Archive for the ‘health’ Category

It was my first chess tournament. I was extremely nervous, especially because my parents had come to watch – both of them. Typically my dad didn’t watch my competitions as they made him nervous, which in turn made me more nervous. That was the case that day.

I remember the first pairing. The opening was the Four Knight’s Defense, which at the highest levels tends to lead to draws. Only we were scholastic players, meaning it was a perfectly reasonable opening. We were even through the opening and the middlegame. Then in the endgame I snaked a couple of pawns through and queened them. Game 1 was a win. My nerves quelled some then. Why had I succeeded in the endgame? The reason is because I played constantly against a couple of gentlemen who were significantly better than me in that phase of the game. I had taken a lot of lumps playing, and losing, to them.

Game 2 I had the White pieces. There is an opening that is considered “unsound” at the highest levels and luminaries like Bobby Fischer proclaimed they had developed counters that refuted it (they haven’t). That opening is the King’s Gambit and there are still grandmasters who play it and play it well, so it’s anything but refuted, though there are stronger openings for White. Because of its reputation, it wasn’t played by anyone at that tournament, the SC state scholastic tournament, except one player who liked to attack, attack, attack. That was me. I opened with it in my second game and my opponent crumbled quickly. Within the first twenty moves, my opponent’s queenside pieces were sitting off the board, having been captured in a massive onslaught my opponent didn’t know how to stop. The King was hunkered down behind his defenses but would fall a few moves later. I had earned another win.

Up until that point, I had lost every single game of the King’s Gambit I had ever played. I had played it well over a couple of hundred times and my chess backside was black and blue with the beatings I had endured playing my pet opening.

Some of those games I had lost badly. Others reached the endgame where decisions I had made in the middlegame came back to haunt me. But each of those previous games was against an opponent who was significantly better than me. This opponent had also played the King’s Gambit for years before switching over to other openings. Every time I forayed out the first few moves, I was going against someone who I knew was going to have a significant advantage over me in this particular opening. However, I wanted to learn it. So I challenged myself by playing the King’s Opening against this particular gentleman. I learned just about every way you could lose playing the King’s Gambit. When I got to the state chess tournament and uncorked it, I was ready to win with it.

The secret to my success that tournament was I had challenged myself greatly leading up to it. I had intentionally played the toughest opponents that I knew, especially in openings I wanted to learn that I knew that they understood and had played. In the end I made it to the final round with a perfect record, eventually losing that final game to the state champion.

Challenging myself was the key to my success. I have found this to be true whether we’re talking about games, about sports, about work, or about life. I rarely improve when facing situations that don’t require my best. This is true of most people. If you find yourself in a rut or you don’t think you’re improving fast enough, ask yourself, “Am I being challenged?” If you aren’t, that might be the reason you aren’t growing.

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I’m not a positive person by nature. It probably has to do with the fact that I am the type to collect as much information as possible and plan for the worst case scenario. Working IT security and being in the military before that, this attitude comes with the territory. After all, the military has coined phrases like, “Embrace the suck,” and acronyms like BOHICA.

However, recent research on positive attitudes, happiness, and like subjects have shown that there are benefits to maintaining a positive attitude. People who focus on the positive tend to have less stress, live longer, and be healthier.

Those studies tell me to change my outlook. If you’re like me, you’ve hidden behind defenses like, “I’m not a pessimist. I’m a realist. I see things as they actually are.” Those defenses might be 100% correct. However, they don’t help your health.

Also, there’s the concept of being able to do things you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to be able to do. I am constantly amazed at how my youngest children are able to work devices that folks would say shouldn’t be doable by toddlers. If you’ve ever had a three year-old and an iPad, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Part of the reason they’re able to navigate around these devices and find Netflix or their favorite game is because no one has told them they can’t (as in, they aren’t able to) do it. The toddler may be told he or she can’t, as in mom and dad say, “No,” but not that such a task is beyond the toddler’s ability.

Apply that to yourself. Have you ever accomplished something difficult simply because you didn’t realize it was supposed to be difficult? Have you ever done something that you found out later others didn’t think was possible, simply because you didn’t know it was supposed to be “impossible?” That’s partially due to the power of positive thinking. As a result, we can accomplish more when we stay positive.

Therefore, even if you aren’t a positive person by nature, it is still a good idea to try and be positive as much as possible. The studies show there are definite health and life benefits that can’t be ignored. Plus, you’ll be able to accomplish some things simply because you believe you can.

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Child Cancer AwarenessNote: I feel this post is important enough to post across all my blogs.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month here in the USA. Here are some statistics:

  • In 2014, an estimated 15, 780 children (ages 0-19) will be diagnosed with cancer in the USA.
  • In 2014, an estimated 1,960 will die of cancer here in the United States.
  • That averages to between 5 and 6 children dying of cancer every day, just here in the United States.

There’s a lot of talk about “surviving” cancer, meaning you hit the 5 year mark after diagnosis. That’s a misleading statistic, as I’m about to explain. Here are some more statistics:

  • 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive (don’t make it to the 5 year point).
  • The average age of diagnosis is six years-old.
  • With current treatments, 60% of childhood cancer survivors suffer after-effects.

Campbell’s Story:

A more comprehensive telling of Cam’s story can be found on this blog and on this Facebook group. Here’s the short version: Cam was diagnosed with cancer when she was 3 years old. She beat it. However, certain symptoms came back, which led to re-checks. The cancer had come back. Despite all efforts, including experimental treatments, Campbell died from cancer. Technically, she is a survivor, because she made it past five years (5 years, 2 days). However, Campbell is no longer with us. Therefore, the statistics stating 12% of diagnosed children die of childhood cancer should be higher.

If you do the math, Campbell died at eight years old. She passed away despite heroic efforts from donors to cover expenses and lobby her insurance carrier to cover the experimental treatments, medical personnel performing everything they could do (numerous brain surgeries, clinical trials, experimental treatments), positive thoughts and prayers, and even celebrities taking the time to make some of her wishes come true.

How do I know about Campbell? Campbell’s dad is a Citadel classmate of mine. Because of Campbell’s fight, I became more educated on childhood cancer. Childhood cancer is the leading disease cause of death in children. Every form of childhood cancer we can find a cure for means more bright, young lives saved. Furthermore, given how much damage current treatments do, we need better treatments for survivors. All of this requires research. Research requires funding. As a result, I’m trying to raise awareness about it now.

What We Can Do:

I don’t believe in issuing challenges. If this touches you enough to give, then please do. If not, I realize there are many excellent causes and efforts out there. Please try and give something to one or more that have meaning to you. Here’s what Cam’s family specifically asked for, because this puts research dollars forward for the doctors who were treating Cam and her particular form of cancer. You can mail donations to:

Weill Cornell Medical College with GREENFIELD Ependymoma Research in the memo field.

The mailing address:

Ana Ignat
Department Administrator
525 East 68th St, Box 99
New York, NY 10068

Or you could choose another childhood cancer charity/research fund. If you do, please check with a site like Charity Navigator to see how efficiently that charity uses the donations it receives. I know that particular charities in the past have sounded great but when you do the research… not so much. That’ll help you ensure that more of your donated money goes to research.

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Eating out is expensive. Even if it’s at lunch due to work, the cost still adds up. When you figure anywhere between $5-10 for a meal on average with 20 work days in a month, that’s $100-200 each month or $1-2,000 per year. If you’re in an area where you can’t find meals that cheap, the cost is even greater. If you’re a parent with a child in his/her pre-teen/teen years, that’s about the yearly cost for braces. So bringing leftovers/sandwiches from home can make a sizeable difference in your budget. That was the initial reason I went back to bringing my lunch to work

However, I had tried to pull my lunch together each morning before I headed off for work. That wasn’t working and I saw a disturbing trend. If I was running close to when I had to leave or if I just didn’t feel up to putting together my lunch, I didn’t. Another situation was when I didn’t have enough prepared to pack for a complete meal, I didn’t want to go through the effort right before work. After all, eating out is convenient. It seemed easier just to say, “I’ll get something down the street,” and head out the door. However, there are some ramifications to this:

  • The cost, which I’ve already discussed.
  • The likelihood that the meal isn’t healthy and balanced.
  • The time it takes just traveling too/from the location which could be spent doing other things.
  • The time spent ordering and waiting on the food.

The answer, of course, is to pack up the lunch the night before. The standard advice for making working mornings easier is to get everything ready to go the night before. Clothes, whatever you’re taking to work, etc., should be organized and arranged so you can wake up and immediately knock out what you need to in order to get out the door and on to work. Lunch is the same way.

The picture is the lunch I packed for myself last night. It’s leftover baked chicken, green beans, fresh tomatoes (from my garden) and strawberries. Plenty of veggies, fruit for dessert, a lean meat for protein – a well-planned meal. Also, since it’s leftovers, we’re not wasting food and I’m getting a meal I know I’ll enjoy. So I’m saving money, eating better, and having more time at lunch for whatever it is I want to do. That time could include going on a 1.5-2 mile walk or working out at the gym without having to worry about the time lost going to a restaurant, ordering my meal, and then waiting for my food to be made/delivered to me. The key is to prepare the meal the night before so the typical excuses aren’t in the way. Save time and cost and eat healthier all by packing your lunch the night before.

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Mouse with Sword and CapeI used to be the kind of guy who was interested in doing things bigger and better than anyone I came across. This was the way I was in junior high school, high school, and about halfway through college. One of the things about going to a place like The Citadel is it’s humbling. For instance, when we went to play for the Washington Light Infantry, we came face-to-face with Congressional Medal of Honor winners. That’s humbling. They stood out and made you look, and then you saw all the folks wearing Navy Crosses, Silver and Bronze Stars, and Purple Hearts. Those were the times I found myself asking, “What have I done? I’m just some Air Force ROTC cadet. These guys have faced combat and showed great valor in the face of it.”

You don’t do things bigger and better than a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It’s the highest award we give. The truth of the matter is that the majority of recipients would rather not have had to be in the situation which put them in line for the medal. They’d rather have their comrades back. They’d rather not have the memories. They didn’t earn the award because they were looking for it. Rather, they were just looking to stay alive and keep their fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms alive, too. They weren’t fighting for glory. They were fighting for their fellow airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines.

“It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for.” – David Petersen, Mouse Guard

I found this quote from the graphic novel series, Mouse Guard. Life isn’t about trophies and fame and glory and riches. Or at least, it’s not supposed to be. Rather, it’s supposed to be the why and the who. I work hard for my family, not for me. So when I have enough for my family, I go be with my family. I give of my time to help those around me for them, not for me. I write the check to a charity not for a tax break, not to be recognized as some great philanthropist, but simply because I believe in the case of the charity and want to see it succeed. Folks that do it for ulterior motives miss the point, as this graduation speaker pointed out:

Think about what you are fighting for. You’ve got goals and dreams. Do they fit with what you’re fighting for? Or do they sacrifice what you are fighting for? Make sure your goals and dreams, as well as your efforts and work, all of it – align with what you are fighting for. To do otherwise will likely mean you’ll accomplish that which you’ve set out to do, but you’ll look around and see that you’ll have compromised or lost what you were fighting for.

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I picked this up on Sunday: a simple pressed metal lantern with all the sides enclosed. It is designed to hold a candle of a decent size. The one seen burning here is rated for 35 hours.

However, I didn’t get it for the light it puts out, which is relatively little. Rather, by using a scented candle, in this case lavender, it adds to the experience of sitting on the porch at night. Because the only exit from the lantern is at the top, the scent from the candle is an occasional one when the breeze catches it just right. Therefore, it isn’t overwhelming. Couple with this that lavender is supposed to help one relax and de-stress, making it perfect to burn after a long day at work.

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Life isn’t fair. Bad things can and will happen. If we focus solely on these things, we actually worsen our health. The key is to consider things and reasons to be grateful. There is a health benefit, as described in this Psychology Today article from 2009. Not only does being grateful help our physical health, it helps our mental health, too, but we tend to feel happier, too. The circumstances don’t change, but the weight we give to the negative aspects lessens and this balances out our perspective.

One simple exercise given in Enjoy Every Sandwich is to every day think about 2-3 things to be grateful for. This allowed a doctor knowingly facing esophageal cancer (with a 90% mortality rate) to face life head on, to make the most of each and every moment he had left. It was a practice he had before that fateful diagnosis and it served him well as he fought a disease that he beat once but ultimately lost to. While Dr. Lipsenthal did this each night, it might be better to do this each morning, to start your day. That way you start it with the attitude of gratitude.

Take the time each day to be grateful. You will be healthier and happier for it.

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