Losing a Loved One

This past Wednesday I experienced something I had hoped would not happen for at least another ten years, when I would be in my mid 40’s. An aunt whom I was close to, who was like a second mother to me passed away suddenly. Late last week she was hospitalized to have a procedure done to open up her arteries though the doctors had said it would be risky as her arteries were 99% blocked. In fact, this past summer when I was in TX visiting and having a family vacation she told me they were clogged yet the doctor had not done anything yet.

So when she was in the hospital this past week she had a mini stroke and on Monday afternoon after having started the procedure to open the arteries up she had a massive stroke. Part of the plaque had broken away causing major brain damage resulting in eventual death.

Once I found out the situation I wanted to get there as soon as possible to say my goodbyes. But, that did not happen.

The earliest flight I could get was about eight hours after she passed away. I had no idea though that she had passed on until I arrived at the airport in Houston. I had to also wait to break the news to my dad about an hour later. In the meantime I was sad, in fact, I was devastated.

It has been four days since she passed away and life is still numb. Being in TX was a fog because I kept thinking I need to call my aunt to tell her I was there until I came back to reality briefly knowing she was the reason I was there.

I dreaded visitation. I had told some of my family members I wasn’t ready for this. I broke down on shoulders of family. It hurt so bad and still does. My aunt meant so much to me. She and my uncle raised my brother and I early in our childhood after their three children were grown. They had done so much for us and even put up with our childhood issues even into teenage years. All I could remember were the things my aunt had done for me. Making the pallets to sleep on at night, her tucking me in, sitting and talking to me, cuddling next to her while watching tv in the evenings. She would make my baths, wash my hair while I laid on the counter in the kitchen. She would mark my height on the post on the back porch. When I graduated from high school in TN she came up with my dad, granny and brother. Before my first daughter was born she bought the baby bed which I still have.

It helped to talk to certain people though. My cousin Tony who has always been known as the tough person was breaking down crying. After hugging him he told me that she treated me as if I was one of her own. That meant so much to me. I finally toughened myself up to go to my Uncle who had a stroke about a year ago and thanked him and Aunt Marie for taking care of me, raising me. It was touching when he smiled and said I Love You.

I finally with the help of my cousin Tony’s wife Wanda, who used to live behind my Aunt and Uncle many years ago went to my Aunts casket and just broke down and cried. I touched my Aunt’s wrist and hand brushing my hand across. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

The day of her visitation had froze about five feet from her casket. I turned around and sat on the first pew and just poured my eyes out. I seen some of my aunts friends and spent time with other people before mustering up enough strength to pay my respects.

The next day after her funeral everyone got to say one last goodbye. I went up and poured my eyes out again. It hurt enough to watch my uncle break down and cry.

I kept telling myself I shouldn’t be here. I should be at home spending time with my kids and instead I am forced to do something I didn’t ask or want to do.

In the funeral procession there had to have been about 150-200 vehicles. We passed by the West Galveston County precinct building where voting was taking place. My aunt was involved with working the elections until this last time. As we went by there were three women who had worked with her who were crying and waving at everyone as they passed by. It was very touching.

The cemetery service was very brief yet it hit me very hard when the pastor of her church, St. John’s Lutheran had picked up some of the dirt and spread it out saying ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Those things really sealed everything.

Though the tears continue to flow, I still have periods of time when I am content or angry about it all. Today I headed back home to TN. Just as the plane left the ground the tears flowed a little more. I still had times I would just randomly cry when something would remind me of my aunt.

I tried walking in my best friends woods only to see the beauty of the fall and break down. I know the tears will continue to flow which is ok. I know I will have times I will be angry and that is ok. I know it will take time to recover which is totally up to me. I have to allow myself to go through the grieving process on my own.


Lessons from off the road


One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the sport of off road driving is teamwork. I have seen many examples of how people working together can accomplish so much more than people competing.

I did not see much if any teamwork in the sport of autocross racing. I guess there is a very good reason why SCCA calls their series Solo racing. It was very much a every man for himself sport. My competitors were very secretive about what tire pressures worked for them and I even heard them give false and misleading information to beginners.

Road rally taught me a little more about team work. There was the interrelationship between the driver and co driver that was critical to the success of a rally team. My navigator, Jeff Ballinger was fantastic at dong the math and complex mental gymnastics necessary to keep us on time and recover from my inevitable mistakes. We worked very well together as evidenced by the trophies in my collection.

Where the teamwork concept failed in Road rally was in the cut throat competition between teams. Often Jeff and I would win a rally on the road and then loose the rally in claims after the event. I saw many teams use complex arguments that were not beneficial to the sport just to win a single event. They caused complex rules to be written and pushed a lot of fun out of the sport for Jeff and me. I suspect the drop in participation in the sport overall may be the result of this win at all cost mentality.

RallyCross and Rally racing taught me a bit more about team work. There seemed to be more a spirit of friendly competition in the events I attended. In the service areas, competing teams shared tools and parts with one another. They swapped driving and navigation tips openly. There was still a spirit of fierce competition, but the winners really only wanted to beat the people who were running at their best. Beating a team with a broken car did not mean as much as winning when the competitor was at his best too.

The sport of off road driving has been a very different experience for me. First of all, it is not competitive. There are no points or trophies, just bragging rights for who got over the rocks. There is a group spirit that wants every one to succeed.

The first thing I observed when I met the group that I go with on the side of a trail at Windrock was the way every one pitched in to help someone fix an electrical problem with his Jeep. Every one there offered tools, advice and spare parts to assist in getting him back on the trail.

Later that day when some one rolled his Jeep, again the group worked together to quickly and safely recover his Jeep from a precarious situation. Back at camp the mood was the same as every one pitched in to make the dinner and campfire circle as pleasant as possible for every one. Including me who they had just met.

On one trail in Ky, there was no real safe way for us to enter the trail. Maybe one or two of our vehicles were capable of climbing the big rock at the entrance, but most were not. Working together we developed a plan to use straps to stabilize the vehicles on an off camber bypass. Each driver had to trust the group and his spotter to keep his truck balanced on the tricky maneuver. Thanks to excellent teamwork, everyone made it onto the trail safely and got to enjoy the trip.

Sadly not everyone who has attended these trips has been a team player. However, when a disruptive element has been introduced, the group leaders have taken action to ensure that those who do not play well with others are not invited back. Such action protects the integrity of the group and makes it more fun for every one.

While the group I normally wheel with has become very close through the years I have observed that compete strangers often work together for the good of all when off road. On one recent trip we met some people who were entering the woods at the same time as us. We banded together. As the day progressed our group grew from four trucks to six or eight as we exited the woods in the dark. We all worked together to tug, winch, spot and guide each other through the challenging conditions.

I have learned far more about teamwork and building a strong working relationship with others from off roading than I ever have in any of the corporate teamwork classes I have attended. Off road, people quickly adapt to the challenge of getting every one through the obstacles. They share resources and skills to make sure every one is successful. Business could learn a lot by taking their work teams off road.

If your business or volunteer organization could benefit by working better together, let me talk to them. I will be happy to share what I have learned off the road to help you improve your organization.

Notes from The Universe

I like to begin my work day by reading a Note from the Universe. Mike Dooley publishes these notes and sends them out as a free email service.

The are often uncannily accurate in how they fit what is on my mind in the mornings. the synchronisity is so right I often forget that these notes are just emails. They seem to really be from my higher self.

Dooley’s notes are always positive and always inspire me to feel better and take more action. More importantly they remind me to be careful with my thoughts. To think positive thoughts about what it is that I really want from life.

Subscribe to Mike Dooley’s free daily email note at this link: TUT.com

Here is a video of Mike Dooley top get an idea of how positive he is.


Life Lessons from Off the Road


Last weekend I was riding in my son Scott’s Jeep. He was heading into a big mud puddle of unknown depth. Naturally he was very anxious about driving through the puddle as we were in his very nice XJ Wagoneer and we were alone.

As he entered the puddle to check the depth and bottom conditions he felt it start get squishy. I realized that his indecision was about to get us stuck.

It was at this moment that I realized an important lesson in life. When you are heading to any obstacle in life, you need to make a decision and commit to it. Either you go into the puddle committed to get to the other side no matter what or don’t go in at all.

Approaching a puddle of unknown depth with too much speed can be disastrous as well. One of my wheeling partners demonstrated this technique in Harlan, Ky once. However, in his case, he had plenty of support to get his Jeep out of the water and running again after he sucked water into his engine.

When attacking any obstacle in life you must approach with enough momentum to carry you safely through. However, you must also use good judgment so that you don’t overshoot your target or incur damage from proceeding too fast.

When I was building my first race car for autocrossing, I was very disappointed to learn that a suspension setup that was good for autocrossing made the car way too twitchy to enjoy on the street. If I wanted to build a competitive car for racing, it was going to have to be trailered to the track. It would get very little use between races. I was going to have to make a huge commitment to build the car I wanted to race.

Rally racing demanded an even greater commitment. Not only did my Jeep have to have a roll cage and lots of other safety features that rendered it useless for street driving, I could not make the modifications I wanted to make due to class rule restrictions. I also had to get a reliable tow vehicle that would haul a whole race team across the country.

Travel time alone amounted to a huge commitment with rally racing. Not to mention the ever increasing entry fees. The need to buy a head and neck restraint was a bigger commitment than I was willing to make since two of them would have cost more than the race car itself.

Making the commitment to convert my race Jeep into an off road Jeep was not easy for me. However, once I made the commitment, I have been able to enjoy my investment much more than I ever thought possible.

Click here to read about how the RallyJeep was converted to Scuffy the off road Jeep.

When driving off road, you have to be committed to getting through no matter what. You have to be committed to allowing for body damage. If you have a vehicle you are not willing to dent, don’t take it off road. Dents and scrapes are part of the game. That is why I built Scuffy, because I was not willing to bang up my daily driver.

Having a dedicated off road truck makes the commitment much easier. Dents and scratches are seen as battle scars or marks of honor rather than degrading like they are on a street car.

If you approach an obstacle without commitment, you are more likely to fail. To get up a step muddy hill, for example, you have to approach the bottom with enough speed to generate momentum needed to carry you to the top. You can’t timidly ease into it and then accelerate as you feel better about the climb. Trying to power over the top is a good way to end up on your top as I saw at the extreme rock crawling competition.

The pro rock crawlers call it a deceleration climb. They commit to the climb, generate momentum and then use just enough power to the wheels to keep the truck climbing without spinning or tipping it backwards.

I also saw how commitment was needed on the descents. Those who crawled up to the absolute edge and tried to ease over were pitched sideways as one tire lost traction before the other. They ended up cart wheeling down the cliff. Those who committed to the fall were able to travel straight down and land on their suspension to absorb the bumps and bangs and drive off the course.

I often like to walk a trail before I commit to run it. This helps me assess the obstacles and help me decide if my truck and skills are sufficient to the task. Knowing the skills of those with me also helps me know what level of commitment I am willing to make.

The Mason Jar trail in Harlan, Ky requires a great deal of commitment just to enter the trail. You either have to cross a house sized boulder or maneuver through a narrow off camber bypass. Once past these, there is no good way to turn around, you are committed to running the trail.

In life we are faced with obstacles all the time. If we stay timid and try to avoid any damage, we will be stuck in the safe and boring ways of doing things. If we want to seek adventure and riches, we have to be willing to accept a few bumps and dents along the way. Those who are not willing to make a commitment and be willing to suffer the potential consequences will have to be content to stand back and watch the other more adventurous people reap their rewards.

Anyone who has ever achieved a goal has had to take a risk and make a commitment. Commitment keeps you moving toward your goal despite the consequences. Just like getting to the other side of a mud puddle, if you want to make it through a sticky situation in life or business, you have to begin with momentum.

In life, like off road, commitment means having the momentum to carry through. You may get some dents and scrapes along the way, but if you have made the commitment to achieve your goal, the journey will be just as exciting as actually achieving the goal.

Enjoying a Coke with my Grand Daddy Straw

Enjoying a Coke with Grand Daddy Straw

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood involve spending time with my grand father Strawbridge. We called him Daddy Straw.

Many of the stories I don’t actually remember, but they have been told and retold in our family for many years. Just keep in mind that we never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

One of my earliest adventures of drinking a coke with my Daddy Straw involves me sitting with a really large coke bottle when I was just a toddler. A visitor to our shop commented saying; “That’s a really big coke for such a little fellow.” According to my granddad, my response was; “Yep, it reaches all the way up to my mouth.”

We always had a Coke machine in the shop and it was set to keep the drinks ice cold. The perfect temperature was so that when you released the pressure by opening the top, a few ice crystals would form on the surface of the drink. The six and a half ounce size was considered the best. Rumor had it that the thicker glass allowed more pressure from the carbon dioxide so they had more bite than the taller ten ounce size.

One hot summer day, a farmer brought in a tractor wheel with bolts that were rusted solid and could not be removed. He had hoped my grandfather could heat them with his torch and get them loose. Daddy Straw had him lay the wheel down and suggested they have a Coke before they got started. As he sat down by the wheel, he casually poured a bit of his drink over each of the stuck bolts.

They sat and talked while they enjoyed their ice cold Cokes. Finally, my granddad walked over top the tool box and got a wrench to fit the bolts. He worked them back and forth a bit and then easily unscrewed them. The farmer was amazed. When Daddy straw explained that the acid in the Coke had dissolved the rust and loosened the nuts, the farmer exclaimed that he would never drink Coca Cola again!

Coke bottles also served as gaming devices in those days. Each bottle had a place molded into the bottom of the bottle representing where the bottle was manufactured. Since the bottles were recycled at the bottler, the bottles tended to travel around some but not much. We had a map on the wall of the shop with a string pinned at our location of Gibson, Mississippi. The game was to see who had the bottle form the farthest away.

One day, the guys were sitting down for a drink and began tossing in their money in to the pot for the Coke Bottle game. On this day, the pot grew to quite a bit more than usual. The bottles were read and the string was pulled to determine the winner. The guy who pulled the bottle from south Mississippi was quite excited as the counted the pot. One old fellow was sitting there drinking his Coke with his bad leg propped up. When he finished his Coke he turned the bottle over and re read the location. To his surprise, he had not noticed that his bottle was from Houston, Texas instead of Houston, Mississippi just down the road. They say his paralyzed leg jumped a foot off the table when he jumped up to reclaim his winnings.

Another story that is told about me is the time I interrupted my grand dad to have him “spit” a coke with me. My grand dad was always very patient with me even if he had no idea what I was talking about. He took the empty coke bottle I had and held it to his mouth and spit in it. I was outraged! He could not understand why I was mad for doing what I asked of him.

I got another empty bottle and guided him to the Coke machine. You see, we had a custom of sharing a coke together by him pouring part of his drink into a bottle for me. When we got to the coke machine, he finally understood that I wanted him to “split” a coke with him, not spit in it!

My best memories of my Grand Daddy Straw really do involve a Coke and Smile.

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