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I Have a 20 Year Old?

Caleb Rittler

Rittler kid #1 turned 20 today.

As with most newbie parents Caleb rocked our world when he was born. He was and is awesome. Seriously. If you know him you like him.

When Caleb & Josh were little I called them Butch & Sundance after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Butch and Sundance were great partners because they complimented each other so well. Sundance was the action oriented executer. Butch was the schemer & talker. They always reminded me of the movie. Josh’s nickname didn’t stick but Caleb’s did.

From the time he was born Caleb loved interacting with everyone around him. He was always engaged in conversations with anyone who would engage him. He was soaking in life at each moment. He still is. He’s got Paul Newman’s chillness and quick wit.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Caleb is wise and has always been mature for his age. He’s always been able to interact with anyone and everyone. He loves being with his friends but can be comfortable alone. He has a deep faith that I admire and at the same time he is able to question just about anything. He holds things in tension well. He’s deeply committed to the things he loves and loves the things he’s committed to.

He’s taught me a lot. Other than the fact that he doesn’t come home enough he’s super awesome.

Caleb Rittler at the beach

I still can’t believe he’s 20 though. Happy Birthday Butch.

Keep moving forward,


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Fat to Fit: The Start

I am sometimes known as a forward thinker. At Blue Ocean Ideas I’m tasked with helping our clients see a different future and develop the strategy to get there.

As much as I love to look forward, looking back is often the best fuel for creating the strategy and moving forward. Looking back gives perspective on where you are today and how you got here. Sometimes that’s a great story. Sometimes it hurts when you realize you aren’t where you want to be.

But good or bad, painful or pleasurable, looking back gives the context for reality today:  where I am and how I get here.

When I look back on getting more fit I can pick out dozens of events along the way that helped me change. Two of the big ones I’ve written about: gallbladder surgery & watching the ironman while I was recovering.

There is one event that stands out in the midst of the others. I was cruising on Facebook on March 14, 2011 and I saw  friend of mine, Tronster Hartley,  post something that caught my attention:

Moments matter. Even the seemingly trivial moments. The trivial ones matter much more over time than the “biggies”. If you are an NFL football player and win a Superbowl that’s a huge accomplishment. But how you act day to day is the creator of who you are and how you got there. The Superbowl is the reward for years of work.

So in this moment I was captured by a Facebook post and whisper of a thought flashed through my mind: that looks like fun; I can do that.

So I went and played Ultimate on March 15, 2011. I’d never played ultimate in any kind of organized way before. I didn’t know the rules. It rained. I was fat and slow and couldn’t keep up with anyone else on the field. I didn’t know a single person (Tronster didn’t play that night).


My heartbeat felt 10x faster than ever before. I was thoroughly exhausted afterwards. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t walk the next day.

I had started something. I had no idea at the time just how big a deal starting that little something would be. Starting that little something would shape another something that would eventually lead to running more and then marathons and cycling and then riding in events and a triathlon and 85 lbs of weight loss that has left me much more fit.

The start is EVERYTHING when it comes to change. Every day is a start, every activity is a start. Every thing I do is a start. It’s a start toward something or away from something. There are no neutral days.

The famous Scottish mountaineer, W.H. Murray, spoke about the importance of the start before a mountaineering exhibition:

“… but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay.

“This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

The BOLD TEXT above is my emphasis added. You should add it also. Burn it in your brain.

Begin it. Don’t wait:


And after you start:

Keep moving forward,


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#2 at 17 — The passage of Time

Josh_RittlerRittler kid #2 turned 17 today. Josh Rittler, or as he is known among his friends and on twitter, @Rat_Rittler. Elise and I have no idea where the nickname came from but it stuck with his friends and then family starting a while ago.

Josh is a great man. He’s hilarious, witty, and loud (at least when he’s around his friends or his Uncle Eric). He can also be sensitive to others, quiet, and pensive.

His smile is priceless. See what I mean?

And he cares about people deeply. His friends mean the world to him and sometimes he carries the weight of the world when they are hurting. Josh is spiritually hungry, and that goes a long way for anyone.

For Elise and I, Josh has always been a gift: easy to be with, fun to talk to, and our confidant at times.

Time keeps on passing. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes quickly. Josh was born yesterday and I was 17 just a few days before that.

All of life ahead of us.

Keep moving forward,


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Fat to Fit: The Awakening

My December 2010 post surgery plan was twofold:

  1. Let myself recover for as little time as possible so I could get active again
  2. Figure out a plan for getting & staying healthy

The first step came easy. The doctor had said no running for eight to ten weeks but that I could swim gently in the pool. I read between the lines and understood that he really meant:

Go for a couple of swims to make sure none of your organs fall out of your incisions and then start running again.

So a week after surgery I was on the treadmill at the Towson Y putting in miles. Slowly. I ignored the pain and stretching in my abdomen where the gallbladder had been. Yes, I know this makes me eligible for a Darwin award.

I spent the next two months getting back to running 12 to 15 miles a week. That was my fat runner typical mileage. Three to five miles three to five times a week. So I was back in fat runner shape by mid-winter 2011.

A New Perspective

The second step was going to take a little more work. I still needed a fresh perspective on my story.

In our work at Blue Ocean Ideas we are always looking for ways to help our clients see their story in a new light. Our clients walk in our offices with an already determined story about their business or organization. Sometimes it is a pretty boring story in their mind. They can’t see how they are influencing the world from their insider’s view.

It often takes a fresh perspective for them to feel the power of their story. And we frequently have the privilege of helping them discover a new way of looking at their story.

There is power in the story of individuals and organizations. Stories instigate change.

In my case I received a fresh perspective from a TV broadcast I watched while recovery at home in the lazy boy after surgery.

The Saturday after my surgery I was sitting in my dad chair watching TV when a rebroadcast of the 2010 Ironman World Championship came on. I’ve been fascinated by the Ironman since I was a kid. The sheer soul crushing endurance it seemed to take to complete an Ironman has always attracted me to watch.

I’ve also always loved the stories that go with various competitors: cancer survivors, obese people that became Ironman, the professionals that slave their entire lives for a chance to win. The human stories that showed up on screen that day were inspiring.

Lying in the lazy boy dad chair, overweight and recovering from an entirely preventable, self-induced condition, a switch flipped inside of me. I can’t tell you exactly what happened. But whatever it was I knew I wasn’t going to be the same.

I could never imagine I could compete in an Ironman. But I did know I didn’t have to be the same.

The awakening began.

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Fat to Fit: The Beginning

I was 260lbs on June 29, 2010. Here’s a pic from that date:

That was the high water mark. Ironically, my half marathon time was 2 hours at that point. That’s not blazing fast by any means but I think I discouraged some people I passed along the way (unintentionally as I ran past them). I was just a fat runner.

When I show people pics like this many say the same thing: I don’t remember you being THAT big. I don’t either. And I never felt that big.

But I was.

One of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years:

My feelings can be great indicators of what is going on inside of me. And in fact I’m trying to learn how to listen to them and experience them more.

But more often than not my feelings are lousy truth tellers.

So on June 29, 2010 I knew I had some work to do. And I slowly started doing the work. It started out pretty simply: I was in the habit of running 2 times a week 3 out of 4 weeks a month. So I started trying to run 4 times a week 4 weeks a month and I added swimming 2-3 times a week.

I began making progress. But the truth is over the next 9 months I made a LITTLE progress (maybe 10 lbs worth) but not much considering how far I had to go. The problem was I hadn’t done much to deal with my eating.

Another lesson learned:

There is no way for me to address losing weight without dealing with the quantity of food I eat. Period.

I was stuck in a belief that many are stuck in: if you workout enough you can eat what you want. At least for me, I know that food is very often the reward. So food is the reward for working out. I was stuck on this one big time. I’d used My Fitness Pal (which is a great tool) to track everything that I ate. Then I would add up the exercise calories burned and created an equation that worked, in theory anyways. But it didn’t make much of a difference.

I plodded along. I made VERY slow incremental change but it wasn’t much. I dropped from 260 to about 245 or so over 18 months. But I wasn’t changing much and I wasn’t changing quickly.

2 things happened at the end of 2011 that were life changers.

The first was that after 15 years of borderline high blood pressure my doctor checked my blood pressure and it was very high. I don’t know the exact reading but whatever it was he wanted to take action immediately and prescribe something for it. He said there were two options; you lose weight or you take drugs. So I took drugs for a while.

It didn’t help.

The second thing that happened was a little more dramatic. After a routine family dinner out one Friday at Alonso’s I woke up during the night in the worst pain I’ve ever had. My abdomen had a sharp pain that had me curled up in bed moaning. After an hour or so of trying to endure the pain I went to the emergency room where they diagnosed a gallbladder attack and suggested I should have it removed. I scheduled the surgery for a few days later.

I went to  GBMC for a very routine outpatient surgery expecting to be done in an hour or so, recovered a few hours later, & home that night. 4 hours later I woke from surgery. Elise was next to my bed. She’d obviously been crying.

The surgery hadn’t gone as planned. The surgery was difficult because my liver was enlarged. I had organ damage because of my poor health.

The message from the doctor was simple: change and you’ll likely stop damaging your organs and live a normal long life or keep going the way you are going and see a drastically reduced lifespan.

I was 39. So I left the hospital after an overnight stay with one determination: my life had to change.

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Missing Maggie


Maggie Rittler

Missing Maggie

It’s not the phone call from your dad that you expect after relaxing for two weeks in Stone Harbor on the Jersey shore.

Maggie is on the way to the hospital in an ambulance, Timm found her unconscious in a bathroom at a movie theater.

In my mind there are a lot of reasons people pass out places so I wasn’t concerned.

The next call 45 minutes later was the take your breath away blow.

Maggie has died.

I had to ask my dad to repeat that phrase 3 times before my brain would comprehend the words. They simply didn’t compute in my mind. I had just seen Maggie’s last post on Facebook. She couldn’t be dead. That made no sense at all.

The Fit

Maggie came into our lives in 1989. My brother Timm had gone to Israel to study for a couple of years. While there he met Maggie. She was unexpected in our family. Looking back as you get older you realize that true love often comes in the most unusual places but at the time it seemed strange to me that my brother had found his future wife halfway around the world.

Maggie didn’t exactly fit the Rittler family mold. She was from New Jersey. Vegetarian at the time. She said “et” in sentences. She wasn’t a conservative. But for all of these differences (which were good for my family) she fit Timm.

Early Halloweens in our family I would grab a sheet, cut out two eye holes, and go trick or treating as a ghost. Minimum effort for maximum candy reward. Timm, on the other hand, would build a replica wooden airplane that he would fit in and wheel around Summer Hill wrapped in a scarf and donning a hat like the Red Baron. For him it was about the craft and creating.

So it was no surprise that Maggie would be the same. She was about the craft and creating. Her craft was most often words but could be so many things. Their home has been a project in craft & creating from the start. Each room uniquely crafted by Timm & decorated by Maggie.

But written words were where she excelled. At the viewings, on facebook and at the memorial service the most consistent words I heard were “I received this note from Maggie…”

The Unexpected Maggie

The first week after Maggie died was a blur. You don’t expect a sudden death. You don’t realize how many things need to be done. At least for Elise and I it was a gift. To do something felt good. It gave breaks from sadness that we needed while grieving.

At the funeral home, the funeral director gently asked questions about arrangements and plans. I was struck by one question in particular. He said sometimes when younger people die you will list “unexpectedly” on the death notice at the beginning to note that it was sudden. He asked “Would you like to put unexpectedly at the top of the death notice?” This stuck with me.

Maggie was full of unexpected things in our lives. To me the most unexpected thing was her ability to create unique relationships with each person she encountered.

Before Timm and I were both married our future wives were thrown together as roomates in my parents house at Deep Creek lake. They were quick friends and partners navigating life in our family. Their relationship grew over the years into a deep friendship. One of Elise’s favorite things about our frequent time at the lake was time with Maggie. Maggie was ever a deep encourager to Elise as she was to so many.

For my older boys, Caleb & Josh, Aunt Maggie was a  champion and a friend. When they were both very young Maggie suggested, in that way that she did that left you no choice but to comply, that they refer to her as “Tall & Beautiful Aunt Maggie.” They happily complied and the title was soon shortened to TBA (Tall & Beautiful Aunt).

For Seth and Riley, and many others, Aunt Maggie was a moment maker. Maggie would create unique experiences. Most notable was the annual ginger bread house party that Maggie hosted for our kids and the other cousins at Christmas every year. Seth could hardly stand sitting through church on ginger bread house Sunday. If you know Seth you know the supreme importance of food in his life. Aunt Maggie’s ginger bread party was like a national holiday in his mind. A day to be preserved above all others.

And for me I’ve been given two sister in laws that I love. One on each side of our family. For me they aren’t sister in laws. Just sisters.

Maggie and I shared one particular trait that I treasured: we both created our own unconventional, non-conforming way through life. Over the years Elise and I learned not to be surprised by anything Maggie did. Maggie had a kaleidoscope like way about her. If you knew her for any length of time you saw her change and grow into different areas and interests. I loved that about her.

Even in faith we shared a slant. Profoundly influenced by Jesus but unwilling to simply be religious. Maggie inspired people to take chances, risks & challenge their views. It wasn’t enough to have an answer. Maggie was a thinker & passionate about her faith.

Maggie’s relationships were unexpected, deep & wide. As the week after her death unfolded more and more of these relationships made it so obvious that Maggie loved people.

The Champion

There is the champion that is the victor. The winner. The conqueror. This champion is a noun. Maggie wouldn’t fit as this champion in a competitive sense.

But Maggie was a different kind of champion. This is the champion that fights for a cause, fights for people, fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. This champion is a verb.

In Maggie’s life you could so easily see this champion through her children. Maggie loved everything about Ellin, Emmett & Henry. And while so many of us fear our children not fitting in, Maggie feared that her children would feel like they have to fit in. She encouraged them to be their own people. As musicians, artists, fighters, poets, readers, soldiers. She embraced them for who they were.

And Maggie was the champion of my brother. Timm, the cabinetmaker,  couldn’t build something that Maggie didn’t value and love. Maggie loved Timm and what he created. She followed him to woodworking conferences enthused about their artisan life.

What more does anyone want for their brother, son or father than an adoring wife?

Not the end

In the first few hours following Maggie’s death we were in shock. Wandering around Stone Harbor after dinner that Friday night we called friends & family. We shopped aimlessly; stunned. Not really doing anything. Waiting for more news. In my fantasy mind I was expecting a third phone call from my dad that would go something like this: “There was a mistake in the confusion. Maggie is ok.” That call didn’t come.

There really wasn’t any more news. Maggie’s death is still unexplained and unexplainable. In moments like this all the cliche things that people say when people die suddenly make sense. In all other contexts they seem trite and silly.

It’s been a month since i received that phone call. And our family moves on with a hole in it. I’m sure the hole will heal over time. But for now it’s just something missing that hurts.

Emmett shared profound thoughts with Maggie’s childhood friend Ginger:

I don’t understand all of this but I don’t think I need to right now.

I do occasionally get a glimpse of joy in all of this. Henry has begun sharing more and more conversations that I’m sure would have been quiet whispers between he and Maggie. Emmet, while stoic at times, has stepped up as a young man called by duty to help and be with his father, brother and sister. Ellin, the young woman, cares for those around her as her mother would: with confidence and grace.

And Timm grieves. In his own way. In his own time. I’m reminded of the scene in the gladiator when Maximus talks to his friend about his wife and son: “they will not return to me but someday I will go to be with them, but not yet.” This pain, while as real as it can be, is temporary. Someday he will be with his Maggie again.

And as for Maggie herself:

Even in death Maggie was the master of the unexpected.

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40 in 40: Lesson #37

Route 40

40 in 40: #37

I left work at 1pm yesterday. Grabbed Josh, rushed home, threw some clothes in a bag, jumped in the car, and headed to Blacksburg. My friend Tim Hartin had gotten us tickets for last nights Virginia Tech/North Carolina game.

So Josh and I road tripped for 5 hours, jumped out of the car, put on our warm clothes, and walked with Caleb over to the stadium. We watched an awesome game.

It was a blast. But the game was only the beginning.

After the game we cruised around a bit, I dropped them off on campus, and went to Taco Hell (aka taco bell) for a cup of coffee and and an hour or so of working.

I picked them up at 12:30 and we hit Ihop at 1am with 5 of Caleb’s friends until around 2:30. Then we crashed at a friends house on couches. I slept for a few hours and then was up and now I’m in Starbucks pounding out some work while I wait for them to wake up.

I lost some sleep last night, was up WAY later than I normally am, ate about 1500 calories more than I normally would (or should), and slept on a well used (that’s an understatement) couch that was about 2 feet shorter than I am.

And it was worth every second.

Lesson #37

The meaningful things in life will cost us something, but are always worth the cost.

My oldest two sons and I will remember yesterday for a long time. We’ll make some jokes about some of the things that happened for a while. Caleb’s friends will remember our time together.

We got a chance to BE together.

I can’t do that very often. If I did I’d weigh 500lbs and be exhausted all the time. Oh and I’d be out of work.

But a few times a year I can give up sleep, take some time off work, and break my normal comfortable habits in the name of spending time with people that I love.

And every time I do a little more is added to my relationship bank.

And as a result I now have another shared experience with my kids, I know 5 more of my oldest sons friends, I’ve gotten another road trip in with a son that needs my time and attention.

These are meaningful things. They cost me something. But they are worth the cost.

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #35

Route 40

40 in 40: #35

I’m waking up at 5:30am tomorrow morning.

Going to eat an energy bar, drink some coffee and drink a little gatorade.

Strap on my lucky running shoes.

Then drive downtown with my cousin, John, and run 26.2 miles.

And right now there isn’t a single thing that I can do to help me run better or faster tomorrow.

As my friend Dan said yesterday, “The hay is in the barn.”

Lesson #35

I can prepare as much as possible for things in life but at some point with almost everything you have to let go, do your best and accept the outcome: good, bad, or ugly.

I’ve never run a marathon before. The longest I’ve ever run before is 20 miles.

And there is a lot of question marks about those last 6.2 miles:

  • Can I do it?
  • Will my body seize up and force me to stop?
  • Do I have the will to endure serious pain to make it to the finish?
  • Will it take me forever?
  • Will I not be able to walk for 2 weeks afterwards?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I will in about 15 hours.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

For tonight, here’s the thing:

I can’t do anything else to get ready at this point. All I can do is show up and do my best.

I’m going to sleep well tonight.

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #27

Route 40

40 in 40: #27

One of my sons went through a difficult experience recently.

It was not something he had anticipated, not a situation he wanted to be in, and changing the situation was going to be painful.

No parent wants to see their kid deal with a painful situation.

But pain is inevitable and in many circumstances the only thing you can do is act.

And then wait.

Lesson #27

You have to give time, time.

That may sound trite.

But for a lot of issues that we face, time will be what is needed. In fact for many things time is the only solution.

  • Great relationships don’t happen overnight, they take time.
  • Businesses don’t happen overnight, they take time.
  • Children don’t mature overnight, it takes time.
  • Broken legs don’t heal overnight, it takes time.
  • Culture isn’t affected overnight, it takes time.
  • Doctors aren’t trained overnight, it takes time.
  • Getting a job if you are out of work takes time.
  • Creative work like we do at Blue Ocean Ideas doesn’t happen overnight.

It all takes time.

What things in your life do you need to give time, time?

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #7

Route 40

40 in 40: #7

I’ve been eating breakfast at the Towson Diner on Friday mornings since September 3, 2004.

That was the first week of middle school for Caleb. Since then I’ve had one child in middle school and we have breakfast together Friday mornings. Caleb has done it. Josh has done it and now Riley is doing it.

In about 1,100 days Seth will be doing it.

It’s not an elaborate event. We get there around 7:15 and are gone by 8:00 and I’m in the office by 8:10 (yes I have a terribly easy commute). While we are there we read together and we talk.

That’s it.

When I was a younger parent I spent a lot of time creating “strategic plans” for my family (Seriously…I’m exciting like that. Gotta love a spreadsheet!). Most of these were well intentioned but doomed. Too formulaic, structured and ambitious. They usually consisted of some kind of checklist about our mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health and the “activities” that were going to keep things in top shape.

I wasn’t easy to live with back then. If you have something like that for your family and it works that’s awesome.

For me about 10 years ago I realized that heroic effort on my part was not going to achieve the results I was looking for.

Lesson #7

Long endurance in the same direction creates good results.

At the end of the day what I really want is to have a great relationship with my kids. And one way I can do that is by spending time with each of them during a critical period in their lives. It doesn’t take heroic effort on my part to take a kid to a diner once a week and spend time with them.

What it does take is making a simple commitment and habituating it. We do that in 100’s of other ways in our lives (you did brush your teeth today right?).

There is no magic formula for parenting. I tell people that you will probably know the quality of Elise and my parenting in about 40 years. Only time will tell.

I do know that time together to talk creates space for good things to happen. That I can make happen.

What things are you putting in your life consistently that over time will produce the results you are looking for?

Keep moving forward,


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