<![CDATA[Second Half Charlie]]>http://secondhalfcharlie.com/Ghost 0.11Tue, 13 Jun 2017 06:21:33 GMT60<![CDATA[Walking for my Son]]>“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

I've blogged in the past about my son's diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes (see here and here). He was diagnosed in August of 2013, at the age of 6. Our world was

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2015/06/17/step-out-2015/8c180dfe-e6c7-4a5e-bd17-e74d08a38052Wed, 17 Jun 2015 06:30:00 GMT

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

I've blogged in the past about my son's diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes (see here and here). He was diagnosed in August of 2013, at the age of 6. Our world was turned upside-down. We'd already been facing a few challenges with him with Childhood Apraxia of Speech and some developmental disabilities. There's no way that explaining to a 6 year old that they're now diabetic and most likely will be for life can be anything other than soul-crushing. Trying to explain it to a 6 year old that doesn't fully understand... that adds an entirely new level of pain. He doesn't understand why this happened to him. He doesn't understand that it's probably not going to go away. And more than anything else, even today, two years after the initial diagnosis, he just "wants to be normal CJ again" (as he's been known to cry when changing out his pump site). But we all do our best. He does, his sisters do, as do my wife and I. Some days are better than others, but every day we keep moving forward, learning, loving, and holding out hope.

As we continue to learn, I recently became aware of the American Diabetes Association (ADA). In fact, they run a number of "Diabetes Camps" throughout the country, and my son was fortunate enough to be able to attend Camp AZDA this year. This was huge for us. The thought of him being surrounded by other kids (and grownups), all living with diabetes and contending with counting carbs and insulin injections... I just hoped that that might give him a week of feeling like "normal CJ again".

Today, 194 Arizona kids living with diabetes are embarking on the best adventure of their lives. They are on their way...

Posted by American Diabetes Association - Phoenix on Saturday, June 6, 2015
A Facebook Post by the American Diabetes Association (Phoenix)

Kicking off Camp AZDA 2015.

Camp AZDA, as it was explained to the parents, isn't a "Diabetes Camp" in that it teaches kids how to manage their diabetes. No, it's a camp. The campers and counselors all just happen to be diabetics. Every effort is made to help these kids have their week of feeling normal again. I'm incredibly grateful that something like this exists, and I hope to be able to send him every year.

And that's where I'm going to ask for some help. You see, it's not necessarily inexpensive. Is it worth it? Absolutely. It's worth well more than what it costs. But there is a cost. The camp provides all medications for a week (various types of insulins). They also provide all supplies like lancets and test strips. They've got to rent the camp grounds. They charter buses to take the kids to and from. And the ADA actually subsidizes half of the cost for each camper. While the true cost of a week of camp is $1350, each camper is only responsible for $700. And not every kid gets to go. We got lucky this year, as preferential treatment is given to first time campers. He's not guaranteed a spot. Nobody is.

This camp means the world to these kids and their families. But it comes at a cost.

On November 7, 2015, my entire family will be participating in the Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes here in Phoenix. We're trying to raise money to:

  • Help send my son to Camp AZDA next year
  • Help send other Type 1 Diabetic children to Camp AZDA next year
  • Find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes so that no child ever has to look forward to just one week a year so that they can feel normal.

I'm aware that everybody's fighting a battle. We all have bills and we all have needs and we all have wants. But if you could possibly spare at least $10 (less than a week's worth of Starbuck's), you could be making the difference in the life of a child.

You could be making the difference in the life of my child.

Donations can be made at https://donations.diabetes.org.

Please feel free to share this post (or just the link above) to your friends and family, and on various social media networks.

Thank you.

<![CDATA[Cutting the Cord]]>"Television is a medium because anything well done is rare." - Fred Allen

It's official. After almost a lifetime of cable and satellite TV subscriptions, we are now cord cutters.

I'm old enough to remember having one TV in our house. A 13" black-and-white set. It got channels 2 through

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2015/02/12/cutting-the-cord/5fa52ad8-9a31-4d0c-9931-f9967ce9b2f0Thu, 12 Feb 2015 07:05:00 GMT

"Television is a medium because anything well done is rare." - Fred Allen

It's official. After almost a lifetime of cable and satellite TV subscriptions, we are now cord cutters.

I'm old enough to remember having one TV in our house. A 13" black-and-white set. It got channels 2 through 13. To be more precise, it got 7 channels, all of which were between channels 2 and 13 (inclusive).

I think I was in 4th grade when we finally got cable TV (and a color TV set at some point before). I then lived most of my life with cable. At that point, cable was pretty much "the norm".

In 1998, shortly after getting married and buying our first house, we became satellite TV subscribers through DirecTV. The driving force behind that decision was that I was a New York Giants football fan living in Arizona. DirecTV had the Sunday Ticket, which was (and as far as I know, still is) the only way for out-of-market football fans to see their favorite team play.

The Dilemma

Over the years, I'd wrestled with the notion of dropping DirecTV a number of times. Not that I ever had any particular problems with the service. It was just a matter of justifying the cost. Recently, a few things have changed that made the justification that much more difficult. First off, I've started to care much much less about football. On top of that, money and bugeting have become much higher of a priority for us lately. I just couldn't justify $80 a month for TV. And that's before the additional cost of the Sunday Ticket spread over 4 months each year.

What helped make the decision easier is also the fact that we have Netflix, and find ourselves making use of it pretty frequently. When we sat down and really thought about how much live TV we watch, we realized that most of it was on over-the-air (OTA) channels. My wife and kids like watching Once Upon a Time and Grimm, and as a family we all enjoy Arrow and The Flash. As long as we got ABC, NBC, and the CW, we'd be OK. And these are all channels that should be freely available.

The call to DirecTV was placed. Their retention department did an admirable job of offering me incentives to stay. But I'd played that game before, and really just wanted to be done with it. One early termination fee later, and DirecTV was no longer coming into my home.

There were two things that we'd need, though. First, a good OTA antenna to pick up the stations. And second, a DVR. With the hectic schedules in a family of 5, there's little to no chance that we'd be able to be in front of the TV for our shows when they aired. The convenience of a DVR was a must.

The Antenna

I'll just say it up front. I went through four different antennas before finding one that worked well enough.

I learned that before buying an OTA antenna, it's important to know how far away from the towers you are. Enter TV Fool's TV Signal Locator. I think I'm pretty fortunate in that most of the stations I'd want are within a 20 mile radius of my house.

Cutting the Cord
My TV Fool Report

We're fortunate to have so many green rows.

Not knowing specifically what that all meant, I first purchased a Mohu Leaf 50. It boasted a 50 mile radius, which should have been more than twice what I needed. And the flat design would've made it easy to hide. Attached it to the TV, and spent the next several hours moving it about trying to find a spot that got all of the channels. It was an exercise in futility. I was never able to successfully get PBS, NBC, and FOX at the same time.

I posted to /r/cordcutters on Reddit and immediately got a response that the flat antennas are notoriously bad at picking up VHF signals (anything under channel 13). Made sense, as my PBS is 8, NBC is 12, and FOX is 10. They suggested that, based on my TV Fool report, a set of standard rabbit-ears should work fine.

With that, I headed out to my local Best Buy and picked up an RCA amplified antenna for $30. It turned out to be just as finicky as the Leaf. Back to /r/cordcutters, where they said that nothing in my TV Fool report suggested the need for an amplified antenna, and to just pick up a $10 antenna.

Over to Target, where I picked up a $10 GE set of rabbit ears. But again, found it to be quite difficult to get all of the channels that I wanted to get. I was constantly moving the antenna around, and at one point even sank so low as to put aluminum foil balls on the ends.

I'd now gone through three different antennas, ranging from $10 in price up to $75. None of them worked as well as I expected that they should work. Granted, I'm new at cord cutting, but I was pretty sure that if we could land a rocket ship on a moving comet, I should be able to pull in TV signals from 20 miles away. I went back to /r/cordcutters and asked if there was any particular science behind antenna placement. One redditor suggested that I check out the Winegard FreeVision FV-30BB HDTV Antenna. Reviews looked promising, so I placed the order.

I'm now on day 2 with the Winegard FreeVision, and it looks like we have a winner. The antenna is sitting on top of the wall unit that houses the TV. I'm getting every station with pretty decent signal strength. I'm even getting a few stations that are in the "red zones" on the TV Fool report, with towers 70 miles away. At some point I may mount it outside, where our now-defunct satellite dish sits, and tie into the existing coax run in the house. But for now, the FreeVision works wonderfully, and cost less than $35.


I looked at a few different "cord cutter" options. The first was Simple TV, which sounded pretty great. But upon reading a number of negative reviews, it seemed that the product wasn't quite ready for prime time. A friend then suggested TiVo. TiVo, of course, has been around forever. So my initial thought was that whatever service they offered would be dated and stale. But to their credit, they seem to have kept up with things pretty well.

I wanted to try and find a used box with lifetime service, so as to avoid any sort of monthly charge. But most of the boxes I saw on ebay that had lifetime service, and were within my price range, were much older boxes. I really wanted something newer with some bells and whistles such as "Whole Home DVR" or the ability to stream to phones and tablet devices. While researching the various devices and asking questions to @TiVoSupport on Twitter, I landed on the Roamio OTA.

Before going into more detail about the Roamio OTA, I have to give credit to the people behind the @TiVoSupport twitter account. They answered every question I threw at them. And I threw many. Not only did they answer each question thoroughly and accurately, but they did it in a timely manner each time. I'd say that I had a response within 5 minutes of asking each question. Any reservations that I might have had about going with TiVo were eradicated at that point.

The Roamio OTA is "priced right" at $50. I was looking at $150 for the standard Roamio, which is the next model up. The only real difference between the two, as I understand it, is that the standard Roamio has a slot for a cable/satellite card, whereas the Roamio OTA does not. Lower cost of entry is good, but there was one drawback to the Roamio OTA. Unlike other Roamio boxes, the OTA does not offer the option of lifetime or annual pricing. Lifetime pricing wasn't something I was going to be able to do on a new box. But the annual subscription at $149 a year sounded good. That's essentially two months of a satellite TV bill, and averages out to $12.50 per month.

The Roamio OTA only has a monthly pricing option, at $15 a month. That's $30 more per year than the annual subscription. But as I'm saving $100 up front on the box, it'll take 3 years before I feel that cost. So I bit and ordered the Roamio OTA. The low entry cost is a huge plus. While the lack of annual subscription is a small drawback, it does allow me to test out the service without paying for a year up front. It's also extensible. With the purchase of a TiVo Mini, we'll have "whole home DVR" capability again. And if we wanted to, purchasing a TiVo Stream would allow us to watch our shows on our iOS devices both at home or on the road. As with most of their other boxes, the Roamio OTA also allows an external HD to be used for additional storage. Given that we're only going to be DVR'ing a few OTA shows, we may never need it. But it's nice to know that if we do, it'll be available.

The device was rock simple to set up. Plug it in, let it scan the channels and download guide information, and that's it.

As with our DirecTV DVR, it offers the option of a "Season Pass", recording all episodes of a show. The guide is as good as the DirecTV guide, if not better. As a bonus, the unit includes a Spotify app, which is a service that my wife and I subscribe to anyway. So we can now get our music over the home theater system. Additionally, the Roamio allows us to access Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video. We already had Netflix access with our Apple TV unit. But to watch Amazon Instant Video, we've had to use our iOS devices to "airplay" over the Apple TV. This works, but it's hardly convenient. Having easier access to Amazon Prime Instant Videos is a big plus.

I expect that we'll be big fans of our TiVo Roamio. I hope that at some point down the road, the option of an annual or perhaps even a lifetime subscription become available.

In Conclusion

We've only just begun our cord-cutting journey. And while so far, most of it has been a learning experience, I think that we're finally ready to sit back and enjoy being cable and satellite TV free.

Up front costs were a $200 early termination fee to DirecTV, $50 to TiVo for our Roamio OTA, and $35 for the Winegard FreeVision antenna. But month-to-month, we're paying $15 for the TiVo service whereas we were paying $90 for DirecTV. Sure, we got more with DirecTV, in the way of over 200 channels. But of those 200+ channels, we only watched a handful. What we really want, which is a few TV channels that we watch and DVR service, we are getting now for substantially less money each month. We'll recuperate our up front costs within the next six months.

I think that we're going to enjoy the monthly savings. It feels good knowing that we're paying for what we want, rather than paying so much more for a product of which we were only using a small portion.

<![CDATA[You Need a Budget]]>"A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went." - John Maxwell

I've always been very bad with money. I can't think of a time in my life when I wasn't stressed about how all of next month's bills would be paid. I found

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2015/02/06/ynab/3f942718-b598-4493-a9fd-136740686942Fri, 06 Feb 2015 07:30:00 GMT

"A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went." - John Maxwell

I've always been very bad with money. I can't think of a time in my life when I wasn't stressed about how all of next month's bills would be paid. I found out that I was creative, yes. But responsible? No.

For most of my life, I didn't really have a lot of money. The idea of "budgeting" wasn't something that we did. We just tried to make our paychecks stretch from payday to payday.

After a small series of fortunate breaks, I found myself in what I consider my first "real" job. In an office. There were benefits, and there was a larger paycheck than I'd ever expected that I'd make. It wasn't a windfall. But as a single man it should have been the beginnings of putting together a long-term financial plan. It would have laid a solid foundation, if nothing else.

Not too long after that, I got married. We bought a small house. As DINKS, we definitely should have been able to get that financial plan started. But we didn't. We continued to live paycheck to paycheck. We didn't buy expensive cars or go on exorbitant vacations. I honestly don't know where that money went. Which, of course, is the problem. We lived day-to-day, and didn't prepare for the future.

Sure enough, the future came. My wife got pregnant with our first child, and opted to leave the work force and spend her days (and nights and weekends) as a stay-at-home mom. Now we had another person in the family to provide for, and our income was essentially halved. And a couple of years after that came kid number two.

And we continued to struggle with getting the bills paid. We racked up credit card debt as we didn't have the cash to buy what we bought. The mindset was, "It'll get better. At some point, we'll be able to pay off the debt". That is a silly mindset.

Fast forward to 2013. We were now a family of 5. My wife was trying to re-enter the workforce, but it's very challenging to do that after a 10 year hiatus. And we continued to live paycheck-to-paycheck and we continued to pile on the credit card debt. And while we'd been managing to barely tread water financially, we didn't realize that every time we used a credit card, we were adding a weight to our feet. And finally, that weight was pulling us beneath the surface. We were going to drown. We'd been drowning for years, in fact. We just didn't know it. All at once, we knew.

We caught a break, though. In August of that year, my wife was able to re-enter the workforce. It was an entry level salary, but it was fair. We were drowning. This was somebody throwing us a lifesaver.

I was determined to not waste this opportunity. Now that we had some more money coming in, I wanted to create a budget. Only problem was, I had no idea what to do. Sure, at a very high level, spend less than you make. But I wanted something more. I set off to googling and eventually settled on YNAB1.

The YNAB principle is "give every dollar a job". It's not new, but the software makes it easy. It uses what is essentially the Envelope Technique of budgeting. You have $500. You know that you need groceries, gas, and clothes, and that the electric bill is due soon. So perhaps you take $200 and place it into an envelope labeled "Groceries". You take $50 and place it into an envelope labeled "Gasoline". You take $100 and put it in an envelope labeled "Clothing". And finally, you take the remaining $150 and place it in an envelope labeled "Electric Bill". Now every dollar has a job. And when you need to put gas in the car, you take it from that specific envelope.

You Need a Budget
YNAB: Gain total control of your money.

Pay off your debt, save more money, and break the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

This system has been great for me. Before YNAB, I did have somewhat of a "system" in place. I'd get my paycheck, and then sit down and look at what bills were due before the next payday. I'd put money aside for those, or pay them right then. Whateve was left, was the "everything else" money. The problem with that is that there's really no planning invovled there. There's no looking ahead. I might have had $1000 left over after paying bills. That seemed like a lot of money. Perhaps we'd go out to dinner (there goes $120). Then I'd buy groceries ($300). Then the kids need some clothes ($400). Oh, and the cars both need gas ($100). Also, one of the cars needs an oil change ($50). Look at that, I still have $30 left. I am a financial wizard.

But then it happens. A few days later one of the kids gets invited to a birthday party ($20 on a gift). It's picture day at school and the kids need haircuts ($50). The battery dies in one of the cars ($100). The dog ate a bag of chocolate chips and needs to go to the vet ($150). That adds up to $320, and I have $30. Time to break out the credit cards.

That is, quite literally, how we lived our lives for many, many years.

With YNAB, when I get paid I immediately "give every dollar a job". What this means is that I have predefined categories in the application. Think of a category as a virtual envelope. I have categories for each of the monthly bills. I have categories that are Everyday Expenses, such as "Groceries", "Gasoline", "Restaurants", etc. I have categories that are Rainy Day Funds, such as "Car Repairs", "Home Repairs", "Christmas", "Car Registrations", etc. Every dollar from my paycheck goes towards these categories. When I'm done, I have $0 "available to budget". It's all been assigned a job.

So now there's no longer that $1000 pool of "unassigned" money. If we want to go out to eat, we look at the "Restaurants" category and see if we can afford to go. If not, we stay in. When we need clothes, we look at the "Clothing" category to see how much we have to spend there.

We started with YNAB in February of 2014. Our "budget" was still very rough. The numbers were essentially best guesses, and we didn't necessarily stick to them completely. But they gave us a guideline. And the application allowed us to track the spending, even though that's not its primary purpose.

Last month, with almost a full year of YNAB behind us and a new year ahead of us, I sat down and averaged out how much we actually spent in each category. Based on that, I adjusted some of the numbers. Moving forward in 2015, we have a more solid budget, as it's based on actual spending patterns.

Also in 2014, we stopped using credit cards. Completely. Thanks to YNAB we were able to do that. And when Christmas rolled around, we didn't have to buy presents with money we didn't have. We'd been funding the "Christmas" category every month for the entire year. That's a huge accomplishment for us. We also took a small family vacation in November and spent Thanksgiving on the beaches of southern California. All without the use of credit cards. Because every month we funded the "Vacation" category.

We've got a ways to go before I'd consider us "healthy" financially. But we are absolutely heading in the right direction.

Today was a payday for me. And as I sat and allocated money to different categories, I found myself getting excited. Looking forward to the end of the year and seeing how much progress we made. Last year was great, but this year I expect should be even better.

I avoided budgeting for a long time. I thought that it would be something that I'd hate. Not being able to buy what I want when I want would be frustrating. I was sure that I'd hate it.

A year into it, it's completely the opposite. It's not something that I find limiting. Rather, it's something that I find empowering. Rather than being reactive to my financial situation and wondering how I'm going to pay for the next unexpected expense that arises, I'm in a much better position to handle it.

I may still have a long way to go to get to the shore, but I'm swimming. And that's a world of difference than where I was a year ago, treading water in the same spot and barely able to keep my head above the surface.

If YNAB sounds like something that you'd like to try, I'd appreciate it if you'd use this link: http://ynab.refr.cc/VKP6N4H.

You'll get $6 off of the purchase price, and I'll get a $6 "finder's fee". If it wasn't something that I believed in unconditionally, I wouldn't be recommending it at all. It's a solid application that does what it's meant to do. There's amazing support from the company as well as the YNAB community. You can enroll in online courses for free as well as participate in their helpful forums. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions. I'll be happy to answer.

  1. Full disclosure: Referral link.

<![CDATA[Fourth and Long]]>"If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead." ― Erma Bombeck

Today should be a special day. It's opening day of the National Football League's 2014 season. But for the first time in many, many years, I find myself feeling overwhelmingly "meh" about

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2014/09/04/fourth-and-long/2bc18f56-1f0c-4e6c-a0a9-b902367f9ce6Thu, 04 Sep 2014 06:30:00 GMT

"If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead." ― Erma Bombeck

Today should be a special day. It's opening day of the National Football League's 2014 season. But for the first time in many, many years, I find myself feeling overwhelmingly "meh" about it.

I was born and raised in New Jersey, and have been a New York Giants fan all of my life. In the 19 years since leaving New Jersey, I've almost always been a subscriber to DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket. There's been an annual ritual in my household, where the automatic billing for the Sunday Ticket kicks in. It's a four month payment plan during which my DirecTV bill is noticeably higher than normal. So I call up and complain. Yes, I want the Sunday Ticket but no, I can't afford it. I ask them to remove it, and then I ask about cancelling my service altogether, since the Sunday Ticket is the main reason I signed up with DirecTV. Eventually, I walk away with my DirecTV service intact, and the Sunday Ticket at a significantly reduced price. And usually 6 months of Showtime or Cinemax or some other premium channel.

This isn't a ritual that I've ever looked forward to. I hate haggling. I hate playing the games. But that was just part of being a subscriber. And every year after receiving that first increased bill, I'd feel a sense of apprehension at the task ahead of me.

Except for this year.

This year I called up and said, "Please cancel my Sunday Ticket." As per usual, the rep on the other end asked what they can do to keep me as a Sunday Ticket subscriber. But this year I said, "Nothing. Please just cancel that service." And they did. This is the first year in almost two decades that I have made the choice to walk away from the Sunday Ticket.

It has nothing to do with the service or with DirecTV. It has everything to do with the NFL.

To be honest, this is a move that I've considered making for each of the past few years. With each passing year, I've been finding myself less and less enamored with the NFL and their product. And therein lies the problem. I'm seeing it more and more as a product. Not a game. Not a sporting event. But a product.

I'm not naïve. I understand that the NFL is a business. As with any business, it exists to make money. If it doesn't turn a profit, there's no reason for it to continue. But there was a time when then business side of the NFL wasn't quite so evident to me. But over the years it seems that I'm noticing more and more of the money side of the equation rather than the entertainment side. I'm not sure if it's because of anything different that the league has done, or if it's just that I'm seeing things differently as I grow and dare I say it, mature.

So what is it specifically that's put me off of football?

11 Minutes of Action
An NFL game broadcast lasts over three hours. Of those 3 hours, there are 11 minutes of game play. I've come to realize over the years that my time is valuable. I am learning to choose to spend it wisely. A 3 hour investment for 11 minutes of actual game play seems unwise. Some of the non-playing time is checking instant replays. Some is teams huddling up. And a lot of it is commercials. Hey NFL... when there's a commercial break after a team scores a touchdown, and then another one after the point after, and then another one after the kickoff, you're telling me that you're more interested in making money than delivering a product that's worth watching.

Beer and the Inability to Achieve/Maintain an Erection
Oh wow, NFL. If you must show so many commercials, could you perhaps realize that I like watching football with my family? Specifically, with my kids? Yes, I was actually trying to create new football fans from whom you could spend years extracting additional money. I'm uncomfortable with the thought that a majority of the commercials that they'll see during a football game are for beer. And not even good beer, but that's beside the point. But I suppose I'd rather them see beer commercials than commercials that make them turn to me and ask, "Daddy, what's erectile dysfunction?" If you're telling me that your target market is domestic beer drinking men who can't get erections, then neither myself nor my children fall into that demographic. We'll just see our way out.

Product Dilution
Remember when Sundays and Mondays were special? There were those four months a year that Sundays and Mondays meant football. All day Sunday and that one special Monday night game. Monday night football was an institution of its own. I was happy to dedicate my Sundays. I didn't always watch Monday night football, but if it was a game that interested me, absolutely. Those two days were special. They meant something.

Today we also have Thursday night football. To me, this makes Sunday and Monday less special. Of course, Mondays were already a bit less special since ABC lost the real "Monday Night Football" and now we're treated to ESPN's version of the same. It's hard to think of any of the ESPN crew over the years as being in the same league as ABC's Monday Night Football crew. But now in addition to giving up my Sundays and Monday nights... the NFL wants me to give them my Thursday nights as well. True, it's only one additional night, but as I said earlier, I've come to realize that my time is valuable. I've got work. I've got the gym, I've got a wife. I've got kids. I'm sorry, but I was already dedicating a chunk of my time to football. I don't have another night to sacrifice to the football gods.

Premium TV Channels
Monday Night Football has been around for as long as I can remember. But it used to be on ABC. If you had a TV in your house, you had access to Monday Night Football. Today, Monday Night Football is an ESPN broadcast. That means that I need something more than basic cable in order to watch it. Not to mention that the newly added Thursday Night Football is on the NFL Network. That's generally a tier that's above the tier that's above basic cable. Football is for blue collar domestic beer drinking (erectile-dysfunction having?) people. It used to be a product that was freely and readily available to those that chose to watch. That seems to be less and less the case.

The Money
So yes, I need to be subscribed to a premium-tier cable or satellite package just to watch the weekly games. But there are other costs. The NFL blacks out local games that aren't sold out. They do this in order to try and support the local teams and build a fan base. Get the people to the stadiums. The problem with this is that for an average family, getting to the stadium isn't cheap. Three years ago the Giants were out here in Phoenix playing the Cardinals. I took my family of 5. We had what I would consider to be below-average seats. Somewhere around the 10 yard line, upper level. we bought no food at the stadium. I spent over $400. I'm sorry, NFL, but if you want to build up a fan base, let me watch the games on TV. Let me become familiar with the sport. Let me become familiar with the team. Let me become a fan and let me choose to treat myself and my family to a day at the stadium. But if you try to force it on me, it's not going to happen.

By contrast, I've taken my family to home games for the Arena League Arizona Rattlers. It was less than half the price of the NFL game. We had great seats. We got to go down onto the field after the game and meet the players and coaches. That experience helped to remind me what a football game should be like.

The Money, Part II: Show Me the Money
Dropping $400 to take a family of 5 to a football game hurts. What hurts more is reading about the players holding out for an extra few million on their multi million dollar salaries. I struggle to be able to afford to give the NFL that money. I resent reading about their employees bickering over an extra million here or there.

I understand that NFL careers are short. I understand that sometimes they're cut even shorter. But some of these players are making in a single season more money than I'll ever have in my life. It's not that they don't deserve it. They have the skill and they work hard to maintain it. But I'd think that the $6 million that they make in a single season could be invested wisely enough to support them for the rest of their lives. It's hard for me to sympathize with their need to make an extra million when I'm struggling to support them with my $400. The problem isn't that they need to make more money. The problem is that they don't know how to invest the money they're offered. The NFL should be working harder to address that.

Still More Money
The NFL is a non-profit organization. Yes, that's right. The NFL, which is a $10 billion-with-a-b-a-year company, is a non-profit organziation. It's clearly legal, and the NFL is certainly far from the only organization to take advantage of legal loopholes. But boy I find it difficult to get behind and support a company that makes $10 billion a year and calls themselves non-profit.

So yes, here we are on Opening Thursday (ugh) of NFL Season 2014. And I just don't care. I realize that I'm in the minority here. As mentioned above, the NFL is a $10 billion per year industry. So they must be doing something right. That is, if their goal is simply to make money. I understand that need. But I wish that it wasn't so prevalent.

The Giants open the season on Monday night against the Lions. I'll probably DVR the game. I've grown to dislike the NFL, but I'll probably always bleed blue and have a soft spot for my Giants. When it's convenient, e.g. when the game is being aired nationally and available to me, I'll probably continue to watch those games. But it won't ever be the same as it was.

I'll always miss the days when players played for the love of the game, and we watched for the same reasons.

<![CDATA[Sharing Happiness]]>"The Beauty of Life does not depend on how happy you are, but how happy others can be because of you." - Unknown

The purpose of life, I think, is simply to be happy. I believe that happiness is a choice. It starts with gratitude and appreciation and it grows

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2014/07/27/sharing-happiness/9d37d11b-b87d-467a-a6dc-fda5674e9b7cSun, 27 Jul 2014 06:30:00 GMT

"The Beauty of Life does not depend on how happy you are, but how happy others can be because of you." - Unknown

The purpose of life, I think, is simply to be happy. I believe that happiness is a choice. It starts with gratitude and appreciation and it grows from there.

Not always an easy thing to achieve, I know. There are always plenty of obstacles. One of the biggest, I think, is being around unhappy people. It's difficult to put forth the effort to be happy when you're around toxic people, or in a toxic environment.

So it's really worth our while to try and make those around us happy. I believe that we are all smaller pieces of a greater whole. Think of society as a living entity. The health and happiness of that entity as a whole is dependent upon the health and happiness of the individual pieces.

I believe that we are equally as responsible for the health and happiness of the greater entity as we are for our own health and happiness. While each of us is essentially powerless to have any meaningful impact against something so great, we can affect change piece by piece. Person by person.

A few weeks ago, I was driving through the parking lot of our local grocery store. There's one particular stop sign where I seem to have gotten into the habit of making somewhat of a rolling stop. That day was no different than any other, except this time another car was making its way through the intersection.

As we both hit the brakes, my eye caught the driver of the other car. It was an older woman. Much older. And she looked mean. I immediately averted my eyes, as I was preparing to get an earful. I rolled through the stop sign. I almost hit her car. I was in the wrong, and I was sure that she was going to let me have it.

What seemed like an eternity later, I resolved to accept the consequences of my actions, and looked her way. This was going to be unpleasant, I thought. She's going to shoot me a look that will turn me to stone. And I deserve it. I'm at fault here.

And when I looked up and when our eyes met, she nodded and smiled. And she waved at me, all as if to say, "No worries. We all make mistakes."

Here I was, bracing for a proverbial beating, but I found myself feeling relieved and happy. And my mood, which wasn't necessarily a bad one before, was immediately lifted. And I'd like to think that at some point after that incident, that maybe I lifted somebody else's mood in kind.

And with that, I realized the impact that each of us can have on each other. Not just family and friends, but we all have the power to impact complete strangers, for better or for worse.

We're all responsible for the society around us. Our own happiness is influenced by our surroundings. In a toxic environment, it's that much harder to thrive, or to simply exist.

As the saying goes, no one us can change the world. But we can change one person's world, and maybe that's good enough.

I was reminded of this today when I read the following:

Once a group of 50 people was attending a seminar.

Suddenly the speaker stopped and started giving each person a balloon. Each one was asked to write his/her name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.

Now these delegates were let in that room and asked to find the balloon which had their name written, within 5 minutes.

Everyone was frantically searching for their name, pushing, colliding with each other, and there was utter chaos.

At the end of 5 minutes, no one could find their own balloon.

Now each one was asked to randomly collect a balloon and give it to the person whose name was written on it. Within minutes everyone had their own balloon.

The speaker began: This is exactly happening in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is. Our happiness lies in the happiness of other people. Give them their happiness, you will get your own happiness.

And this is the purpose of human life.

-- Author Unknown

<![CDATA[Dear New Person at the Gym]]>"I'm not telling you it's going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it." ― Art Williams

I read Erica Millard's amazing blog post "Dear New Girl at the Gym" back in January of this year. It made sense to post it back then. Many people were

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2014/07/25/dear-new-person-at-the-gym/9f4688c4-444d-4e33-ba18-47e9fad36151Fri, 25 Jul 2014 06:30:00 GMT

"I'm not telling you it's going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it." ― Art Williams

I read Erica Millard's amazing blog post "Dear New Girl at the Gym" back in January of this year. It made sense to post it back then. Many people were hitting the gym for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, in trying to adhere to New Year's resolutions. I was blown away. I thought it was perfect. Well, nearly perfect. Because I had been that new person at the gym.

I read through it, substituting he for each she, and him for each her, and ignoring the part about having just had a baby. The message was spot on.

As I read it, I thought about being that new person four years ago at R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems. I certainly felt self-conscious, thinking that I was being judged (I wasn't). I also thought about today. If I'm partnered up with a new student, I make every effort possible to be encouraging and to let them know that it takes time.

Today, a friend of mine... a male friend of mine... was talking about attending some boot camp classes at his local gym, but felt that he might be embarrassed if he were unable to keep up. It made me think of "Dear New Girl...", which I pointed him towards, giving him the heads up to make the necessary pronoun substitutions.

As I was re-reading it myself, I thought that it's definitely something that I'd like to share here. But I'm going to make some slight modifications, which I hope will be OK with the original author.

Dear New Person at the Gym,

You stand across from me in boot camp or on the treadmill next to me or a few bikes over in spin. I have never seen you before, but here you are. I can tell by the look on your face you are embarrassed. Embarrassed that you can't do a pushup or don't know how to adjust your bike or that you walk on the treadmill when the person on the other side of you runs for a full hour at the speed of a cheetah. You look around and wonder what on earth you are doing here. You glance at me and I smile, but you look away pretending you didn't see, because that would mean I noticed you. Maybe you are discouraged. Maybe you tell yourself this was a huge mistake and you're going to ask for your money back. Maybe you wonder if I'm judging you.

I am not.

I want you to know how proud I am of you. You see, even though it might not seem like it, none of us are judging you. Why? Because so many of us were just like you. We know what it is like. We know how hard it is, especially in the beginning. Really we do. Maybe you woke up one day weighing forty pounds more than you did five years ago. I have been there. Maybe you stepped on the scale at the doctor's office, had the nurse cluck her tongue, and then had the doctor say something like, "Now let's talk about your weight." I have been there. Maybe you get half way through the warm up in a group fitness class and wonder if you are this out of breath now, is a full hour going to kill you? I have been there. Maybe money and time are tight and the idea of spending $30-$70 a month and an hour a day on yourself feels awfully selfish. I have been there. So many of us have.

You see us running or biking or lifting weights, and may feel discouraged or that we are judging you. Please, please, PLEASE know that we are not, because so many of us have been in your same shoes. You see us for what we are now, but many of us started out just like you, on a journey to find our best selves.

Please come back. I know it is hard, but it will get better, I promise.

And then you will wake up one day and wonder when you became that person. You know that person who can jog a few miles or do a whole spin class or even do boot camp without being sore the next day. And you will be the one, standing across the room, smiling at the new person hoping they knows how wonderful and brave they are. Hoping they know they are worth all the work. Because you are. You are so worth it. You deserve to be your healthiest self.

Now there might come a time and a place where someone will judge you, even someone at the gym. Maybe they make rude comments or give you that look. Maybe they have never known what it feels like to struggle with their weight. Maybe they have low self-esteem. Maybe they have never eaten an entire pan of brownies by themselves (I have) or an entire bag of Halloween candy before a single trick or treater came to their door (I have). Maybe they forgot what it was like to be the new person. Please, don't waste your time on them. You are on a journey to be your best self, and they don't belong on your journey. Find people and a place where you can begin where you are.

Come back. You are so worth it.

(originally published as Dear New Girl at the Gym, by Erica Millard)

EDIT: I reached out to Ms. Millard on twitter to make sure my posting a modified version of her work was OK. Very grateful to her for the quick response:

<![CDATA[Talking to Jay Ackerman of R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems]]>"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." ― Mahatma Gandhi

In response to my previous post regarding my 90 Day Fitness Challenge at R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems, I was invited to sit down with Chief Instructor Jay Ackerman

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2014/06/04/talking-to-jay-ackerman-of-react-defense-systems/50b9bdd7-83e8-4294-84f6-193ebe584cffWed, 04 Jun 2014 06:30:00 GMT

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." ― Mahatma Gandhi

In response to my previous post regarding my 90 Day Fitness Challenge at R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems, I was invited to sit down with Chief Instructor Jay Ackerman and talk about my experiences not only with the 90 Day Challenge, but at REACT in general.

It was a huge honor. In my almost 4 years at REACT, I've never had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Jay. He works out of the Phoenix location, and I train at the Glendale location. But Jay and his family are the people that started REACT. They are the people that keep it running. Everything that I've gotten out of REACT, and there has been much, I owe to them.

The video runs just under 10 minutes. We actually spoke for closer to 20. I could have talked all day. I'm grateful every day for what Jay's put together, and thankful that I get to be a part of it. I appreciate the fact that I was asked to sit down and do this interview, and that among all of the other students who leave it all on the mat, I was recognized as Student of the Month.

<![CDATA[90 Day Fitness Challenge: Results and Lessons]]>"If a man achieves victory over this body, who in the world can exercise power over him? He who rules himself rules over the whole world." - Vinoba Bhave

For the past almost four years, I've trained at R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems in Glendale, AZ.


http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2014/05/28/90-day-fitness-challenge-results-and-lessons/ce53da5c-a004-4ce6-a6d4-fe14402149e2Wed, 28 May 2014 06:30:00 GMT

"If a man achieves victory over this body, who in the world can exercise power over him? He who rules himself rules over the whole world." - Vinoba Bhave

For the past almost four years, I've trained at R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems in Glendale, AZ.

I went from being a mostly sedentary programmer who smoked a pack-and-a-half a day and ate whatever he wanted to somebody who makes a significant effort to make health and fitness a major part of his life.

I generally eat well, avoiding sodas and most sugary/processed foods. I do enjoy cheat days, which find me enjoying some Ben & Jerry's or Talenti gelatto. If you haven't tried Talenti's Caramel Cookie Crunch, you owe it to yourself to do so.

I haven't smoked in over four years. And I've been completely nicotine-free for two. Yes, those who are proficient at math will recognize a small overlap there. I was on various nicotine-replacement-therapies for about two years. Mostly nicotine gum, sometimes the nicotine lozenge. I rationalized that it was better for me than smoking. And while it arguably was, I was still slave to an addiction. Finally walking away from nicotine and tobacco completely was one of the hardest things that I'd ever done, and remains to this day as one of my proudest accomplishments.

I also exercise regularly. At first, I used my Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit. To an overweight smoker programmer, that was exercise. It got me moving. But I knew that I'd need to do more than that. Fate brought me to Krav Maga. I didn't start with REACT, as I was living in California at the time. But it wasn't long before we moved back to Phoenix and I signed up with REACT.

REACT offers free fitness assessments and 90 Day Challenges to most members, depending on membership. They'll perform some measurements, such as weight, body fat, waist, chest, arms, etc. You agree to attend at least 2 of their strength training classes per week (A.L.E.E.T. or Core Board), and at least 2 of any other class (Bag, Krav Maga, Tactical Black). Based on the number of hours you plan on training, and your calculated basal metabolic rate (BMR), they determine your daily caloric intake, which for the sake of the program should be 40% protein, 30% carbs, and 30% fats. And the rest is up to you.

My numbers, taken at the beginning of my challenge, at the mid point, and the final results:

  Initial Meeting 45 Day Check-In Final Meeting
  28 Feb 2014 11 Apr 2014 28 May 2014
Weight (lbs) 206.6 203.2 193.8
Waist (inches) 40 1/4 40 1/2 39 3/4
Chest 43 1/4 42 3/4
Body Fat (%) 24.2 24.0 22.5
BMI 31.4 30.9 29.5
Lean Muscle Mass (lbs) 156.6 154.4 150.2

Overall, I couldn't be happier. Down almost 13 lbs and almost 2% body fat gone. It could've been better, yes, but notice not necessarily the difference between the initial meeting and the final meeting, but the initial meeting and the 45 Day Check-in. There was almost no difference over the first 45 days!

Over the first 45 days, I lost just over 3 lbs, but only 2/10 of percentage of body fat. This was a bit concerning, as I had been going to 6 classes per week (3 A.L.E.E.T, 1 bag, and 2 Tactical Black). This was a significant increase over what I'd been doing, as I admittedly had been slacking a bit this calendar year and only managing about 3 classes per week on a good week. Doubling the classes, and bearing in mind that I burn around 800 calories in any given one hour class, I thought the pounds should have just melted away.

So we turned and looked at my eating. As part of the Challenge, the instructors suggest that you log the foods you eat, using a tool like My Fitness Pal. I thought that I was already eating pretty well, so I didn't bother with that part. But I needed to now, if only to know where I was going wrong.

I bought a kitchen scale, I dusted off my My Fitness Pal account ("Welcome Back, Charlie! It has been 1834 days since your last login"), and got down to business. Because I felt that I had "lost" those first 45 days, I decided to go aggressive and target my calories at about 1700 for the day.

Two weeks later, I had an mini-check-in session, just to see how things were going now that I was tracking my food. Here's how that went:

  45 Day Check-In Two Weeks Later
  11 Apr 2014 25 Apr 2014
Weight 203.2 200.2
Body Fat 24.0 23.0
BMI 30.9 30.4
Lean Muscle Mass 154.4 154.1

In the two weeks that I had been monitoring and tracking my food intake, I had lost another 3 lbs, but also a full percentage of body fat. In two weeks, I had accomplished more than I had in the 45 days prior.

Monitoring and tracking the food really was the issue. I don't know exactly what I was doing wrong, but I imagine I was probably high on calories, and high on carbs. Keeping to 1700 calories, at a 40% protein, 30% carb, 30% fat ratio had definitely made a difference. But there was one small issue... the resulting lean muscle mass had gone down as well. That meant that some of the weight that I lost was muscle, and not fat. The issue there was likely that I had overcompensated by dropping the calories to 1700. My BMR is around 2100, and I was attending 6 one hour classes per week, burning in the neighborhood of 800 calories in an hour. I needed more calories.

With that in mind, I bumped the calories up to 2100, maintaining the same protein/carb/fat ratio. In fact, even though I was targeting 2100, on most days I tried to hit closer to 2300, still minding the protein/carb/fat ratio. I never minded going over on my protein, but made every effort to keep the carbs and fats at a reasonable number.

I think the end result speaks for itself. While there was almost no difference between the initial meeting and the 45 day check-in, the difference between the 45 day check-in and the final meeting was very encouraging to me. Almost 10 lbs dropped in the last 45 days, as compared to 3 lbs in the first 45. A percent and a half down in body fat in the second half, versus two-tenths of a percent in the first.

I could be disappointed in the first 45 days. But while the numbers weren't where I'd have liked them to have been, I clearly learned a lot. Now I know that, while I thought I generally ate well, I really wasn't eating well enough to see the changes I want to see. I still need to weigh out my portions and track what I eat. It's challenging at first, but now I sit down in the morning and pretty much plan out my meals for the day while I'm having my morning coffee. It's not a terribly sexy meal plan. Lots of chicken. Lots of salmon. Not much variety, but as far as filling a need, it works. I also recognize the importance of balancing the proteins/carbs/fats. Previously, I thought that staying away from sweets and processed foods was enough. For some people, it might be. But for my regimen and for my goals, I really need to stick to that 40/30/30 ratio.

Aside from the numbers, there's what I see in the mirror. I see noticeable improvements in my arms, chest, and shoulders. I see very definite noticeable improvements in my stomach. Monday night we were at a friend's house for barbecue. My nine year-old daughter noticed me getting out of the pool and exclaimed, "Daddy! You're getting abs!" While that was nice to hear, I'm still a long way from where I'd like my stomach to be. But yes, there are vertical lines showing definition, where there used to be only horizontal lines indicating rolls of flab. And a few weeks ago, the most telling result of all. I went to put on a pair of shorts that did fit me at one point in my life, but then, not so much. I couldn't even get them buttoned. I went to put on those shorts, hoping that I could button them, expecting a struggle. Not only did I not struggle, but I needed to find my belt. Numbers are nice to see, but results like these... what you see in the mirror, what you hear from other people, those are the results that really make you smile.

I plan to start another 90 Day Challenge with REACT around mid summer. I have a trip home to NJ planned before then, and there's little point to scheduling a new challenge when there's going to be a 10 day stretch where I won't be training and I'll likely be allowing myself some leeway in what I eat. Given what I now know and the things that I've learned, I'm sure it's going to be phenomenal.

As always, nothing but gratitude to the people at REACT. Mike Bolles, the head instructor at Glendale, was always accessible when I had questions about eating or strength training. All of the other instructors knew that I was participating in this challenge, and knew what my goals were. In class, when I felt like I was done, they were always there to motivate me to dig deeper and find the strength to continue. I have never known a group of individuals so dedicated to encouraging others and helping them to reach their goals. I am eternally grateful to have such people in my life.

Now if you'll excuse me... I may need to allow myself a cheat day to celebrate. There's a container of Talenti Caramel Cookie Crunch in the frozen food aisle at Safeway that's got my name on it.

<![CDATA[Apraxia Awareness Day]]>"Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional." ― Roger Crawford

Today is the second annual Apraxia Awareness Day. So what is Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) and why does it matter to me?

Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS have problems

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2014/05/14/apraxia-awareness-day/e37838d5-af1c-46a5-9ed3-af7d3c16bf87Wed, 14 May 2014 06:30:00 GMT

"Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional." ― Roger Crawford

Today is the second annual Apraxia Awareness Day. So what is Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) and why does it matter to me?

Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words. This is not because of muscle weakness or paralysis. The brain has problems planning to move the body parts (e.g., lips, jaw, tongue) needed for speech. The child knows what he or she wants to say, but his/her brain has difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say those words.1

My son CJ, who just turned 7, has CAS. He's happy and healthy (other than having Type 1 Diabetes), but it can be very difficult to understand what he's saying. My wife and I, as well as his sisters, we generally do well enough communicating with him, as we're used to his speech patterns. But if you'd just met him and tried to hold a conversation with him, you might find it challenging.

Apraxia Awareness Day
My Son CJ

CJ was diagnosed in 2010 with Childhood Apraxia of Speech. He was 4 years old.

That's not to say that we always understand him. We have our moments of frustration where he's trying to talk to us, and we just can't make out the words that he's trying to say. It's incredibly frustrating for everybody involved when he says something to us, we repeat it back to him, he rolls his eyes and says, "no" and then repeats himself, we offer up our next best guess... and this goes on for a few minutes. He's my son. He's seven years old. And there are times when he simply can't communicate with me.

Over the years this has raised many concerns for us. We've purchased ID bracelets for fear of losing him in a crowd one day. It's a bit terrifying to think that we might get separated, and he wouldn't be able to say, "Hi, my name is CJ, and I can't find my parents". He's in a different school than his sisters because he's in Special Ed classes due to the Apraxia.

Overall I'm grateful. In spite of the fact that he has to be separated from his sisters and bussed into a different school, he gets the attention that he requires. He's seen by Occupational Therapists and Speech Therapists as part of his routine school week. I do appreciate that.

I'm grateful that this is not a life threatening issue. While it can be difficult to deal with at times, it can be addressed through a combination of therapy and hard work. But his life is not in danger. We have challenges that we face because of his CAS, but others have far greater challenges. I do appreciate that.

But today is Apraxia Awareness Day. It's a day when I see other parents to Apraxic children sharing their stories on Facebook and take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone. It's a day when I can talk about it a little bit and not feel guilty thinking about those who have much more difficult situations to deal with. It's a day when my son does get a little bit of extra but well-deserved recognition for the extra efforts that he has to make all day, every day, in order to simply talk to those around him. And he deserves every single ounce of that recognition, because he is a warrior. Because he fights a fight all day, every day, to do something that most of us commonly take for granted. And most people don't realize that. But he doesn't fight for the recognition. He fights because he must.

Apraxia Awareness Day
If I Could Only Tell You, I Would Say...


This image comes from the Apraxia-KIDS web site. I first saw it a few years ago, when the diagnosis was new to us. I didn't know what to expect, and I didn't really know what to feel. I remember how much reading it for the first time impacted me. It helped me to see things from his perspective and to better understand his frustrations, so that I might better be able to help him through them. It's been a while since I looked at it, but seeing it again today for the first time in probably about a year, its impact hasn't abated any. If anything, it makes me realize once again how strong my son is. How hard he fights every waking moment. How he doesn't get a fraction of the recognition that he deserves for his efforts.

But today... today he should get that recognition. If nothing else he deserves at least that one day a year where he can hold up his chin and puff out his chest and say to everybody around him, "I'm doing it". It's the one day a year where everybody should be aware that my son is so special. Not because he has a disability. But because he silently fights every day of his life and does not let that disability define him.

<![CDATA[Appreciating Today]]>"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this." ― Henry David Thoreau

This is Murphy. Murphy is our

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2014/02/06/appreciating-today/baf1acbc-cccf-4d22-8883-77a14ceb8adcThu, 06 Feb 2014 07:30:00 GMT

"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this." ― Henry David Thoreau

This is Murphy. Murphy is our 6 year old schlab (schnauzer/lab mix). He came into our lives a few years ago, when we thought that our son might benefit by having a dog. He's been a wonderful addition to our family. Puppies are adorable, but adopting a grown dog has many benefits. He's never had an accident in the house. Ever. He's never chewed up shoes/furniture/etc. He's fiercely loyal and I have no doubt in my mind that he would lay down his life to protect any one of us. I can't imagine our family without him.

Appreciating Today
Murphy the Dog

When I look into his eyes, I swear I can see into his soul.

Our end-of-day routine usually goes something like this: My wife and I are watching TV downstairs, with Murphy curled up in his bed at the foot of the couch. We turn off the TV and head upstairs, and he follows us, curling up and taking his place in his other bed at the foot of ours.

The other night, as my wife and I wrapped up our TV time for the evening, we headed upstairs. Murphy had had a long day, and I think was in such a deep sleep that he didn't hear us get up. I whistled over to him from the base of the stairs, at which point he reluctantly got up. He seemed to limp over to the stairs so that he could follow me up. I realize that this was not due to any injury or issue, but rather that he had just woken up and was a bit stiff. But it did make me realize...

There will come a day when the sun goes down and the TV goes off, and as my wife and I head upstairs, I'll whistle over to Murphy who will be curled up in his bed dreaming of chasing bunnies or fetching his ball. And he'll look up at me with big brown eyes, and realize that he's quite comfortable where he is. He'll realize that time has taken its toll, and that the effort of hiking up the stairs just isn't worth it. And in those big brown eyes, I'll realize that he's saying, "No, Charlie. I'm just going to stay down here from now on. You go on up, and I'll see you in the morning."

And with that realization came the understanding that one day he'd be gone. And whenever it is, it'll be too soon. And when that day comes, I'll think things like, "I should have taken him for more walks", or "I should have taken him to the park more often", or "I shouldn't have snapped at so often when he was just looking for some attention and love", as he tends to do.

I realized that it's only after we lose the things that are important to us, that we understand and appreciate their importance. And we wish that we could have just one more day to do the things that we should have done.

We tend to take for granted those things that we have around us that fulfill our lives. We get wrapped in in work or chores and think, "I'll do it tomorrow". But before we know it, that tomorrow has been taken away from us. This clearly transcends four-legged friends. Things that we love are transient in nature, even if the love that we feel for those things is not. Pets pass away. Friends move away. Children grow up and move on.

While we may not always be able to make the time for grand gestures, I don't think that they have to be grand. I think that just stopping for a few seconds each day to appreciate the things that we have in our lives, to be grateful that they're there today, that goes a long way towards making us feel fulfilled and spills over into our actions. I think that making sure to allow yourself to feel that appreciation and gratitude steers you towards those grand gestures naturally. And they probably won't even feel like they're all that grand to you. But to the person, or to the pet, it just might make their day.

And that's important, because nobody's guaranteed a tomorrow.

<![CDATA[When is Good Enough... Good Enough?]]>"The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel." - Steve Furtick

I may be the last person who knows me to have realized this, but I have never, in any situation, thought that I was "good enough".

By day I'm

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2013/12/17/when-is-good-enough/ca7d6981-73ca-454a-9488-184aa8dcc98fTue, 17 Dec 2013 07:30:00 GMT

"The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel." - Steve Furtick

I may be the last person who knows me to have realized this, but I have never, in any situation, thought that I was "good enough".

By day I'm a programmer. I've been one for almost 20 years. I have what is to me the perfect job. I love what I do. I love the people I work with. I love the people I work for. Yet, every single day I struggle with wondering whether or not I'm good enough. Am I living up to their expectations? Do they ever think about letting me go? Don't they realize that there are more qualified people out there? Do they know that I'm a fraud?

When is Good Enough... Good Enough?
To Hell with Fear

My first tattoo in over 25 years. The first one with meaning.

I don't think I even realized how paralyzed I have been by this fear. Not until a co-worker recently shared an article entitled To hell with fear. It spoke of, among other things, impostor syndrome, which is apparently such a well-known thing that there are numerous articles about it. The article resonated with me so much that I went out and had the words indelibly inked into my forearm.

Unfortunately, just knowing about impostor syndrome isn't really enough to overcome it. Because obviously everybody else who feels inadequate is suffering form imposter syndrome. But not me. I'm really not good enough. At least, in my mind.

A friend asked me the other day, "What will it take for you to feel like you're good enough?" He suggested maybe going back to school, as it's always bothered me that I don't have a computer science degree. My wife and I had discussed this in the past too. Perhaps taking a few courses in the evenings would help. But at that moment, as the question was posed, I realized that there's nothing, no external force, that will give me that validation that I crave. So what will it take, then?

It will take me believing it. No amount of certificates/diplomas or years of service or respect of my peers or having written a book will do a damn thing until I allow myself to believe that it just might be true.

The thing is, it doesn't just happen to me at work.

Three years ago I joined R.E.A.C.T.™ Defense Systems, a Krav Maga gym here in the Phoenix area. There are, for all intents and purposes, two levels of classes and students. There's "All Levels Krav Maga", which is open to all students. Then there's "Tactical Black", which is a bit more advanced. When I first started at REACT, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to survive the Krav classes. Every time I'd attend a Krav class, I'd walk past the Tactical Black class and look at the people in that room. I'd look at them in awe, thinking that they were the best of the best. They were the elite. They were good enough. I certainly didn't think I'd ever be fighting in that room (and why would I think that from the start?).

After two years of believing that, I finally gave in and signed up for Tactical Black. I've been in "that" room for a year now. And what is my thought process like? I think that everybody else in that room are the best of the best. The elite. The good enough.

Yes, even after a year of standing toe-to-toe with most every other Tactical Black student, I still don't feel like I belong in that room. And I wonder if the instructors and other students know that I'm a fraud?

I think one of my instructors in particular recognized this. No, not that I'm a fraud, but that I think I am. He's told me in the past that there's a mental door that I need to break through. And he's right. What will it take for me to feel like I'm good enough to be in that room? How many classes do I need to take? How many certifications do I need to rack up? It doesn't matter. What it will take, is me believing it. It will take me breaking through that mental door.

When is Good Enough... Good Enough?
I still have no idea what's going on

via A Zillion Dollar Comics

I don't know why that mental door is there. I do know that there is no area of my life in which I've yet to feel truly in control. I think that, to a point, many of us suffer from this same concern. We think that everybody else has it together, and wonder why we don't.

Perhaps that's it. Perhaps I should be looking at those around me less and looking inside myself more. I'm 45 years old. I have a beautiful family and a beautiful home. I have a job that I absolutely love. I train harder than most people half my age. Physically, I can do things that I wouldn't have been able to do 20 years ago. But still, there's that door. In spite of family and friends telling me that I'm good enough, there's that door.

But I've connected a few dots, at least. I now recognize the impostor syndrome that's presenting itself in far too many areas of my life. I know that it's impacting my progress at work. I know that it's impacting my progress at the gym. I know that I've got to break through that mental door. I'm not quite sure how. Not yet. But now I'm aware that it's there, and I know that I have to get through it.

And knowing, as they say, is half the battle.

<![CDATA[Gratitude, Mindfulness, and Overcoming Fear]]>"If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present." - Lao Tzu

We all have fears. Sometimes, these are healthy fears that aid in our survival. Other times,

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2013/08/27/gratitude-mindfulness-and-overcoming-fear/dba0db9d-d8cf-46e4-bbb6-9e542337c9cfTue, 27 Aug 2013 06:30:00 GMT

"If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present." - Lao Tzu

We all have fears. Sometimes, these are healthy fears that aid in our survival. Other times, they're irrational fears that interfere with our daily lives. That latter type of fear is commonly referred to as a phobia. With a phobia, you know that there's nothing that you should be afraid of in a particular situation, but you can't help it. You make conscious efforts and go out of your way to avoid those particular situations. Often, you look down upon yourself for being weak when you think you shouldn't be. This adds to the burden of the phobia, making it that much more difficult to overcome.

One of my big irrational fears is a fear of being trapped or stuck in an enclosed space. I refer to it as claustrophobia, but it's not just the enclosed space... it's more the being trapped. It's a fear of not having the control or the option to leave a particular place or situation. Elevators trigger this fear, and I take stairs when possible. Airplanes are a big trigger. With airplanes, it's not a fear of crashing. It's simply a fear of not being able to leave the aircraft. At 30,000 feet, you're probably not going to be able to say to the flight attendant, "Yes, hi... I'm a bit uncomfortable right now and would really just like to step outside."

While I can usually avoid elevators easily enough (which I should point out, does nothing to help me conquer the phobia, and actually strengthens it), airplanes aren't always so easy. I have the opportunity to attend two or three conferences a year for work. I'm grateful for that opportunity, as my field is rather dynamic and it's imperative to make education an ongoing part of one's career. However, many of these conferences are out of state, and far enough out of state that driving just isn't practical.

The first time I had to fly for this job, it was from Phoenix to North Carolina. I was useless the entire week prior, as I was unable to focus on anything but the flight. I couldn't even tell you what it is I was focused on. It was just a general sense of worry. Maybe even dread. Had it been about something specific, something rational, I might have been able to work through it. But because it was completely irrational in nature, it was near impossible to logically address it. The day of the flight finally arrived. I didn't sleep much the night before. I popped a couple of xanax before the flight. And a couple more after I boarded. And of course, I made it to North Carolina without incident. But I spent the entire first day of the conference in a xanax-induced hangover, which considerably lowered the overall return on investment of the trip. So while I made it, I hardly considered it a success.

Subsequent trips were essentially the same. But I started taking the xanax earlier. I thought that if I started taking it an entire day before the flight, I'd be mellow enough by the time the flight rolled around. True, but now I lost another day to the xanax coma. I purchased self-help CDs of nature sounds with subliminal calming messages (allegedly). I googled for pictures of airplane interiors, staring at them in the hopes that I would become desensitized. In short, the amount of time and effort that I was putting forth towards being able to handle what would only be two to three hours out of my life, had long since surpassed "ridiculous".

Earlier this year, I was on a short flight from Phoenix to California. I went through much of the same anxiety in preparing for the trip, although it was less intense this time around, as it was going to be a relatively quick flight. There I sat, somewhere in between Phoenix and Orange County, 30,000 feet in the air... and something happened.

I sat there doing my best to fend off anxiety attacks, and I happened to notice the coffee maker in the galley area. I thought to myself, "That's pretty cool." All at once, I was less anxious about being "stuck" in this enclosed space, and marveling at the engineering feat that I was sitting in. I mean, we're talking about an 80 ton piece of machinery that's carrying hundreds of people and thousands of pounds worth of luggage, and flies through the air... AND IT HAS A COFFEE MAKER BUILT INTO IT. The anxiety began to subside as my brain thought about all of the thought and planning and effort that went into building this plane. I could watch movies. I could access wi-fi (ridiculously expensive wi-fi, but I digress...). And yes, I'm going to go there... I could go to the bathroom.

The more I realized how amazing the aircraft was, the more I found myself feeling gratitude in place of the anxiety. I was grateful that I was in a position to experience this. At that moment, I wasn't worried about the future. About what might happen if I had an anxiety or a panic attack. As the quote at the beginning of this entry suggests, anxiety comes from being worried about the future. Peace comes from living in the moment. And in that moment, I sat in that plane somewhere in between Phoenix and Orange County, 30,000 feet in the air... and I smiled.

I've flown a few times since then. I still have to make a conscious effort to be mindful and grateful. But it gets easier with each flight. My most recent flight, a flight home from Chicago to Phoenix, was done on a single xanax that I considered not even taking. And with significantly less stress and anxiety both before and after the flight.

I've read various sources that suggest gratitude is a key ingredient towards finding happiness. Coupled with mindfulness and being fully present in the moment, I think it can also be an important ingredient in overcoming anxieties and fears.

In the words of the immortal Louis CK, "Everything's amazing and nobody's happy." He's absolutely right. Everything is amazing. We should try to pay more attention to that.

<![CDATA[The Power of Vulnerability]]>"A warrior is not about perfection or victory or invulnerability. He's about absolute vulnerability." - Socrates, in "The Peaceful Warrior"

The first few times that I watched The Peaceful Warrior, I didn't get that. I didn't get it at all. A warrior's a fighter. A warrior overcomes. A warrior perseveres.

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2013/08/22/the-power-of-vulnerability/4de8ca02-d7ef-41cc-ab25-01585f18203fThu, 22 Aug 2013 06:01:00 GMT

"A warrior is not about perfection or victory or invulnerability. He's about absolute vulnerability." - Socrates, in "The Peaceful Warrior"

The first few times that I watched The Peaceful Warrior, I didn't get that. I didn't get it at all. A warrior's a fighter. A warrior overcomes. A warrior perseveres. I didn't understand how anybody could be expected to do any of that without armor.

But over the past couple of years, I've learned a little bit about what it means to be vulnerable. For years, I've worn armor. Complex and multi-layered. Nothing was getting in to hurt me. The problem with that is that armor isn't a filter. You may very well be able to keep out the bad, but trust me when I tell you that you're also keeping out the good. Not to mention that if you're not letting anything in, those same defenses will not let anything out.

It's been a slow and deliberate effort over a number of years, but I think I allow myself to be much more vulnerable than I've ever been. And I've been hurt, yes. But I've also felt incredibly strong and wonderfully good feelings that I'd never fully felt... or never felt at all. It sounds like hyperbole, but I feel as if I've seen colors that I've never seen before. Sounds that I'd never heard before. It's, well, it's like watching a 3D movie without glasses, and then putting them on. You experience everything. Yes, some of it's bad. But the good makes it all worthwhile.

So I get it. I get what Socrates was telling Dan. But I may not have gotten it fully until this past Friday evening. I encountered another aspect of being vulnerable that caught me completely off guard.

The Power of Vulnerability
My six year old son's hand

Worse for him or worse for me? Hard to say.

I mentioned in a recent post that my son was just diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He's six years old. He has some developmental disabilities that made it harder for him to understand what was going on. He was fairly well out of it. His blood sugar was 470 when he was admitted. And he did not like getting needles. Not even a little bit. Unfortunately, needles were coming at him frequently. In addition to a couple of IV drips, he was getting blood glucose tests done every hour. First this finger, then that finger, then the other side of that finger... it was awful. As a father, it was all I could do to stand there and hear him screaming a scream that was a combination of pain and fear and confusion as two nurses held him down in order to get the drop of blood necessary for the test.

By Friday, he was off the insulin drip, which meant that in addition to the blood glucose tests, he was going to need to get insulin injections. The screams were worse. It not only broke my heart each and every time, but it scared me. We'd likely be going home on Sunday, and somehow my wife and I were going to have to do this ourselves. I couldn't see that happening. But there was no choice. It had to be done. Was I looking at what we'd all have to endure five or six times a day? Was this going to be what our lives were going to be like for the foreseeable future?

Late in the afternoon Friday, I decided I'd try once more to explain what was happening. I'd been trying, but for many different reasons (all understandable), I wasn't getting through. But now I was desperate. I stood next to him and started to explain once again that he did nothing wrong. His body was sick. I wished I didn't have to do this. I wished I could make it all go away. I told him how very much I love him. And then something happened...

It may have been the lack of sleep, it may have been a delayed impact of the diagnosis, and I didn't even feel it coming on, but I started crying. I was sobbing as I pleaded with him to understand what was happening. In that moment, I had unintentionally become completely and utterly vulnerable. And as I struggled to speak through my tears, he looked up at me and with concern in his voice said, "Daddy, don't cry".


I don't think he'd ever seen me cry. He didn't know exactly what to make of it. And as much as he didn't understand most of what was going on around him, I believe he understood why I was crying. And he knew that he could fix it. And in that moment, he found strength from my vulnerability.

The next time the nurses came in, they checked his blood glucose... and he didn't cry. They injected him with insulin... and he didn't cry. And then he looked up at me and asked, "So Dad, are you proud of me?"

And at that moment, amid new tears of my own, I knew that everything was going to be OK.

<![CDATA[Inspiration from the "Dude, Where's My Car?" Dude]]>"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas A. Edison

If life is about doing things outside of our comfort zone... about doing things that we never thought that we'd do... here I am. Here I am sharing an Ashton

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2013/08/21/inspiration-from-the-dude-wheres-my-car-dude/cc9dba37-3cc7-40bd-9f50-fa7c9a311388Wed, 21 Aug 2013 06:30:00 GMT

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." - Thomas A. Edison

If life is about doing things outside of our comfort zone... about doing things that we never thought that we'd do... here I am. Here I am sharing an Ashton Kutcher video.

This is a video of his acceptance speech at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards. It went viral a couple of weeks ago, and with good reason. With damn good reason. Here's a man that I had completely written off. I had written him off as Kelso from "That 70's Show". Or as one of the dudes from, "Dude, Where's My Car?". It's not that I had written him off, as much as I would never have thought that he was anything more than either of those characters that he portrayed.

And then, this.

This... this moved me to tears. The gratitude he displayed. The humility. The wisdom. It was all rather awe-inspiring.

I urge everybody to watch the video. But if you can't, here are the highlights:

  1. On Opportunity: I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work. I've never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job.
  2. On Being Sexy: The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart. And being thoughtful. And being generous.
  3. On Living Life: Build a life. Don't live one. Build one.

I wish more Hollywood celebrities would use their reach and influence to spread similar messages. My thanks to Mr. Kutcher.

<![CDATA[Gratitude in Unlikely Places]]>"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world." - John Milton

I didn't see this coming.

My children started school a week and a half ago. My youngest, my son, had been acting very

http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2013/08/20/gratitude-in-unlikely-places/a64d8589-f03e-4dd1-b204-a38343968441Tue, 20 Aug 2013 06:30:00 GMT

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world." - John Milton

I didn't see this coming.

My children started school a week and a half ago. My youngest, my son, had been acting very tired, very lethargic, since school started. His teachers had let us know on a couple of occasions that they were worried, but my wife and I attributed it to the new schedule.

This past Thursday, a week and a day after starting school, the school nurse called to tell me that my son had fallen asleep at lunch. Actually in his lunch. Understandably, she wanted me to come pick him up. I (finally) realized that there was something more than him simply being tired going on. I assumed he might have been fighting a virus or infection. I called his pediatrician and fortunately, she was able to see us right away.

She examined him, and asked that I take him to have some blood drawn on the way home. She didn't give any indication as to why. I didn't give it much thought. For the first time in his life, my six year old son had blood drawn. It was far from a pleasant experience for anybody involved.

Later that afternoon, she called me at home to ask if I'd gone to the lab yet. She was apparently pretty anxious about getting the results back, which did concern me a little bit. I assured her that we went, and she assured me that she'd let me know as soon as she hears anything.

At 9:00pm the phone rang.

It was the pediatrician. Calling me at 9pm. On a Thursday night. This wasn't going to be good.

My son is Type 1 Diabetic.

It took a while for that to sink in. I asked what we do now, and she said that I take him to the emergency room. OK. I can do that. I asked if I should bring him back into her office tomorrow. She said, "No, you'll still be in the hospital." Oh. The gravity of the situation was starting to dawn on me. This was a big deal. And it is forever.

Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow will be a full week since that diagnosis. We spent most of that week in the hospital. We've been home since Sunday evening, and have been working on making the transition to our new lives. The short of it, he's fine. He's gone from wailing like a banshee with every blood glucose test and every insulin injection to staring me in the eye and smiling, clearly amused at his sisters' surprise/shock/awe over the fact that he can do this. My wife and I are getting more comfortable with enforcing the new rules. He can't eat whenever he wants. He can't eat whatever he wants. Depending on what and when he's eating, we have to inject him. We can't travel anywhere without glucose tabs or smarties. We always need to be prepared. It's a lot of work for all of us.

And I'm grateful.

The fact that I'm grateful both pleases me and surprises me. The old me would not have been grateful in the least. I'd have been angry. I'd have questioned why. Why him? Why me? Why us? Don't we have enough challenges? How is this fair? I'd have been lashing out at everyone and everyone around me. Don't try to make me feel better. Don't tell me it's going to be OK. This. Just. Shouldn't. Have. Happened. And the fact that it was happening and that I had no control over it? That would have fueled the rage. And that kind of behavior would have made the situation so much worse for everybody. And nobody would have deserved that. I might have felt guilty, which would probably have manifested itself as more anger. More rage.

But I was grateful. Grateful for so many things. My six year old son was just diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. His life is changed forever. My life is changed forever. And I was grateful. Why?

  • I was grateful to his teachers and the school nurse. They made every effort to let us know that they felt something was wrong, without intruding too far. On the first day of school, his teacher sent home a note letting us know that he fell asleep in class for an hour. A week later, he missed his bus because he fell asleep in the living room waiting for it. I drove him in, and the teacher made a point of letting me know that he's been very tired. I nodded, and said, "Well, he's getting used to being back in school." "No, Mr. Griefer. I mean really tired", came her response. I nodded, taking note. But I still thought it was primarily due to the schedule change. The next day I got the call from the school nurse about him falling asleep at lunch. She was firm yet respectful in letting me know that they were "concerned". I finally decided it was time to take him to the pediatrician. He was probably fighting a virus or an infection, I thought. If they hadn't been quite so relentless in convincing me that there was probably something wrong than being overwhelmed by a new schedule, this story might have had a different ending.
  • I was grateful to his pediatrician. I called her office at 1:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday, expecting that I might be fortunate enough to get an appointment early next week. But I was told to bring him in at 2:00. I was grateful that she recognized that something was wrong and had me take him to have blood drawn. I'm grateful that she cared enough about him to chase down the lab results well after hours. I was grateful that she made it a point to call me at 9:00pm on a Thursday night. If she didn't make any of those efforts, this story might have had a different ending.
  • I was grateful to the hospital staff. I walked into an emergency room full of people. Because my son wasn't bleeding or missing a limb, I assumed we'd have a long wait ahead of us. But within 10 minutes of arriving, he was in a bed. Nurses and aides were at his beck and call. For his entire hospital stay, I can honestly say that I felt as if he were the only patient in the hospital.
  • I was grateful that the diagnosis wasn't worse. Type 1 Diabetes is serious, yes. It's chronic and it means his life has changed. But it's manageable. As long as he manages his eating and his medicine, there's nothing that he won't be able to do. As far as diagnoses go, I'm grateful that my son's life will not be shortened by this disease.
  • I was grateful for my wife. I knew that during the duration of six minute phone call, everything had changed. Our lives were going to get significantly more complex immediately. Sure, over time things will become our new normal... but for now, we're all in for a bumpy ride. There's nobody else I'd want by my side, supporting my son, our two daughters, and me.
  • I was grateful to my son. He's six years old. He has developmental disabilities that made it very difficult for us to explain to him what was happening in a way that he could comprehend. He went into the hospital Thursday night scared and upset and confused. Through the endless needle pokes at all hours of the day and night, he found the strength to persevere. By the time we left the hospital on Sunday afternoon, I was in awe of the way he'd take an insulin shot to the leg, then look up with a big grin, and say, "Thanks!"

It's easy for me to think about what I might have felt had this happened a few years ago. The disparity between how I would have felt then versus how I felt today is different by orders of magnitude. I think about the ripples that my anger would have caused. How it would have hurt my wife. Scared my son. Scared my daughters. I feel shame for the fact that I used to be that person, but gratitude for the fact that I have grown.

My gratitude gave me strength. That strength contributed to my family's collective ability to persevere during this difficult period. Years ago, I'd have likely been ashamed of how I would have reacted to such a situation. Today, I'm proud of who I've become.

I think he might be, as well.