Category Archives: Family

The power of the #hashtag

Over the past two weeks, I have had a couple of travel experiences that have been less than optimal to say the least.  It eventually happens to all of us.  A room isn’t ready, a flight is oversold, a car smells like smoke…you get the point.  The interesting part of these deficiencies is both of them involved my accommodations, both involved me posting on social media about the deficiencies and both were from service providers that I used to be employed by.  Most importantly, both resulted in great stories of how service providers are utilizing social media to ensure that they are providing superior service.

The first of the deficiencies occurred as my family and I were traveling for Spring Break back east.  I had found a great deal on a 2-bedroom suite with Oakwood, a company that provides Corporate Housing and is the absolute leader in the space.  Having spent 6 years with this group, I know the quality standards they have and the systems in place to ensure these standards are lived up to.  You can imagine my surprise when after checking in, I found a pretty major defect that was very evident (see below).

Oakwood Arlington

Now my son was too young to remember living in Oakwood Apartments but in fact he has lived in 4 different Oakwood buildings across 2 different states.

Howard Ruby

He was less than impressed with the portrait of Howard Ruby, one of the founders and owner of Oakwood Worldwide, on the wall of the lobby but I know that Howard is not willing to put his name on anything other than the best.  In this particular case, they had come up short.

The day after I posted on Facebook about my experience at Oakwood, the Community Manager was calling my cell phone and sending me emails in an attempt to rectify the situation.  My family and I headed out that morning to do some site seeing and by the time we returned that evening, we did not have a new cushion on the couch, WE HAD A NEW COUCH AND LOVE SEAT!!   They identified an issue, worked to rectify it and followed-up with me to ensure that I was satisfied.

Great customer service!!

Fast forward 2 weeks and I find myself in Atlanta, arriving at my hotel at a very late hour only to find that my room has been given to someone else and there are no longer any rooms available with Marriott.  Now this is the company that I went to work for after leaving Oakwood and I am an extremely loyal Marriott Rewards member.  I am also not afraid to post on social media in order to get a response.  The way these two organizations responded is telling of their social media savvy and customer service.

With Marriott I used a different medium, Twitter.  After getting bounced late at night, I sent the following tweet:

Marriott Tweet

Upon seeing the tweet, Marriott customer service representatives contacted me directly asking for details and explained to me that there is actually a policy in place with Marriott that if they ever have to walk an Elite Guest, they will not only pay for the room at an alternative brand but also cut the Elite Guest a check for their inconvenience.  The General Manager of the hotel is scheduled to reach out to me and I am sure that Marriott will be conscious of when/where I go next.

In both of these cases, these service providers were actively monitoring their on-line presence, discovered a deficiency and remedied the deficiency.  I never expect a provider to be perfect but I do expect them to remedy when a deficiency is brought to their attention.  This was executed flawlessly by both Oakwood and Marriott, thank you both.

There are also several lessons here for the savvy traveler:

Loyalty and relationships matter

If I had not been known by Oakwood or had been an Elite Member at Marriott, I am sure my experience would have been different. Organizations reward your loyalty so pick a brand/hotel/location that best fits your needs and make yourself known.

Reach out when there is a deficiency

I could have easily just lived with the tear (I actually had intended to – the facebook post was more for my former comrades in arms than to raise any type of stink). Top notch providers of any service want to provide superior service but no one is perfect.

Be nice

There is a time for a more direct approach but social media is almost never the medium for that (and way too many people use it for just that purpose).

Follow-up

In both of these cases I made sure to post on the same medium how wonderful the group was for rectifying the situation. If we all shared at least 3 compliments for every criticism the world would be a much better place.

Monitor your hash tags

If you are a business owner or a business influencer, I cannot stress enough that in today’s world, you have to monitor the hash tags relevant to your business. For decades business have been surveying guests to get a pulse on their performance, now people readily share with the world how you are doing.  Are you paying attention?

How about you?  What stories of phenomenal customer service do you have?

Looking forward to hearing them and we will see you on the road!!

Because you can do anything if you believe it!!

I have been spending a lot of time around wrestlers recently.   After years of training in martial arts, my eldest has joined the high school wrestling team and is loving every moment of it.  It is the perfect sport for him to be quite frank.   His individual performance directly helps a team goal.  All he has to do is be better than the person on the mat opposing him.  Take care of your business and the team benefits.  Where my son is the center of my attention, some of the other wrestlers really captured me.

Autistic, Down Syndrome, Dwarfism, underdeveloped legs and partially function arms

DSC_0011

Those are just a few of the challenges I have seen kids walk on to the mat with.   Kids who live their lives at a ‘disadvantage’ to all of those ‘regular’ kids, stepping on to a foam covered battle field to see who can best who over the next 6 minutes.  The kid on the right above could not straighten his left arm or expand his left hand but he battled every step of the way.  And you know what??

More times than not, I have seen them win!!

I absolutely love it.  These boys becoming men adapt their wrestling style to make the most of what they have rather than what they don’t.  In just the last 7 days, I watched a sophomore who was born with Dwarfism perform ankle picks to perfection.  His lack of height was his advantage because no one could get low enough to stop his shot.

I have watched in awe as a boy whose knees were nearly locked in place immediately drop to his hands and move with the agility and quickness of a spider monkey.  Then once he was able to get his opponent to the mat, completely smother them with his upper body strength.  You see, his legs have very little muscle tone but his upper body is ripped.  Once he got you down, he kept you down.

I have witnessed autistic teens who struggled to sit in the stands before their next match walk onto the mat and not only win the match but win the whole tournament (see below).

DSC_0764

You could literally see the switch turn on in his head as his feet hit the mat.  This was familiar ground.  In his mind, this was where he wanted and was meant to be.  And it was beautiful to watch.

Just as powerful as watching these young men compete was watching those around them.

Their Teammates – All of these boys were from different schools but all of their teammates supported them unconditionally.  When they walked on the mat, their entire teams stopped whatever they were doing an paid attention.  It was must watch viewing and everyone was centered.  These boys were more than a ‘part’ of the team, they were the center of it.

The Spectators – It did not take long for the spectators to notice (heck, I obviously did).  When you have 7-14 mats running all at one time, it is easy to lose track of who is where.  When these young men were on the mat, everyone knew and everyone cheered and clapped.  Regardless of the match outcome.

The Opponents – There was no taking it easy on these guys.  They were there to win and expected their opponent to show up to do the same.  The boys they faced gave them everything they could handle.  Just what they deserved

But this shouldn’t be a surprise!!

Wrestling has always supported being your best.  The training is grueling to put it mildly.  Bodies are broken and rebuilt and those who are the best wrestlers are the ones who are the strongest mentally, not necessarily physically.  So what can we take from these boy’s example?

  • Focus on what you do have not what you don’t.
  • It is not about what the other guy can do, it is about what you can do.
  • Believe it and you can do it.
  • If someone is willing to put themselves out there, support them unconditionally.

These boys focused on their strengths and capabilities, not their limitations.  The people around them supported them unconditionally and they proved successful.  More on all of those points later but I want to leave you with the following video.  It is the NCAA Wrestling championship round from 2011 at 125 lbs.   Pay particular attention to Anthony Robles, the wrestler from Arizona State then ask yourself where you may be getting in your own way.  Remember, it is never about what you can’t do and always about what you CAN do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5W4RZq1NRg

See you on the road!

Picnic Parents

It’s a phrase my wife coined a few months back to describe how we approach dining around the crazy schedule that is life with a middle and high school students.  You see, our lives revolve around evening wrestling, kickboxing, karate, orchestra, band, youth group….you get the point.  Life runs as a million mile an hour and unless we have a plan, we are running through a drive through.  I cannot tell you how many times I have eaten Subway or Chipotle in the stands of some event.  Not that there is anything wrong with it but there is a better way.

There is a better way!!

Joy and I finally figured out during this year’s football season that we do not have to buy from the concession stand.  And get this, the food we were allowed to bring in……did not have to come from a fast service, franchised restaurant.  We finally figured out that we could make game night, date night and bring our own picnic.  Ok, I may be stretching to get credit for ‘date night’ on these evenings but we definitely eat better than most.

We bring our own food and are usually the envy of all around

The menus for the various events varies greatly from day to day but there are a few things that are consistent that make the ‘picnic’ a whole lot easier to pull off.

  • You are packing a meal – not packing for an Everest Expedition:

Ok, I may just be preaching to myself here but picnic dinners do not need to be 7 course meals.  Think all-in-ones.  Soups, stews, salads, tacos, etc.  The less your guests have to deal with in regards to utensils and plate-ware, the better.  There is a time and place for putting together a ton of options, this is not it.  (Andrew:  read that again, THIS IS NOT IT)

  • Invest in a soft sided cooler:

I cannot recommend a cooler that is soft-sided and can be carried like a duffel bag enough.  A rolling cooler is too big and bulky and the lunch box sizes are too small to feed the family (unless you are packing one for each member of the family).  I picked mine up as a give away from a golf tournament years ago but we have definitely put it to good use.  Just as importantly, it makes you focus on only what will actually fit in the cooler (Andrew – read the above point again).

  • Plan to eat cold food:

In my work life I do presentations for a living, often over lunch.  What I have learned is that I need to order something that will taste good cold.  Why?  Because by the time I get to eat, it is going to be stone cold anyways.  Same holds true for the picnic parent event.  For example, most wrestling matches start at 5:00.  We will typically not eat until 6:30ish.  Unless it is something in a Thermos, it is going to be cold.

  • Invest in portioned Tupperware and Thermoses:

We use these all the time but especially as picnic parents.  Everything is portioned out at home so when someone is ready to eat, we just pull out their Tupperware/Thermos.  No plates, no bowls, no serving a portion of this or that.  Think frozen dinner only healthy and tasty.  It also allows you to customize each meal to the particular diner.  For example, my wife primarily eats vegetarian.  My youngest son would live as a carnivore if we let him.  I can pack two different meals easily and everyone is happy.

  • Cut up everything in advance:

Yes, I do realize you are not 3 and yes, I do think you can cut your own chicken but have you ever seen someone try and balance a plate on their lap while trying to cut up food?  Make it easier on everyone and just cut it up in advance.

So there you go, the secrets to making picnic parenting work.  I look forward to seeing you at the next game and seeing what you brought to enjoy on your ‘picnic’.

Failing to plan is planning to Fail

Sometimes I feel like all I do is plan to be on the road.  What clothes are clean?  What toiletries do I need to replace?  What’s the weather going to be like at the destination?  These are all things that readily run through my crazy road warrior head but the planning is not just limited to what I have to deal with, I also pay attention to what is going to happen back on the home front.

I am the one in the family who does the grocery shopping and meal planning.  It has become a bit of a Sunday tradition/therapy for me.  Sit in the morning with the coupons, see how much I can save while shopping and then spend the afternoon cooking one good meal to start the week as well as staples that can be thrown in the microwave throughout the week.

Where I have fallen short is not having a plan that is flexible and varied

Not to say the least about communicating that plan to my beautiful wife so that she might be able to execute on said plan.  I leave to eat restaurant meals throughout the week and leave the family at home with all kinds of ‘options’ but nothing solidified.  So in the bustle of wrestling practices, weightlifting, orchestra rehearsal, kickboxing and karate, the family is stuck grabbing whatever is ready in the fridge/pantry or making a Shakeology before racing out the door.  It is not the ideal and quite frankly, it is my failure.

You see, meal planning is not an issue for me.  I have no problem coming up with a plan for the week.  I also have no problem communicating it, where I lack is including creativity/variety in the plan.  I would eat the same thing all week without issue.  I enjoy structure and familiarity.  My family would appreciate eating something besides grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli though.  I needed a solution that met all of our needs.

So I themed each day of the week

This gives me the structure I work best within but challenges me to vary the menu from week to week.  So here you go, here is my weekly ‘meal plan’:

Meatless Monday – Pretty simple to explain and especially appreciated in a house where one of us mostly eats vegetarian.

Taco Tuesday – Food delivered via foldable, edible container.  Could be Fish Tacos, could be Asian Lettuce Wraps.

Wet Wednesday – Soup!!

Throw it out Thursday – This day is all about the leftovers.  We are terrible about eating them unless we set a day aside to make sure we do.

Fishy Friday – Something from the sea (to be transparent, we eat fish at least 2-3 times a week already)

Sizzling Saturday – My day to fire up the grill

Sumptuous Sunday – I usually have more time to really try something different and time consuming.   This is normally the day I try and emulate something I have had on the road as well as cook for the rest of the week.

Each day is supremely flexible in the fact that we can use what is on sale, try new recipes, make it ahead and take it with us (coming soon on this ‘Picnic Parents’), make extra for lunch the following days, accommodate both vegetarian and meat lovers……you get the point.

Most importantly, it sets everyone up for success!!

The only step I have added to the normal routine is to be sure that the meal plan (including recipes) is printed out for the week.  Cut and paste from the websites/Pinterest boards that are relevant for the week…..I may even try putting together a shared board for my wife and I for the week……huh, just thought of that one.  Thanks!!

So remember, while you are about to race out for the week, your family is hunkering down awaiting your return.  Do everything you can to make their week as successful as yours!

See you on the road!!

Love is Louder!! A story of the amazing people you meet on the journey.

One of the things you have to just accept as a road warrior is that you are going to spend a lot of time alone.  On planes, on shuttle buses, waiting at the airport, hanging in hotel rooms……you have a lot of time to yourself.  You also have the opportunity to meet a lot of people along the journey.  Today I would like to introduce you to one of the great ones I met along the way, meet Kelly Thomas and her family.  The Thomas family is the very definition of survivorship.

thomas family

I have known Kelly (the good looking bald one above…..sorry Dave Thomas, I don’t mean you) and her family for about the last 3 years.  Our paths crossed when she came to work for me.  Fortunately, they have not stopped crossing since.

Kelly is one of those people who light up a room just by walking in.  Her huge smile is infectious and she always has the most positive of attitudes to back up the smile.  People want to be around her because they know they can only be better if for no other reason than osmosis.

I will never forget when Kelly texted me to let me know that she was leaving our company…..and why.  Her 2 year old daughter (the youngest one above) had been diagnosed with Leukemia.  There I was, in a hotel room in Indianapolis, alone, crying for my friend and her family….and also for my own.  My response to Kelly?  I know how you feel and I am in it with you.  This conversation happened just days after my own wife, Joy, was diagnosed with Breast Cancer (read her story at http://www.joybowen.net).  I was in shock and truth be told, happy to have someone who could even possibly understand the journey through hell I was about to embark on.

Over the course of the coming months, Kelly and I would check in on each other through text, Facebook and the occasional call.  Kelly was always concerned with how I and particularly, Joy, was doing.  Here she was battling childhood cancer with her youngest and she was sincerely inquiring how I was doing?  Simply amazing.  I watched and encouraged as she and her family tireless raised funds and awareness around childhood cancer research.  Creating Facebook pages, being the poster child (literally) for fundraisers and constantly keeping the issue front and center, the Thomas family was making a difference.

Then lightning struck twice.

The next text hit me like a sledge hammer.  I literally dropped to my knees as I was reading it.  This time not at a hotel room, I was home, with the one woman who could help me process what I was reading.  Kelly had been diagnosed with stage 3 Breast Cancer.  Her daughter had not completed her fight yet and Kelly was about to start hers.

For the last few months I have been watching Kelly and her family live this journey of healing.  Asking others to perform Random Acts of Kindness on Kelly’s chemo days and posting to the Love is Louder Than Cancer Facebook page and with the hashtag #loveislouderthancancer so Kelly could see the good that her story is doing.  Constantly putting others first in their journey to go from cancer patient to cancer survivor.  That journey takes a giant leap today.

Today is the day Kelly is scheduled for her double mastectomy.  It is also her 40th Birthday.

I will spare you the details but the day of Joy’s mastectomy is one I will never forget (and not just because it was the day that Hoda put her cell phone number on air for all of America to see).  I am sure it will have an impact on the Thomas family as well.  We spent the days prior getting ready for the big event.  Buying pajamas, getting pillows and asking everyone to change their profile pic to something with pink involved.  Kelly and her family definitely have one upped us, in the best way possible.

Cancer sucks2

I have a love/hate relationship with this picture.  It was my profile pic as Joy headed into her own mastectomy.  I love that it captures the fun that my son and I have on the mat.  I love It was taken on Thursday, September 4, 2013, the day before my wife underwent a double mastectomy to rid her body of the cancer that was threatening to take her from me and he her sons (the oldest pictured here).  I love that the shirt my son is wearing is the walk out shirt that Chael Sonnen honored his aunt with in her battle against breast cancer and the shirt I am wearing is to honor Joy’s fight.  I hate that I ever had to do so.

What Kelly is asking for is exactly what I have come to expect from her, a campaign to put others first.  So I am asking you now for Kelly, for Joy and for all of the other survivors out there, please do something for someone else tomorrow and share it on the Facebook page.  The go to http://www.Loveislouderthancancer.org and make a donation of any size.  The Thomases will thank you and so will I.

To read the details of Kelly’s story, click http://www.facebook.com/Loveislouderthancancer

To donate, click http://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/0x85/love-is-louder-than-cancer?utm_source=giveforward&utm_medium=share&utm_campaign=dashboard&shareid=2516217

Make it Work!!

My ratio of pleasure vs. work travel is infinitesimally small but I was fortunate enough this past extended weekend to travel to LA & Santa Barbara with my wife Joy  On paper the trip was ideal, 4 days with just the two of us enjoying our native California sand and sun.  One day as a couple in Santa Monica and 3 up in Santa Barbara where we would reconnect with fellow UCSB Gaucho alumni and their families.  What could be wrong with that kind of trip?  Romance, friends, California sun, great food and my beloved Ocean, virtually nothing could derail this trip, unless of course the hotel we stayed at did not have a gym.

Which of course, it didn’t.

Now when I travel for business, I am faced with all kinds of options as to where I would like to stay.  The choice is mine and very often it comes down to ‘Who has the best gym?’.  But this time we were traveling with 5 other families, from all over the country with kids of all ages all getting together in the same spot.  My fitness needs took a back seat (and rightfully so) to the greater needs of the collective.  So as we found the one hotel in the Santa Barbara area that could house our motley crew, it was up to my wife and I to figure out a way to make fitness a priority.  We had a choice to make.

We could either let it slide for the weekend (I mean really, it is just a weekend) or we could make it work.  So make it work we did.

Santa Monica was easy, with a full gym a located less than a block from the beach and running paths, it was a no brainer.  Easy-peasy and I got to enjoy sights like the one below.

Santa Monica

Santa Barbara was a lot tougher but thank God I had Joy with me. 

You see she is a Beachbody Coach and in the middle of a PiYo challenge so I focused on her routine rather than mine.  She had her workouts downloaded already and even though we did not have a single weight, treadmill or elliptical at our disposal, we got 3 challenging workouts in over the 3 days in Santa Barbara.  Without a workout room, we even had to improvise on the location (it is amazing how much space your standard pool deck has when you move the chase lounges out of the way) where we could complete the PiYo workouts. To say we improvised is putting it mildly.   Joy even took video of our space for one of her accountability groups which can be seen below and as you can see, there was a great deal of improvisation going on with these workouts.

Now I am not going to lie, we got a lot of funny looks from the other guests who were passing us doing our PiYo on the pool deck.  Our preferred workout area was directly on the path for all hotel guests who were getting their breakfast from the free buffet.

And for every ‘You guys are so good’ comment I heard or crazy eye directed our way, I had to remind myself that;

a) Their opinion did not matter – living longer for my wife and kids does

b) It is my health and not theirs – I can only choose to affect my own health, they can only choose to affect their health

c) We do crazy stuff like this so that we can enjoy the good stuff later – Like Brophy Brothers which is one of our absolute favorite dining spots on the planet and the location of the picture below;

Brophy selfie

So don’t let opinion, resources or apathy get in the way of you achieving your fitness goals while on the road.  You can always do something.  Walk, run, do a body weight series or maybe even a PiYo workout.  Regardless of the circumstances, you can do something and you will feel worlds better for it when you are done.

I took the picture above in March of 2013.  The person you see is my eldest son shortly after his 13th birthday.  He is a very fit (now) 14 year old who runs, lifts with me, is a 2nd Degree Black Belt (think grappling, sparring, kata, kickboxing, etc) and is getting ready to undertake wrestling this upcoming year as he enters high school.  He is not a kid you would think would have a ‘fitness’ problem.

That is until he got his cholesterol checked a few days ago.

It was a part of the standard well check this past week.  We have a history of heart issues and diabetes in the family so we pay close attention to these types of things, happily signing off on just about any blood test our Doctor (who is fabulous) wants to run.  So cholesterol checking we did go.  Now it was not off the chart, doesn’t require medication and was just on the borderline but it got me thinking.

If this teenager, who has a solid diet (no really, he does for a teenager), a body fat % that is probably in the single digits, works out more than most team sport athletes his age do and has no early onset heart disease in his family can have high cholesterol counts, how bad are the rest of us sitting?  And as a RoadWarrior, how do we fight it?

The tips below should not be new news to anyone but are worth reiterating as we can all slip from time to time:

  • Know your number – because knowing is half the battle!! (only GI Joe fans will get that one)

The total Cholesterol is not the only important number, you need to know the LDL (bad) vs. HDL (good) cholesterol counts.  Even if your total cholesterol is great but it is all in the LDL category, you still have an issue.  It is a simple test that most clinics/drugstores/blood banks can do for you.  I have the privilege of being a universal blood donor and every time I give, they check my cholesterol for me.

  • Exercise – I know. Shocking I would suggest this.

Studies show that regular exercise, of any type, can directly assist in raising the ratio of HDL to LDL.  Don’t skip just because your schedule is busy and it has been a long day.  Remember the first rule of being RoadWarriorFit?  Do something, ANYTHING, everyday.

  • Avoid overly processed foods

There are so many reasons to follow this advice and the best summary I have ever seen is the film Forks over Knives.  Fair warning, watching this film could change your life (for the better).

  • Focus your protein consumption around lean cuts of meats

You can still have your steak (my son’s favorite) but not every night.  Opt for long swimming fish (tuna, swordfish, shark, salmon, etc.) that is not farm raised one night a week.  How does chicken (not fried) sound for Wednesday?  Mix it up.  After all, variety is the spice of life!!

  • Eat the green stuff

Fruits and veggies that are high in fiber can act like scouring pads for your arteries.  Even if you never eat another piece of meat in your life, your liver is still producing enough cholesterol for your body to do phenomenally well.  Think about that, you are already producing all of the cholesterol your body needs (yes, we actually do need it).  As RoadWarriorFit rule #2 states, see fruit – eat fruit.

So while I while I work with my son to choose the chicken over the steak burrito while at his beloved Chipotle, I hope that we can work together to make the right choices on the road (eating your veggies instead of the fries, hitting the gym instead of the lobby bar, etc).  I also hope we all are able to have a back like this kid does at some point in our lives.

Wish me luck.  We spar/grapple with each other on a regular basis and he is only getting bigger and faster.