Three Things I’ve learned from My Kids about Money

(Original post from: “Three Things I’ve learned from My Kids about Money” on www.savingchamps.com)

As a parent, I always feel the responsibility to teach my kids the value of saving and spending wisely. What surprises me is how much I’ve actually learned from kids. Here are three money-related lessons I learned from my kids:

1.Wasting is wasting, no matter who pays for it

When we still lived in a rental townhouse, one morning I was brushing teeth without immediately turning off the tap. Allison, 5 years old at that time, was hopping by and obvious heard the water running. “Hey, Mom, you left the water running!” She ran to turned it off. I laughed and without much thought, said, “Allison, do you know we don’t need to pay for water? Our rent covers it.” She looked at me for a few seconds and replied, “I don’t care who pays for it. You wasted water!” True! She was absolutely right. It is a shame to waste resources, even if we are not paying for it out of our pocket. It was a good lesson learned.

2. Good deeds do not always need to be paid with money

In recent years, Andrew and Allison have participated in various volunteer work even though they do not have the requirement for service-learning hours yet. Their favorite volunteer work is to volunteer for races, such as checking-in & checking-out bags and clothes, distributing water and food, playing musical instruments to cheer for the runners. When I offered to reward them with several dollars for the hard work, they always refused because when they wanted to volunteer, they meant it—no need to pay for the work.  They did get free t-shirt and free snacks from those events that absolutely delighted them.

3. Our smile is the cheapest but best makeup

Like most women, I love wearing makeup to make sure I look good and feel confident. However, that does not seem to matter much to my kids.  One thing they care much more is mom’s smile. From time and time, my kids remind me that I look too serious and I need to smile more. Here is an exercise that I am practicing now—to give more smile to people around me. It is free to me and it makes me look the best, according my kids.

Sometimes, I feel that kids are the best teachers. They help me to think differently. Have you learned any lessons from kids? I am eager to hear about it.

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Blogging with Passion

There are somethings that you never know the joy in it until you do it yourself. Blogging is one of them. I started the blog wellchamps in 2014, with a pure goal to share what I have read about health and lifestyle in plan simple language. To be honest, it was hard for me at first. I’ve been so used to developing technical manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals that writing in layman’s language without using technical jargon, statistical tables, etc. took me out of my comfort zone. However, soon I started to feel a totally different kind of joy that this kind of writing brought to me. I got comments and encouragement and many clicks of “like” from my dear blog readers.  People told me they enjoyed reading my blog articles. All of those are invaluable to me.

The pleasure of blogging is not only from giving a piece of your mind to the public, but also from the sharing and interacting among people. My blogger peers–never think that nobody cares about your blog. The first minute you post it; the second minute maybe someone’s reading it.  I have been an avid blog reader myself. Every morning, in the Metro train to work, I sit down (if I have a seat) with my smart phone in hand, just like most other people, except that I am reading interesting blogs on WordPress. The writing may not be perfect, but it comes more real and is closer to my heart than any newspaper articles. For me, it is great way to start a day.

This September, I started a new blog, savingchamps, which focuses on tips on saving and managing money to achieve financial independence. I also post my favorite recipes there. It is a great new experience. I would love to keep two blogs with different focuses and see them grow side by side. Life has been busy. I have to carve out a little time here and there to prepare the blogs, but I totally enjoy it because nothing seems to be hard when it stems from passion.

Thanks for your year-long support. You are my inspiration. I will keep coming to post more.

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Things to Prepare before your Doctor Visit

Have you recently seen a doctor, either for the annual exam or for a specific condition, For many people, it is a challenge to remember everything that you need to tell the doctor, such as your medications, your health concerns, etc. However, these information is often asked during the visit and will help the doctor to have a complete picture of your health status. A little preparation will make the process much easier and smoother.

Here are the homework that you need to do before seeing a doctor:

  1. List your illnesses and/or health concerns. Keep an informal log of your medical conditions, treatment, notes from previous doctor visits, test results, etc. has been highly recommended by primary care doctors, according to a survey among primary care physicians. Be sure to prepare a few questions to the doctor.
  2. Provide information diseases that run in your family. Family medical history allows doctors to see whether you have a higher-than-usual chance of having common disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.
  3. Make a list of your providers and pharmacies. The doctor needs to know what other care you are receiving. It would also be nice to have your pharmacies’ information handy, including pharmacy name, telephone and address. Many doctors are now using E-prescription and send the information directly to your pharmacy.
  4. Make a list of the medications you are taking, including prescription medication, over-the-counter medications, herbal preparations, vitamins and supplements. You also need to include information on dosage of these medications.
  5. Monitor your lifestyle, including things like smoking, drinking, physical activity, diet, etc. Those information may trigger some important discussion and will help the doctor to give you most helpful advice.

On average, we only have 15 minutes to see the doctor. Getting these information ready before your doctor visit will make your visit more productive. I am sharing a template of “My Medical Information Sheet” (a Word Version my-medical-information-sheet and a PDF Version my-medical-information-sheet) that I created and have used to prepare information needed for my doctor visit. It is free to download for your own use. Hope you will have all these information ready before your next doctor visit.

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Andrew and Allison’s Fundraising Page

My two children formed a fundraising team for St Jude Children Hospital. They have put great effort in it, including building a website, blogging about it, developing promotion materials, etc. Please give them some support. Any encouragement to them would be helpful. I know they would be really happy if you can help spread the word.

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My sister, Allison, and I are supporting the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital by participating in $Fundraise Your Way. Our goal is to raise $150. Will you help us? Your donation …

Source: Andrew and Allison’s Fundraising Page

Dietary Prescription on Hypertension

In December 2014, I wrote a blog “How I beat my hypertension”. I was very happy that my doctor announced that my blood pressure was normal and I did not need any medication. I bragged on social media and many of my friends have used my example as a case study on how hypertension can be cured through healthy lifestyle. In my post, running is considered as the major contributor in lowering my blood pressure. In the year of 2015, I have accumulated more than 1,000 miles in my running. I did the Marine Corp Marathon in October and Rock & Roll Half Marathon in March. Between these, I also tried my first triathlon – Nation’s Spring Triathlon in September. With all these exercises and mileages I’ve logged, I never worried about my blood pressure and even believed that this issue could be brushed off my mind until middle November when my blood pressure reading was higher than normal again. It was above the high interval of normal pressure and would consider as moderate hypertension.

Should I go back to my doctor to ask for medicine immediately or should I try something else by adding more changes to my lifestyle solution? As a health researcher, I definitely know the importance of necessary medical treatment, but I am also well aware of the major side effects and the long term problem of relying on medication. Beside, my hypertension problem is moderate, so I decided to go with second option.  My primary solutions are exercise and diet. Exercise is already part of my daily routine–one hour run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and one hour swimming on Tuesday and Thursday. After I come back from one hour running/swimming each day, I measure my blood pressure and usually the reading is good at 120/80. I know it is the exercise effect, a short-term effect that will last for only about a couple of hours.  To have more sustainable effect, it is time to check out diet prescription.

I’ve already have a low-sodium diet. What else do I need? It is obvious not enough to just not take what is harmful for blood pressure, I need to take more foods that are good and even have some treatment effect for blood pressure. I started to look for foods that could be beneficial in controlling hypertension and the first thing that comes to consideration is celery, a great source of phytochemical called phthalates which relaxes the tissues of the artery walls to increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure. Dark chocolate also helps to low blood pressure since it increase nitric oxide which acts on small receptors in our blood vessels and prompts the vessels to dilate. Other foods such as fruits and oatmeal are also on my list.

Despite the beneficial effect of diet prescription, the effect would not be as fast and strong as hypertensive medication. It is important to form a dietary habit which is easy to adhere to. Small effects of each healthy food can add up and make a real change. As BJ Fogg described in his Ted Talk “Forget a big change, start with a small habit,” little by little, these small habits can take roots and grow. I decided to start with three daily simple dietary habits: freshly squeezed celery juice, one QC-10 supplement, and one slice of dark chocolate. I set up a daily chart and put a check for each item once I consume it. This dietary habit chart really helps me keep my diet on track. My blood pressure seems to be close to the normal range. For each month, I will add one more dietary habit related to hypertension control.

Just last week, I was thrilled to learn that my solution to controlling hypertension is not unrooted, a novel study using diet prescription has also shown its promising results in Type 2 diabetes prevention and treatment. As the author of this study said, “if you give the body what it wants, it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do.” I want to continue exploring the diet and exercise remedy in 2016.

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First Lego League Coaching Experience part I – Training

In the past six months, I have been coaching a group of five elementary children to compete in First Lego League (FLL) tournament. Yesterday was the tournament day and the team did a great job to achieve better than expected results. As the team coach, I have learned a lot from each one of five kids and am very proud of what they have achieved.

The FIRST LEGO League is an international competition organized by FIRST for elementary and middle school students (ages 9–14 in the USA and Canada, 9–16 elsewhere). In September each year, a new challenge is announced that focuses on a different real-world topic related to the sciences. This year the challenge is called “The Trash Trek” which asks teams to explore the hidden but fascinating world of trash, from collection, to sorting, to smart production, and reuse. The team must also invent a solution to help our trash problem and create their own LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot to accomplish trash-themed “missions” on a playing field, and show how well they practice FIRST LEGO League Core Values.

Dreaming to be an engineer when growing up, my son and four other kids formed a team in August 2015. They named their team “The Amazing Rock Stars” by using each of team members’ initials. They are all American-born Chinese and live in close neighborhood. Parents know each other very well too. In September, we officially registered our team on FIRST website after FLL announced “The Trash Trek” challenge. With the help of local FLL organizer, we were able to borrow two LEGO MINDSTORMS® robots instead of purchasing (very expensive robots). We ordered the “The Trash Trek” game package and both coaches did one full day training on how to program with  LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot. With everything set, our team was ready to roll.

When I look back, I would like to call our team practices into three phases. The first phase was from middle September to end of October. Most of the practices at this phase were at assistant coach’s house, with exception of two meetings at community center. Since everybody was new to the FLL and LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot, we spent quite a lot of time in familiar with the operation of LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot.  We talked about the core value, pseudo code, flow chart and some planning work and spent some time to setup the game table with ten missions. The first mission we tried to tackle was mission 10 demolishing which was the closest one to the base. The job turned out not as easy as it first seemed. The red handle to pull all building materials down was very hard to move. The team used a stick to try to knock down the red handle but failed multiple times due to the shape and sturdiness of the red handle. As the rookie to the league, we have been told that finishing one task would be a great achievement to first comer. After assistant coach’s visit to a FLL event in DC in middle October, we decided to be more practical, making 6 composting as our mission, instead of 10. The mission 6 is indeed easier than mission 10. The robot only needed to hit the yellow button to score. We had this task easily done.

In the second phase of our practice, we moved our practice site to our treasurer’s house. With one mission done, we were confident in pursuing more missions. The next mission was to retrieve valuable (mission 9). With the arrival of second robot, we divided the team into two sub-teams. Two coaches each helped one sub-team to tackle the same mission to see which team would finish first. The mission 9 required the use of a big motor to pick up the ring from the demolished building. My original plan was to give teams freedom to explore on their own to see what they can achieve. Apparently both kids and parents were not ready to take this independent challenge so coaches had to provide hands-on instruction to help teams work on this mission. The team I helped was able to get this job done first even though the second team had a nice robot design. We learned the good robot design is a nice plus, but not necessary–as long as it works, it is good enough. We also learned it is more efficient to assign a role to each team member, such as programmer, builder, and planner. Time was running fast and before we were totally ready, it was time for the Scrimmage Dry Run on Dec. 19 organized by local FLL committee.

Our robot did poorly in the Scrimmage Dry Run. One of our team members accidently took the arm down from the first robot which finished the mission 9 successfully. We had to switch to the second robot. However, the second robot was not able to retrieve valuable in mission 9. The first round was a total failure. The kids were frustrated and mad at the one who took the arm down. Anyway, one kid managed to assemble a new arm for the robot before the second round started. The team did much better in the round 2 with three missions completed. The judge asked us whether we wanted to show her the project we were planning to do. Without much preparation, unsurprisingly, we totally screwed up the presentation. The judge was really disappointed and used a very stern language on those kids. I felt bad too since I was the coach. The Scrimmage Dry Run was a big wake-up call to everyone on the team. We had to devote more, otherwise we will end up at the bottom.

Then came the third phase of our team practice. As the school closed for the winter break, we decided to intensify our team practice. For last two weeks in December 2015, team met as many as five times each week with a total of 20 hours.  Realizing we only practiced the project once, we spent many hours to develop the script, rehearsal the skit, and revise and rehearsal again. As the time is limited for poster making, my wife decided to help and she taught my son to develop a very nice infographic to visualize our project. We also realized we need to boost our robot performance by adding more missions. After watching other teams on the Scrimmage day, we decided to add mission 2 and 7. Luckily, with everybody’s devotion, the team was able to pull them off and by the time to the tournament, the kids could successfully complete six missions.  The Amazing Rock Stars were ready to rock and roll.  

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Adventure Run @ Road Runner Sports

Even though running is gaining population, for many people it is still quite a grind. However, when running combined with rewards, it will definitely be much more fun. That is what we did on September 3 at Adventure Run, sponsored by Road Runner Sports.

Adventure Run is the America’s largest free group fun run at local Road Runner Sports retail store on the 1st Thursday of each month. Yesterday was the first time my family joined this activity. We got there at 6pm and spent some time in the starting line to sample free foods, try new running shoes and collect raffle tickets. The race started at 6:30pm with the reveal of fun checkpoints map. There were twelve venues scatter around the store within 1.2 miles radius. We had one hour to collect raffle tickets from as many stores as we could. The closest one was a Mexican restaurant which is only 413 feet from the starting point. Everyone rushed to the store to get one raffle ticket and also taste their delicious Taco. The crowd quickly moved to next venue which is hair salon next to the Mexican restaurant. The hair stylists made us to do a hoop lops and jog inside the store before we could collect raffle tickets from them. After collecting at nearby venues, we headed to Chick-Fil-A and Sport & Health which are a little far away. At Sport & Health, they made us go all the way to roof (which is about five stories) and push a heavy cart back and forth. That challenge reminded me of the show “Amazing Race” where each contest team runs to the next destination and perform a specific task in order to get the clue. Instead of clue, we were collecting raffle tickets.

With four people on our team, we got quite a lot of raffle tickets. At 7:30pm, we need to come back to the store to put our raffle tickets in the big box for prize drawing. There were lots of prize which worth about $3,000. We got a gift certificate from “Get Shape for Women” for six free weight training classes. In addition, we got several energy gels which would give me a quick boost of energy for my marathon training. What a great night!

I have been looking a way to have my wife and kids join me in running. Adventure Run is a very good event which can add fun into running. When you run for the prize, you are definitely motivated. Both of my kids said they would love to come back next month. We didn’t collect raffle tickets from all the stores this time as we ran out of time. Next time, we will try to get them all.

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