Wednesday, May 29, 2024

“Buen Camino”

 

 

Well, it’s been almost a month since returning from walking a segment of the Camino in Spain, and I think it’s time to try to capture a few thoughts and learnings from the journey.  Its an understatement to say that I am still processing the experience… and probably will continue to digest and rethink moments of the journey for months to come.  I shared the “walk” with my sweet Jennie, my sister Alice and her husband (my brother-in-law) Jan Willem. 


 We dubbed ourselves the “Four Pilgrims” and shared the time together from the first steps in Vigo Spain, to our destination in Santiago de Compostela (along the Camino Portugues) 103km later.  First, let’s have a bit of background:

 

As for the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims have been walking to Santiago for well over 1000 years from points across medieval Europe, and numerous “pilgrim trails” (or Caminos) have been established over the centuries.  The most popular path is the “Camino Frances”, that emanates in France, crosses the Pyrenes and ends in Santiago 700+ km later.  We walked a segment of the Camino Portugues, a path that starts in Lisbon.  We started in Vigo Spain, a busy port city in the province of Galicia in Northwestern Spain.  The religious history of pilgrims walking to Santiago emanates from the 900’s, when tradition holds that the body of one of Jesus’s apostles, James the greater, was re-discovered in a small village in Galicia and a local Bishop and King paid homage to the martyred saint and built a chapel to house the stone coffin.  That small church became the Cathedral in Santiago ( built in the 13th century) where the remains are held in a chapel below the main altar.  To learn more about the history of the Camino, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago)






As for the “Four Pilgrims,” we all came at this adventure by different   paths.  I have been reading about the Camino de Santiago for years and  become focused on it when a friend of mine (my “pal” Todd) walked the Camino almost a decade ago.   Linked to my retirement (Feb 2024) , I wanted to do the Camino as part of that transition.  Jennie was up for the adventure, and we began “rough” planning late last fall.  At a family Thanksgiving gathering, we talked to my sister and her husband about the idea, and they were eager to join in… the reality is that my sister is facing some significant health challenges, so the decision to head out on a 100+km “walk” on the Camino was no small thing!  With the background set, let’s get walking!


As I mentioned above, we kicked off our journey in Vigo, a busy port city in NW Spain near the border with Portugal.  I won’t try to make this essay a travelogue but I do want to share a few of the poignant moments across out journey.  Our first task was to make our way out of Vigo in the midst of heavy morning traffic.  We were walking on sidewalks next to busy streets and traffic circles, losing our way a bit but by mid-day we had worked our way out of the city to much quieter pathways and incredible views of the “Bay of Vigo” and the Atlantic in the distance. 



 

It was incredible how once out of the city, we spent most of the afternoon in deep forest, and the pace and the quietness really slowed things down.  At numerous spots along the trail we would see “Pilgrim Shrines’(my descriptor) where fellow “pilgrims” had left notes, shells, shoes, photos, money, etc. marking their experiences on the Camino….and while each “shrine” was a bit different, they all reminded us that we were part of a larger “flow” of pilgrims who have been making this same journey for over 1000 years.



A few days in we stopped for a night in a small historic town of Arcade, the sight of a significant battle in the Napoleonic wars of 1809.  Our hotel just 
happened to be across the street from a “Pilgrim’s church,” found regularly on our path.  While beautiful, the image ( a bit blurry for sure) of a dove sitting atop the cross on the church steeple was beyond touching.  With the news filled with war stories coming from the Middle East and Ukraine, it seemed fitting and needed to be reminded by that simple little dove, calling us all to find a straighter path to peace for all humanity.


A day or two later, we stopped in an another “Pilgrim’s Church” which had the “Pilgrim’s Beatitudes” (in English and Spanish) posted in the entryway.  While all ten are worth your time, #9 caught my attention….


“9-Blessed are you, Pilgrim, if on the way you find yourself and give yourself unhurried time so as not to neglect the image of your heart.”

 

Now that little phrase, old #9, really packs a punch!  First giving “yourself unhurried time” seems hard to imagine in our high tech/high tempo/multimedia/multi-platform world of 2024.  The Camino provided an incredible amount of “unhurried time,” with day after day of 6-7 hours of walking… and most of that time with limited to non-existent connectivity.  Peaceful and thoughtful indeed.  I won’t try to editorialize the idea of “not neglecting the image of your heart,” but this phrase and idea is still revolving in my mind ( and heart) today.  

 


Back on the trail and we soon came upon a small sign marking that we were walking along the “Via Romana XIX.”  


While I knew we were walking along trails that fellow pilgrims have been travelling since the mid 900’s, I didn’t have any idea that most of our 100+km would be along the old roman road #19, built more that 2000 years ago.  I found that feeling of being a small part of larger and growing history to be an incredible and humbling part of our time in Spain!

One element that we faced across our walking had to do with the dynamic of changing weather.  We had some sunny days, but as we got closer to Santiago, the days became cool and rainy.  Regardless of the temps or the rainfall, the Camino called us onward everyday… so trudge forward we did!  On our last day, with 15km left to go to arrive at the cathedral in Santiago, we awoke to 39 degrees and a heavy rain… a tough start for sure!  After a good breakfast (“you are going to want a hot breakfast”!)  We hit the trail and as the rain got heavier, we were losing our energy for sure. 



  

Deep in a forest, we stopped to adjust our packs and started considering options… “maybe we could find a taxi in the next village” … you know, that kind of thing.  After a few more km along the track, we did find a small bar open in a village and ducked in to dry off, use the bathrooms and consider our next moves.

We were not alone… the place was full of other pilgrims trying to dry off, dropping their packs, etc.  I ducked into the bar, jammed with fellow walkers, and was able to buy a small chocolate bar… a Kinder Bueno!  Breaking it into 4 pieces, we all had a bite and that small taste of chocolate really hit home.  Rather than calling for a taxi, we looked outside and realized that the rain was slowing… so we decided to “try another few km” as we made our way to the heart of Santiago.  The blessing and power of Kinder Bueno!!


 

In that mode of “try another few km” at a time, we got to the plaza in front of the Cathedral by midafternoon, and the emotional release was dramatic.  We had made it through the rain of that day…. through the hills and valleys, deep forest tracks and busy streets of the previous week, and we had walked “our Camino” successfully as we rested, cried a bit, and took photos in front of the Cathedral.  I won’t try to summarize the experience… that doesn’t seem appropriate or fair.  I am so glad that we went on our Camino and so glad we did it when we did; and I know for certain that I will be “chewing on” and processing the experience for years to come!  




 

I will close with the phrase that’s the title of this essay… “Buen Camino.”  As you walk along the Camino, you pass other pilgrims, and local townspeople and as you pass them, they say that phrase… “Buen Camino” ... to you and you share it back to them…. literally hundreds of times a day.  It becomes part of the language of the journey, almost a type of prayer said over and over again on the trail… may we all have and wish for others a good walk of life…. “Buen Camino!”




 

 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

"It's hard to put a price on Wisdom!"

 Over the past few weeks, and probably more candidly over the past few months, I have been going though quite a transition.  As you can see in earlier essays, I "retired" from Bolthouse Farms early in the year, and over the past few months I have been actively working to transition my headset, schedule and indeed my lifestyle away from being a Senior Executive in a large private company based in California     (and commuting weekly to Bakersfield Ca. as part of that role) to changing gears in a big way to be focused on my family, my community here in Atlanta, and to head toward new paths for the chapters of my life that lie ahead.  I have travelled across country with my daughter Marie on an incredible roadtrip that I reflected on in a previous essay (######), travelled to see old friends across the country ( wonderful across the board) and most recently just came back from walking the last 100km off the Camino inn Spain with my wife Jennie, my sister Alice and her husband Jan Willem.  I am still processing that trip deeply and when I am done "churning," I am certain that I will post an essay about our time on the Camino.  With that precursor, I have been hit by few moments recently that keeps me turning towards this idea of "Wisdom" and I wanted to explore it today.

Over my life, I have been around a number of people that I would describe as "wise," some from my professional life ( certainly my old boss Bruce that I have written about extensively on this blog) and from my family ( certainly my paternal grandmother... dear old Mama... also mentioned widely across the blog) and I have "chewed" on the idea of what makes these two VERY different people both so "wise?"  It's not their backgrounds, education, lifestyles, etc.... all of those "definers" are so very distinct, but they were      (both now passed) both so "wise" in my eyes and I still very actively think about them both and often wonder what they would do in situation that I am facing today.  Let's dig a little deeper to help our understanding.


Wisdom: noun, the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.

Knowledge: noun, facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

Intelligence: noun, the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.


The unique factor that I see in the respective definitions is the implied idea of combining and applying "experience, knowledge, and good judgement."  It's rings so true that both Mama and Bruce brought these three ideas to life personally, in the actions of their lives, and in their impact on my life.  I LEARNED a lot from both of them and as I reflect on it today, I want to "live into" being a source of wisdom for those I touch.  This idea of combining and applying "experience, knowledge and good judgement" is a powerful driver for me personally as I turn toward the next chapter of my life...and maybe an aspiration for all of us regardless of what chapter of life we may be in today!


p.s. I put the title of this essay in quotes because it came from a shuttle bus driver at the Atlanta airport.  After returning from our trip to the Camino, and after a very long day of travel, we cleared customs at ATL, and boarded a shuttle bus to head to International "Park & Ride."  Our luggage didn't make it, so we were traveling light, but our fellow travelers had some large and very heavy bags.  The driver of the shuttle bus, with a smile on his face, asked for the heavy bags to be set on the floor, so he could just slide them into the rack, and to put the lighter bags higher on the luggage rack.  As he said that, he looked over to me ( the only other person in his same age range, the other travelers were all much younger) and said that "guys like us have to save our backs whenever we can....remember... its hard to put a price on wisdom!!!"  An incredible line from late last Saturday night, and one that really got me thinking!!



Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Service, Sacrifice & Solidarity

 

I don't usually comment in my essays on my travels, but this week has had quite a deep impact on yours truly.  Heading out of Atlanta on Monday, I flew to BWI and was picked up by dear old friend and work partner Cathy, who joined me on quite an intense adventure yesterday ( Tuesday) at the Shapell Center.... the archives of the Holocaust Museum... in Bowie Md.  I was doing research on a family member, my Uncle Jim, who fought in WW II and participated in the liberation of a concentration camp in April of 1945.  It was just recently that I discovered that there were original documents and photographs of his in the Holocaust Museum archives, and I made an appointment for a research visit yesterday.  I can't yet describe, or even really process the experience, and will try to find a path to share more on this experience and the resulting insights in a future essay.... to say it was intense and overwhelming is an understatement.






After leaving the Shapell Center, in a very heavy mood, I asked Cathy if we had time to go to Arlington to visit the National Cemetery ( https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/#/).  somehow, it was the only place that made sense after reviewing the photos and docs,  and we made our way through DC and parked in a quiet spot in the Cemetery near where a relative of hers is buried.  The picture above is from that spot and I wanted to share it in this essay.  I was overwhelmed and surrounded by so many who has served their/our country and made incredible sacrifices.... some with their lives...not knowing what they would be called on to do.  The breadth of the sense of service and sacrifice was brought into sharp relief by an active funeral of a navy veteran just to the north of where this photo was taken.  These acts of service and sacrifice were certainly historic, just like my Uncle Jim's incredible service and sacrifice from almost 80 years ago, AND they are very current and contemporary.  So many young men and women serving OUR country today, making incredible sacrifices today... "inspiring" seems like just too trite of a word to describe the immensity of their actions and the immensity of our gratitude that is required!

I included the word "Solidarity" in my title because coming out of the Shapell Center and at Arlington, I felt an intense pride in being American.  I am not polly-anish or naive about the complexity of our history, but when I think about the soldiers & sailors that have left our shores to support and defend the ideals of freedom and democracy while fighting the nightmarish dreams of dictators bent on destinies of racial genocide and global domination ... I am personally humbled, and profoundly thankful.  As I was taking the picture above, I was also struck that Arlington is not subdivided by political party, or personal ideology.  This is a sacred spot, maybe one of the most sacred,  for ALL AMERICANS... not of one party or another, not one class, creed, race, nationality, or another.... a sacred spot for all of us as Americans that reminds us all of the sacrifice and service of so many for what we hold dear.  As we move as a country into election season of 2024, I hope to keep these images and sensibilities of "Service, Sacrifice & Solidarity" present and keep focused on the path forward for all of us as Americans.



Friday, March 15, 2024

Patience & Fortitude

 


As we guide into the “Ides of March” (worthy of a future essay for sure,) the landscape facing us as individuals, citizens, voters, family members, business leaders, etc. is daunting.  The two active wartime “nightmares” (Ukraine and Gaza) are seemingly endless, with no end (or end-game) in sight.  Our world is rife with military coups, revolts, civil wars, gang violence (this week notably in Haiti) and the vision toward “peace and goodwill for humanity” seems ephemeral and hard to see.  Our own political landscape is divided and divisive, and the upcoming presidential election is showing all signs to be a close, hotly contested, schismatic event.  In businesses all over the world, the challenges to lead organizations, drive innovation and create value in changing times is a growing burden to leaders regardless of industry or market.


It's in this “complicated” (putting it gently) landscape that I turn to the two Lions pictured here, framing the entrance of the N.Y. Public Library, whose names are “Patience” and “Fortitude.”

 

The NY public library website shares these facts on the lion’s history:

 

Patience and Fortitude, the world-renowned pair of marble lions that stand proudly before the majestic Beaux-Arts building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, have captured the imagination and affection of New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world since they were placed on their pedestals days before the building was dedicated on May 23, 1911. 

During the Great Depression, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia dubbed them “Patience” and “Fortitude”, after the qualities he felt New Yorkers needed to get through it. As the world has changed, our lions have been there to see it and be a witness to history—all while remaining a steadfast symbol for what the Library represents: a source of inspiration and strength for all.

 

The fact that Mayor La Guadia “dubbed” the lions the names “Patience” and ”Fortitude” hits close to home, as My mother Arline and my dear Aunt Lorraine ( pictured in my last essay) both grew up during the depression in Mayor La Guadia’s  New York City and both of them spoke VERY highly of him as adults when I was a child.  I think in their mind, if La Guadia thought that New Yorkers needed to focus on these two “qualities” to endure the depression, they would focus on them personally!

 

As I explore the landscape today, I find these two attributes/ qualities in short supply broadly,  and I am personally focused on bringing them into my life/headset/actions.  Let’s look at each attribute/quality a bit deeper:”

 

Patience: noun, the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. "you can find bargains if you have the patience to sift through the dross"

 

Fortitude: noun, courage in pain or adversity"she endured her illness with great fortitude"

  

It’s vital to note that in each noun, the definition ASSUMES a problematic landscape.  The attributes of “delay, trouble, suffering, pain and adversity” are ASSUMED as part of the reality…. not to fantasized or wished away, but to be understood, fought with and overcome!  I for one find great insight in the details of these two definitions and will be focusing my energies on how to combine “patience” and “fortitude” as my personal qualities to handle the wide breadth of challenges facing all of us today!

Friday, March 1, 2024

Just one more visit

 Yesterday, 2/29/24, was a poignant and powerful day for me... visiting my dear Aunt Lorraine at her assisted living/memory care facility in New Jersey.  It had been far too long since my last visit, and Aunt Lorraine's condition continues to degrade... and while the visit was deeply a sad one, I was very glad to be there.  I arrived late morning, and sat with Lorraine for almost an hour before lunch, showing her family photos from when we were both much younger... some from when she was a young girl with my mother ( her sister) Arline.  I wasn't sure she recognized anyone in the pictures, but she was attentive and I got a few smiles out of her as we went over the pictures page by page.  

I wasn't prepared for my "responsibilities" at lunch time, when one of the care givers asked me to "help out" and "feed" Lorraine her lunch.  While I was intellectually aware that Aunt Lorraine wasn't feeding herself, I wasn't prepared to take on the job of literally feeding her every bite of her lunch yesterday.  As we worked our way from the salad to the soup and ultimately to the Spaghetti & Meat sauce ( which I literally cut up into VERY "small bites" which seemed very fitting!!)   I focused on her every bite, trying to keep as much as possible from spilling.  At one point, as I brought the straw from a  cup of juice to her lips, she raised her hand and rested it on my hand as she took a long sip... whether she knew it or not, that gentle "touch" of her hand brought tears to my eyes and I felt so fortunate to be serving her that lunch.

I share all of these details in a way to remind all of us that life ( and health, capabilities, strengths, etc.) are fleeting and that life is to be lived NOW.... here and NOW!  Ten years ago I posted an essay titled " A heartwarming selfie" about a very different visit with my Aunt Lorraine... take a look if you have a second: https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-heartwarming-selfie_4.html.  As I re-read that essay this morning, I was struck by the closing two paragraphs that are printed below.... and how glad I was to have had that "one more visit" with Aunt Lorraine yesterday.  My encouragement is to take a few moments and think about the people in your life who you want/need to see just "one more time" if you can and take action now to pay that visit... you might even be able to feed them lunch! 



As I drove home, I thought about seeing Lorraine and all the people from our past now gone, whom I would love to have a chance to visit with again and sit around a dinner table and enjoy a meal. Of course I thought about my mom Arline Wark Levisay, Lorraine’s sister, now almost forty years past. I thought about my Dad, his mother Mama, her sister Marge and husband Adley, my mother-in-law Jane and her daughter Carrie, my friend Bruce …. and as I drove west towards Philly, the list continued to grow. What would I give for just one more visit, one more dinner, and one more chance to sit for a few hours and catch up??

As I made it back to my hotel with a beautiful sunset in sight, it was clear to me that the lesson from my visit with Lorraine was simple; see the people you love NOW, while you can! If you have a chance for a few hour visit, do it NOW, no excuses! Life is lived with no rewind feature. We only have NOW and hopefully tomorrow, but you never know. Sure life is busy and work priorities, and outside obligations often get in the way, but work hard to fight those seemingly “urgent” obligations and focus in on what is truly “important” in life, sharing time with those you love! Take a few hours and visit “your Aunt Lorraine” and take a “Heartwarming Selfie” of your own to remember help you remember the moment for years to come!


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Calm and Confident in the GMC dealership Service Bay!

 

 

As is obvious from my last post, and from a slight change to the layout of the blog itself, I formally “retired” from Bolthouse Farms earlier this month.  The process of coming to this point of transition has been underway for months, but the actual steps of publishing a written announcement to the company, followed by a “Virtual Town Hall,” followed by posting and announcement on Linked In, then saying goodbye to a host of old friends and colleagues has been emotionally wrenching.  I knew that the final ACTS (“Hands/Feet”) of transition would be hard, but I totally underestimated how deeply I would FEEL (“Heart”) the parting.  I KNEW (“Mind”) that it was the right time to make a change, but regardless of that clarity, I was (and still am a bit) floored by the impact of this big change.

 

As the month of January 2024 played out, I had one more major ACT that needed to be take place in order to complete my Bakersfield transition and “come home.”  Most readers aren’t aware that since 2021 I have kept an apartment in Bakersfield and commuted there weekly from Atlanta. (not many of us doing the weekly Atlanta->Bakersfield-> Atlanta commute!!)  As my time at Bolthouse Farms came to a close, I also wrapped up my lease at the apartment and with the help of dear old friends and work partners (Cathy & Alan) packed up the apartment and packed as much as possible into a vehicle to drive across country.  The map above depicts the majority of the route starting in California and ending in Columbus Ohio at apartment of my daughter’s boyfriend.  We were dropping most of the “apartment goods” there, then finishing the journey by bringing the vehicle back for a final “drop-off” in Atlanta.  Marie and I did the trip together (which was outstanding and certainly fodder for a future blog for sure) and after 3204 miles, I was happy to be done with cross country driving for a while!

 

The ”GMC dealership” story came about on day 5 of our trek, in Columbia Missouri.  We had driven in deserts, crossed the rockies in a snowstorm and were now squarely in the plains when after a lunch stop one day, the check engine light came on… ugh!! We had had a few challenging moments with the car over the previous few days, but now the light was solidly on, and the car wasn’t running well!  I asked Marie to see if there was a GMC dealership ANYWHERE close by and in a flash she pulled up that there was a dealership literally around the corner, less than a ½ mile away.  Incredible!!  We limped into the dealerships’ lot and pulled right up to and literally RIGHT INTO the service bay.  Now I was tired, road weary and pretty freaked that we had a major problem on our hands and we were a long way from home…. or Columbus!  

 

I went up to the service counter and met Cole (no last names on the blog) who was working the desk and after a brief explanation he dove right in.  Marie was with me every step of the way and was upbeat and calm as we were dealing with Cole and kept reminding me that we were on an adventure, and that everything was going to be ok, and that we weren’t in any real hurry… all very calming comments that helped me settle down and not be so freaked out.  Cole on the other hand had identified a “mis-fire” in cylinder 4” and was swapping our spark plugs and coils to isolate the problem.  It took about an hour and the engine was running fine and after Cole took it for a test drive on I-70 (no mis-fires!!) we were literally good to go.  It was an incredible relief to pull out of that service bay, and head off to our stop that night in Effingham Ill.

 

I share this specific story because we all feel stress from many many sources.  Mine were coming from all the emotions of the January transitions, then the check engine light in Missouri!  In that “freak-out” moment, the combo of Marie’s funny/calming confidence and Cole’s quiet competence saved the day and totally put be back on track.  I am so thankful to both of them for their impact that day and will be thinking about ways to bring a “calming confidence” to stressful moments in the future!

 

 

Friday, January 5, 2024

It's official!

 Early today I posted the following on "Linkedin," after sharing the news with the company yesterday at a virtual town hall.  Filled with emotions, I wanted to share the posting here:


It is with great pride and gratitude that I share the news today of my retirement from Bolthouse Farms.  I need to acknowledge and thank so many talented and dedicated “Bolthouse People” that have been part of my journey at the company since I first joined almost 15 years ago.  Many thanks to my long-term business partner Jeff Dunn, who asked me in 2009 to be part of this amazing company, to be part of a leadership journey which drove dramatic business growth, a sale of the company to Campbell’s, and a repurchase in partnership with Butterfly Equity. Together, along with the Executive Leadership Team, we led Bolthouse Farms through a global pandemic, the acquisition of Evolution Fresh from Starbucks, and ultimately prepared the company for its next chapter of growth and success as two separate business entities.

 

I am very proud and excited to pass the business along to Tim Escamilla who will run the Ag- Centric farming business under the company name “Bolthouse Fresh Foods,” and Steve Cornell who will run the CPG-Centric Beverage and Salad Dressing business under the company name “Generous Brands.” These two “sister-companies” will create unique value and drive growth in their respective markets, and I am confident that Tim and Steve will have a strong impact in the next chapter of the company’s 100+ year history!

 

While I am “retiring” from Bolthouse Farms, my plan is to pivot my professional path towards opportunities where I can leverage my 35+year career in board roles, and to act as a “trusted advisor” to CEOs, foundations, and non-profit organizations.  I am humbled by my experiences at Bolthouse Farms, and I know the organization will continue to grow, overcome challenges, and thrive as it continues the next chapter of its legacy.