining Born to Run. In it, I learned about Scott Jurek and later found out that he had his own book titled Eat and Run. After reading Jurek’s inspiring book, I decided to give the plant-based diet a whirl. Over the years, I’ve tried various diets to see what worked for me and what didn’t. And when I say “tried,” I mean “followed at ~95% rigidity for 3-6 months.” My wife indulges me by figuratively patting me on the head with a reassuring “OK baby.” Again, I’m lucky. So… I started with week one in October 2016. After digging into the topic for a bit, I also discovered Rich Roll, whose excellent podcast and other offerings have kept me going. But that is a tale for another day.

Lesson 1: I rarely missed meat

As I mentioned above, I live in the meat-and-potatoes Midwest of the United States. I was raised on meat and potatoes as was essentially everyone around me. So the first question I get usually when discussing my shift to a plant-based diet is, “How can you live without meat?” In my youth, I was a full-fledged carnivore, so I thoroughly understand this question. I used to muse that if one day because of poor health I had to go without meat, I’d drive off a cliff. I wasn’t serious of course, but I will readily admit that there is a satisfaction that comes with chewing on the texture of meat and the fullness that comes from a hearty meal that includes beef or chicken or salmon or… So, you’re getting the picture, I’m not really a good *Vegan* with a capital V. Now for the interesting part, I have rarely missed meat since making the switch.

Maybe I had enough meat in my 40+ carnivorous years preceding. But once I made the switch, there are very few times that I can remember where I really wanted meat. It was more than a year ago the last time I got the urge of the carnivore. It was a cold January day and my body fat was in the single digits from the plant-based diet and lots of running. I distinctly remember walking out of the grocery store and getting blasted by a cold wind out of the North. I was probably hangry because it was just past lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten yet. Immediately following the arctic blast, I remember angrily thinking, “The only thing that is going to solve this is an entire pot of beef stew.” I did not have the pot of beef stew. I have since found plenty of vegetable stew and other recipes that provide the necessary heartiness to overcome the polar vortexes that we experience in Ohio. While individual tastes and preferences abound, I find that cauliflower in buffalo sauce makes great taco filler, Jackfruit in a barbecue sauce replaces pulled pork or chicken, and adding a few cashews or oyster mushrooms to a breakfast burrito filled with onions and peppers gives me the hearty textures that I want in my food.

Lesson 2: It is difficult to be a foodie in a mid-sized Midwestern city

Quite simply, there aren’t a lot of vegan restaurants or places with distinctly vegan options on the menu in Columbus, Ohio. I have found a couple of places that offer tasty options, but they’re generally a bit young and hip for my tastes. I like to sit down with my wife to catch up on the busy week and we find that we can’t do that very well over the din of Indy music, clinking beer glasses, and blaring TVs. So instead of being a “foodie,” which I’m defining here as one who keeps up with the latest food offerings at many trendy restaurants, I’ve turned into a cook. Recipes abound on the internet, and I got off to a great start by watching a few YouTubers, The Happy Pear being my favorite. I prepare the vast majority of our meals at home and the spill over benefit that I’ve learned is that it makes me happy. I know it sounds a bit woo woo, but I have a real connection with the food that I’m now eating. There is something very uplifting about tucking into a meal that I’ve just prepared.

Lesson 3: I have had no problem with endurance sports

As mentioned previously, I’m both a runner and fond of trying new things, diets included. I had previously tried the Paleo diet. I found it both tasty and effective as a weight-loss tool. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big guy, but I tend to carry 10-15 lbs of extra weight in spite of a fairly active lifestyle. I like to blame my 45-50 hour a week desk job and the occasional adult beverage. I lost all of the extra pooch around my mid-section with the Paleo diet, but I ran into a couple of other problems: 1.) I found that I had trouble sleeping and 2.) I couldn’t run more than 4 miles without my legs locking up. My muscles would just give out. Not really cramping, just more like them saying “Nope, we’re done” and then going out on strike. Since going plant-based, I again lost my mid-section pooch but had no trouble training for, and running four marathons over the course of one year.

I do want to say that in the very beginning of my plant-based adventure I was eating very little carbs and fats. While I could still run and run (~60 miles per week) with my super-trim phsysique, I had a short bout with insomnia and a tired libido. After about a week, I figured out that all I had to do was eat more legumes, nuts, and avocados, which brought back just a little body fat (still in the single digits) and a happy bedroom. In fact, after a year of eating a plant-based diet, my most recent health screening resulted in the best numbers I’ve turned in since I was in my 20s.

Lesson 4: My body’s response to fruit changed significantly for the better

This one is fascinating to me. I don’t know the science behind it, but at this point I don’t care. In years past when I was not at all careful with my diet, I had an interesting sugar spike response to say, eating an apple. It was so noticeable that over time I eventually steered clear of many fruits to avoid the rush and crash. After the first 2-3 months of eating a plant-based diet, I started to notice a significant difference. I can now eat an apple or an orange with absolutely no jitters or crash. These days, I carry two or three pieces of fruit with me per day and I eat them as snacks instead of chips or even nuts. I feel a moderate boost of energy with no side effects. So, I’m sure someone can tell me the science behind it, but I’m now looking at fruit much more favorably these days and I quite enjoy it.

Lesson 5: B12 makes me happy

It’s fairly well documented that people who eat a plant-based diet can become vitamin B12 deficient. Meat eaters get B12 from meat and – while I’m not expert on this – our purified water sources generally prevent us non-meat eaters from getting B12 from “nature.” So, people who eat a plant-based diet essentially need to supplement. Here’s the cool thing: taking a B12 supplement once a week is like a blast of sunshine, a cool breeze, and a group of non-allergenic puppies excitedly running around your feet – all at once. Seriously, this stuff is like happy pills. As with all good things, too much can be problematic. We don’t need a lot of B12 to prevent deficiency (think, teeny-tiny micrograms) so B12 is not your caffeine replacement. This is especially true since recent studies have linked high doses of B12 with increased risks of lung cancer – notably in men who currently or have smoked in the past.

Let’s wrap this thing up in a grape leaf

In conclusion, I’m an imperfect vegan and happily so. My plant-based diet has fueled me through 4 marathons in one year and has provided me with clean-burning inexpensive food that gets me through my work days behind the desk. I have found it easy to maintain a healthy weight even when I take a break from running. What started as the latest in a long line of dietary experiments has turned into a rewarding and highly maintainable lifestyle. 


Troy works and lives in Columbus, Ohio with his better half and their blended family of 6. He runs, reads, writes, cooks, travels, plays soccer, and has a fledgling mindfulness practice when he gets the chance. The picture featured is Troy’s not-so-world-famous homemade veggie paella.