Photo of the Day

Firefighter gives water to a koala during the devastating Black Saturday bushfires that burned across Victoria, Australia, in 2009.


11-Month-Old Twins Dancing to Daddy’s Guitar

This is so cute! I love how they check in with each other…


Man Without Arms or Legs Swims Frigid Bering Strait

A French swimmer who lacks legs and arms has successfully swum the frigid waters separating Alaska and Russia with the aid of paddle-like prosthetics. Seeking to raise awareness of the abilities of handicapped people, Philippe Croizon, whose limbs were amputated after an accident at age 26, completed his dream of swimming between five continents.

At the time of the accident Croizon was 26-years-old and married, with one son, and another baby on the way. During his recuperation in the hospital he saw a television program about a female channel-swimmer, who Croizon said inspired him. He began a regimen of swimming, training for over five hours per day with the Maritime Gendarmerie, the French marine police, in the sea near La Rochelle. He experimented with different prosthetic limbs designed for swimming, with fins attached to the stumps of his legs.

This year in April, Croizon announced a new project, to swim four straits separating five continents. The planned trips included Australia to Asia, across the Red Sea (linking Asia and Africa), the Straits of Gibraltar (linking Africa and Europe), and the Bering Strait (linking Asia and America). On September 18, 2010, at the age of 42, he swam across the English Channel in less than 14 hours. And if that isn’t impressive enough, Croizon also wrote a book entitled J’ai décidé de vivre (I Decided to Live), using a speech-to-text computer system and has also made a parachute jump.


“The World is Where We Live – We Are All Connected” (Video)

(If the link is having trouble loading click the “youtube” icon on the image to be directed to the main page.)

Homeless Veterans Get Needed Pampering

One of Brad Long’s first orders of business this weekend was getting a free haircut. Next, the 52-year old homeless Navy veteran, who currently lives in transitional housing for disabled vets in Santa Ana, was getting his teeth checked and eating free chow. Mainly, he was enjoying the fellowship of others who’ve served their country before falling on hard times.

A host of services were available to homeless veterans and their families at the 2nd Orange County Stand Down, held at the Army Reserve Center on Newport Boulevard. Veterans and their families could receive medical care, legal advice, housing and employment assistance and substance-abuse and mental-health resources. Such amenities as massages and acupuncture were also available. “The outreach to the veterans is genuine,” said Long, who served in Attack Squadron 52 on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk off the coast of Iran in 1979-80. “I see a lot of love for the people who served that I didn’t really see on the streets … I plan on staying here the whole weekend.”

The event is hosted by Veteran’s First, a county based nonprofit that offers services to homeless men and women who served. California is home to the highest number of the nation’s military veterans. But unfortunately, the state also has the most homeless veterans – an estimated 3,000 in Orange County alone. For that reason, Veterans First decided to organize a Stand Down event in O.C. last year. Other Stand Down events have been taking place around the country for decades. “The goal is to get them here and get them the services they need.”


How Money Can Buy Happiness


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has added his name to the long list of people who believe we should measure prosperity in terms of happiness and life satisfaction, instead of just dollars and data. In a recent speech before a group of international researchers, Bernanke talked about the difference between happiness — a subjective and transitory feeling — and well-being, which is a longer-term measure. He said that keys to finding long-term life satisfaction include “a strong sense of support from belonging to a family or core group and a broader community, a sense of control over one’s life, a feeling of confidence or optimism about the future, and an ability to adapt to changing circumstances.”

While money may not buy all happiness, it helps. People in societies that are sufficiently well-off to provide an education, decent healthcare and a clean, safe place to live are happier than those who are so impoverished that they have to struggle for all of those things. Having a lottery-winner’s bank account does not guarantee more happiness, but having enough money to buy yourself the occasional treat or luxury helps.

The good news is that there are well-documented ways to get a bigger (happier) bang for your buck, on a very personal level. Here’s how to deploy your resources to maximize your enjoyment of life. Hint: It’s not about the car.

1. Fund a group activity. The factor most highly correlated to life satisfaction is having family, friends and community connections. Maybe that means joining a church, or being in a band or a book club, or hosting regular potluck dinners with neighbors.

2. Go on vacation. There is a lot of research behind the idea that experiences are worth more, in terms of happiness, than things. That is because time improves experiences in memory while it tends to desensitize us to things. So if you get a hot tub or a new TV or car, and you use them day after day, you start getting used to them and perhaps stop appreciating them. But if you take a special trip, you will stop being bothered by the flat tire or lost luggage and instead remember fondly — if somewhat fuzzily — how much fun you had while you were traveling.

3. Get tools and supplies for a hobby. Becoming so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time is called a state of “flow” and it is associated with a higher level of life satisfaction. For some people, that might mean buying power tools and puttering in a woodshop; someone else might get there by learning to use design software, canning jam or playing piano.

4. Buy a treadmill, or a jump rope, or just some sneakers. It doesn’t have to be a super-expensive P90X workout plan, but anything that gets you moving stimulates those endorphins that elevate your mood. That’s science!

5. Buy a scrapbook or journal. “Savoring” a good experience by writing about it, thinking about it, or even posting your pictures on Facebook actually increases your enjoyment. Or as Bernanke has said, “happiness can be promoted by fighting the natural human tendency to become entirely adapted to your circumstances.” If you eat fresh tomatoes three times a day for the entire month of August, you might stop thinking about how delicious they are. At the end of the day, you can take a few minutes to write in your gratitude journal about how truly fresh and sweet those heirlooms were, and that will cause you to enjoy them even more.

6. Spend money on systems. Having control over your life provides a huge happiness boost. Sometimes you get to have control over big issues, like taking a stand with your boss or your kid. Sometimes, it’s just having the right calendar, contact manager and computer backup system.

7. Donate to a small and/or local charity. There is a lot of academic research backing up the hypothesis that money spent on others delivers more good feelings than money spent on yourself. But new research from Lara Beth Aknin at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver takes that further: “The emotional benefits of giving appear to be greatest when the giver feels a social connection with the recipient and also feels that their gift has made a meaningful impact.”

8. Buy time. Ben Bernanke did not say this, but if you are working 60 hours a week and arguing with your spouse about who vacuums the living room, you can probably make yourself happy by hiring someone to clean your house. The same principle applies for lawn mowing and the occasional convenience food dinner. Especially if you use the extra time to do one of the other things on this list, and not playing solitaire on your iPhone.

For more great ideas and happiness inspiration read the increasingly popular book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want.


US Cholesterol Levels Down in Children

Finally some good news about cholesterol and kids: A big government study shows that in the past decade, the proportion of children who have high cholesterol has fallen. The results are surprising, given that the childhood obesity rate didn’t budge. Some experts think that while most kids may not be eating less or exercising more, they may be getting fewer trans fats. The artery-clogging ingredient has been removed or reduced in many processed or fried foods such as doughnuts, cookies and french fries.

Too much cholesterol in the blood raises the risk of heart disease. It isn’t usually an immediate threat for most children, but those who have the problem often grow into adults with a high risk. The researchers in the latest study also detected modest improvements in children’s levels of good cholesterol, which can protect the heart. That may be partly due to declines in teen smoking and childhood exposure to secondhand smoke over the last decade. Studies have found that chemicals in cigarette smoke can lower good cholesterol.

Artificial trans fats are known to decrease good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol. In 2006, the federal government began requiring that packaged foods list the amount of trans fat per serving, a boon for careful shoppers. Meanwhile, a push to take trans fats out of foods gained momentum. New York City banned artificial trans fats in restaurant food in 2008. California in 2010 became the first state to adopt such a ban. Even Crisco, the goopy shortening that was trans fat incarnate, was reformulated to take it out.

Despite the good news, experts remain worried. Seventeen percent of U.S. children are obese, perhaps because they are still eating lots of carbohydrates and sugar. That, along with little exercise, can lead to diabetes and heart disease. However, it’s encouraging to know that education and awareness is making an impact.


Researchers Might Have a Way to Beat Heroin Addiction

Morphine is just about the best painkiller out there, as any doctor or any person who’s ever been in an accident will tell you. There’s just one small problem—it’s incredibly addictive. But thanks to some researchers from the University of Colorado and the University of Adelaide, we may have outsmarted that propensity for dependency.

They’ve found a way to get rid of the opiate’s addictive properties by blocking the brain’s Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)—a portion of the immune system that binds with opioids to amplify chemical addiction—with naloxone, a drug used to treat heroin overdoses. Naloxone works like a dam, keeping at bay the dopamine that is usually released when heroin is processed, thus staving off that rush of pleasure someone might feel when they shoot up (or whatever method of intake). Once that good feeling is gone, there’s much less of an incentive to use.

There are two benefits of this discovery—one is helping patients manage severe pain, and another is helping addicts kick their habit in a safe way. And it actually seems like it’s something that we might see implemented—researchers expect trials to start within the next 18 months. (University of Adelaide)


Beautiful New Bird Discovered in Peruvian Cloud Forest

Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki). Photo by: Michael G. Harvey.

Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki). Photo by: Michael G. Harvey.

Four years ago in a remote cloud forest in Peru’s Cerros del Sire mountain range, three recently graduated students from Cornell University discovered a never-before-recorded species of black, white, and scarlet bird. Now described in the scientific journal, The Auk, the bird has been dubbed the Sira barbet (Capito fitzpatricki). The scientists named the species after John W. Fitzpatrick, the head of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


A Man and His Dog

A photo may be worth 1,000 words, but professional photographer Hannah Stonehouse Hudson has learned it can also be worth 2.2 million views, 191,162 likes, 108,766 shares and 21,936 comments (and counting) on Facebook.

“My specialty is documenting relationships, whether it’s a wedding or a man and his dog,” says the Bayfield, Wis., photographer. “I have known my friend John and his dog, Schoep, for six years. I have seen Schoep age — he’s 19 now. John lives his life in a kind way. He rescued this dog as a puppy, they have gone everywhere together ever since.”

The following is what Hudson originally posted on Facebook: “This (is) 19-year-old (Schoep) being cradled in his father’s arms last night in Lake Superior. (Schoep) falls asleep every night when he is carried into the lake. The buoyancy of the water soothes his arthritic bones. Lake Superior is very warm right now, so the temp of the water is perfect. I was so happy I got to capture this moment for John. By the way, John rescued Shoep as an 8 month old puppy, and he’s been by his side through many adventures :).”

Within minutes, there were 100 likes. The next morning, there were 600 shares. By the end of the day, there were 5,000 shares. Hudson literally broke down in tears. “I know this is not about me — it’s about a guy who loves his dog — but I am in complete awe that my photo has had such an impact.”

Prints can be purchased from the photographer, and part of the proceeds will go toward vet bills for Schoep. To get updates on the amazing duo, follow them on Facebook at John & Schoep.

Update (9/9/12): Great news: Schoep has received laser treatment for arthritis and will spend his golden year pain-free, thanks to the donation of strangers.  John has also revealed how Schoep saved him from rough times and thoughts of suicide. Click to see more photos and the full story:


Brain Defenders

Everybody can use a protector now and then. For your brain, consider blueberries, spinach and a green algae, a trio of valiant knights disguised as food. Eating a daily dose of these three colorful plant foods can protect the brain from stroke damage by as much as 70 percent. When eaten regularly, they may also decrease the likelihood that a person will develop neurological disorders or age-related memory problems.

The powers of these foods lie in the pigment of their skins, which are packed with tiny health-promoting chemicals known as antioxidants. Antioxidants act as roving fighters in the brain, capturing cell-ravaging molecules known as free radicals. If left unchecked, free radicals cause nasty damage to the body’s cell membranes and DNA. Antioxidants consumed in brightly colored foods and deployed by the body mop up the free radicals before they can cause injury to cells.

An experiment over the course of one month showed just how protective these foods can be. Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse replaced 2 percent of rat’s normal food with freeze-dried spinach, blueberries or spirulina powder. The researchers caused the animals to suffer a stroke, or a blood clot in the brain. Animals that ate the spirulina had 75 percent less brain damage compared to rats on a regular rat chow diet. The blueberry- and spinach-spiked diets resulted in 50 percent less brain damage in the rats.

Paula Bickford, a physician at James A. Haley Veteran Affairs hospital in Florida, says people can easily incorporate these foods into their diets and reap some of the same protection. Recipes in which foods are unheated are probably best, she says, as cooking blueberries and spinach can decrease their cell-protecting power. A crisp spinach salad or sweet blueberries right out of the crate are perfect, she says. Still eating blueberry pie or sautéed spinach are better than eating none at all.

Other studies show that other foods high in antioxidants—including cranberries and dark leafy greens—combat memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease patients. Still other foods have been found to protect the brain, heart and vascular system. Some of the most powerful foods are almonds and walnuts, brussels sprouts, broccoli, chocolate, olive oil, grape juice and red wine.

The studies are important, says Bickford, because they provide low-tech approaches to health prevention. The changes are ones you can make with relatively little effort, but that have the potential to yield great benefits later in life. To Bickford, it’s a pretty simple equation. “The foods we eat, the diet we choose, really do impact our health.”