Friday, December 20, 2019

Live the Christmas spirit year-round

The holiday season is far too brief. I don’t say this out of gluttonous desire for more parties, gifts, or days off. I say this because humanity as a whole is so refreshing in December.

Throughout the month most people are jovial, good-natured, and – best of all – giving. This is the one month out of the year when everyone goes out of their way to make life better for other people. Be it gifts, kindly cards, family get-togethers, donations to community organizations, or helping out at soup kitchens and food pantries, people give of themselves and find great delight in doing so.

This selflessness shows that there is hope for a society that is routinely blasted for showing signs of decay. Modern culture is constantly reviled for the lessening of family values, the dumbing-down of character, and the decreased emphasis on the well-being of others. Were these to be fully accurate we would never catch this pleasant holiday glimpse that proves that people are or can be essentially good.

But, alas, this can too often be a glimpse nonetheless.

Why should humanity prove the ill-toned stereotypes wrong only during the holidays? Why can’t we be this good during the rest of the year?

As many rediscover at Christmas time, it feels great to give and make people happy. In a perfect world it would be hoped that people would want to replicate this high throughout the year and every day of their lives.

That, in its most basic essence, is the reason for the season. We are celebrating the birth of someone who throughout his life spread teachings of selflessness and love for your fellow man. So intent was he on his cause that he ultimately gave the most sacred gift of all…his very life.

With a new year coming up people should reinvent themselves and dedicate their lives to a similar path, a path that leads to good deeds not only during the holidays, but also day in and day out.

As Christian as the holidays may be at their core, this path of righteousness that should be the outcome of the celebration is not necessarily the case. Anyone can and should serve their fellow man. Be you a Jew, Muslim, or Atheist, the betterment of those around you – and therefore yourself – should be paramount. Your life is measured not by what you do for yourself but what you do for others.

The act of giving is not done through money or donations as many believe it is. It can be, but it should never be your most pronounced effort. To fully give of one’s self requires your time, your efforts, and, of all things, your heart.

Make it a point to help others at work, at home, on the streets. Set aside time to volunteer. Join a community organization. Assist a youth group. Help that little old lady across the street. Helping someone with even the most menial of tasks or going out of your way to make one’s day (if not one’s life) brighter is what makes selflessness so personal and so rewarding. There is joy to be had in giving and watching others receive it.

No doubt you have been experiencing such joys in recent weeks.
It feels good, eh?

Now it’s time to make it a lifestyle. These are feelings that you should experience daily. So, make it a point to celebrate the meaning of Christmas as it was intended and live this wonderful holiday mood 24/7/365. It’s easy. It’s rewarding. It’s the right thing to do.

From the 23 December 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Monday, December 9, 2019

Make your New Year’s health goals manageable

With the end of the year approaching some are strategizing how to improve their lives in the New Year. Resolving and achieving rarely seem to go hand in hand: Surveys show that 80 percent of resolutions fail by February 1st.

Health goals always seem to be the first proposed and the first to go. It’s difficult to break old habits and make news one. A wholesale change of lifestyle can be a little overwhelming.

It doesn’t help, either, that there is an incredible amount of expectations and opinions. There are too many ideas out there of what you should and shouldn’t do and eat -- with a lot of those idea-makers looking to make a decent buck off you, for good or for bad.

I’ll add to the cacophony and tell you to take a step back. Simplify. Make your health a manageable priority. Living a healthy lifestyle is far easier than what all the books, newspaper articles and gym rats will tell you.

I turn 45 this week. My 45th and 44th birthdays have seen me healthier than I’ve been in many years. Pristine blood work. A resting pulse in the 50s. A good BMI.

It’s not that I was unhealthy before (if I was, it wasn’t for long) as I had a roller-coaster relationship with weightlifting for 20 years. But, I haven’t touched a weight in 2 years and am far more in tune with what my body needs, can be and how to get it.

This comes despite the constraints of running a business, volunteering and coming home to a full house. I simplified my approach to personal care and found the attainment of health to be easy under a handful of rules that will work for anyone, regardless of age or schedule.

Find exercise you’ll enjoy.

The best way to get physical activity is to make sure that it doesn’t feel like work. Find something you like doing that gets the blood following for at least a half hour at time, something that you won’t bore of and hate doing. You don’t need that expensive Peloton bike or a full-featured gym membership – unless that’s your cup of tea. Choose running, kayaking, weightlifting, tennis; whatever you enjoy.

I like the outdoors and punching things. My workouts are either a brisk hour-plus hike or going 10 rounds with a heavy bag, mixing in pushups to exhaustion between each round. Those routines give me the aerobic conditioning and physicality that I need.

Let me put this into a perspective Bills fans can relate to. When Doug Flutie was playing in Buffalo he often eschewed the treadmill and weight room to play basketball instead. That gave him the endurance, agility, and hand-eye-coordination he needed to quarterback at a high level -- and he loved doing it.

Realize that life happens.

It’s completely unrealistic for you, your doctor, or your trainer to expect you to get intense exercise every day. You have work, your kids’ activities, and your own social events. Don’t beat yourself up for missing a day here and there (it is believed that this guilt often drives people away from exercise because they haven’t met their or others’ hard expectations). If you get 5 days a week, even 4, consider yourself successful. You don’t have to live at the gym or on the trail to impact your well-being.

Eat a balanced diet.

Keto. Vegan. No sugars whatsoever. High protein. Gluten-free. Crash diets.

Fad diets have become such a mess that too many people wrongly believe that fruits are bad for you as are lean meats or that meats and fats are all you need.

Don’t rob your body and brain of necessary nutrients and energy. You’re always better off getting what you need not from vitamins and supplements but rather from a colorful and diverse palette of lean meats, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and healthy fats. Eat a little bit of everything (except for processed foods), the fresher and closer to nature the better.

Tupperware is your friend.

The most important part of maintaining appropriate weight and not developing obesity and all that comes with it is portion control. I pack my lunch, brining with me a single, appropriately-sized serving of whatever my gruel might be. Small glass or plastic containers keep me from overdoing it.

Similarly, if I do find myself going out for a business lunch I tend to bring half of it home with me. American restaurants treat consumers well, sometimes too well, and you really shouldn’t eat all they give us in just one sitting. Remember, leftovers are just as tasty the second day (and they save you money).

Keep a journal.

It’s human nature to think we do better than we actually do. We might think we exercise enough and eat appropriately. By maintaining a small notebook noting what you eat and how you exercise you’d be surprised at how often we don’t follow our own rules. A journal will keep you honest, show where improvements can be had, and give you the ability to celebrate successes.   

Best of luck in the New Year. Hopefully these simple rules can help you get the results you want.

From the 16 December 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Crowdfunding for public projects

If you are on social media you are no doubt familiar with crowdfunding, whereby individuals use websites to champion causes that are then funded through donations from the community at large. You might see such crusades on a weekly -- even daily -- basis on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Whether it’s for a sick family member or the start-up of a new business, crowdfunding efforts are plentiful.

They are extremely effective, too.

In 2017, the still-young crowdfunding industry (it unofficially began in 2006) collected over $34 billion worldwide and industry experts figure that annual collections will surpass $100 billion by 2025.

Once thought to be only the domain of charitable causes and entrepreneurial dreams, crowdfunding has in the past few years caught the attention of the public sector. Governing bodies that were once strained by the Great Recession and are now limited by tax caps and/or an increasing disdain for tax growth from their residents have taken to the net to collect money for niceties they might not otherwise have.

A crowdfunding effort in Memphis, Tennessee easily collected $75,000 to fill a public funding gap in the development of a bike lane in a growing commercial district. Philadelphia donors helped secure $10,000 to keep a skate park alive. New Haven, Connecticut’s Ignite! New Haven plan has funded a public kitchen, a youth lacrosse league and bike racks throughout the city. The online craze also brought in $100,000 for an underground park in Manhattan.

A 2014 study by MIT looked at four years of civic crowdfunding around the world and found some 1,200 such projects. Most were modest in size, with goals of $8,000, far below those listed above.

It’s those types of smaller campaigns that merit serious consideration. Local governments and schools could put crowdfunding websites to use (there are now numerous sites specific to civic projects) to bring to life any number of one-shot or long-term projects: Booster clubs could use crowdfunding websites to prevent school sports from going on the chopping block; towns could add new equipment or skate pads to their playgrounds; county officials could improve the trails and outbuildings at any of their parks; and, splash pads could be built in small cities and villages. The list of possibilities is endless and limited only by creativity and the interest of donors.   

Civic crowdfunding works because charity is different than taxes. If you are being forced to give up more of your money (which is what taxes do), you’re not interested in doing so, especially when you know waste abounds in any given bureaucracy. But, if people are given the chance to give away their money under their own free will for an appropriately earmarked event or item, especially one that is attractive to them, they will give; the sizable Manhattan and Memphis projects show that.

Throughout its history crowdfunding has shown its value and effectiveness to private endeavors. Heading to it’s the middle of its second decade it has shown its potential for public endeavors. It’s time for local governments to capitalize on that and invest in new projects not by force, but instead by goodwill. People will give and communities can flourish from that charity.

From the 09 December 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and the Batavia Daily News