A compendium of news, facts, questions and answers

News and trivia

The mighty dollar

A dollar doesn’t buy much these days but collector Bruce Morelan owns a silver dollar that is worth at least $10,000,000. That’s the price he paid in 2013 for his very rare dollar coined in 1794. It set a record for the most ever paid for a rare coin. Morelan thinks it is worth more than what he paid for it and so he’s putting it up for auction once again. It’s called the "Flowing Hair" dollar and it was one of 1,785 that were struck in a single day not long after the dollar became the official currency of the U.S. and they were used as souvenirs for dignitaries. It’s estimated that only about 130 to 140 of those silver dollars exist today. But Douglas Mudd, the curator and director of the American Numismatic Association's Money Museum, says that there’s evidence Morelan’s coin was, indeed, the very first one that was struck.

 

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Gone fishin’

Ask a fisherman and he or she will tell you that, some days, as one angler put it, “There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.” But, don’t dare to call professional fisherman Jeff Kolodzinski an idiot; last year he set the Guinness World Record for the most fish caught in one day when he landed 2,172 fish in 24 hours. In fact, he’s known as the Marathon Man. And, he lived up to that moniker recently when he broke his own record by catching no less than 2,645 fish in one day. He did it to raise money for the Fishing For Life Foundation.

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A chewing gum wish

Ninety-four year old Suttie Economy of Roanoke, Virginia, developed a hankering for Juicy Fruit chewing gum while serving in World War II.  He was recently admitted to the Virginia Veterans Care Clinic for a heart condition.  He’s recovering and, one can only guess what he was thinking when he decided that when he dies he wants to be buried in a casket painted to look like a pack of Juicy Fruit. In fact, the Mars Wrigley Company, which owns the Juicy Fruit brand, has given its okay to use its logo. They also sent him 250 packs of the gum.

 

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5 tips to focus your company’s transformation as COVID forces change

 While the recession caused by COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on businesses of all sizes and industries, some are finding new ways to run daily operations, reach customers, re-shape their business, and stay relevant.

But others are still trying to figure out how to transform, and an expert in the field says that launching a transformation begins with setting the right scope.

“Over the years, I have seen an ill-defined program scope cause serious problems,” says Edwin Bosso (www.myrtlegroup.com), founder and CEO of Myrtle Consulting Group and the ForbesBooks author of 6,000 Dreams: The Leader’s Guide To A Successful Business Transformation Journey.

“For example, the scope may drift from the originally defined target. The scope is the description of the transformation’s area of focus, and in most cases the scope is defined as a combination of categories. Examples are functional – sales, logistics, production, operations – and organizational – leadership, technology, processes, management systems. It’s most important that the scope is defined to address the challenges at hand and avoid distractions or wasted resources.”

Bosso has five tips for companies to set the right scope for their transformation:

Articulate the problem. Which problem are you trying to solve? Bosso says that question is at the heart of a company transformation. “Defining the specific problem may take numerous discussions and disagreements,” Bosso says. “The human brain has a natural tendency to drift. Blurry lines sometimes separate root causes and symptoms. This step is generally completed with a well-crafted statement of the problem that the organization is setting up to solve.”

List the ways. “When properly conducted,” Bosso says, “this step helps in visualizing the solution. Listing possible solutions is a way of testing the definition of the problem. This step calls for honest questions and thorough analysis to identify the solution options.”

Identify the means. “This is the stage where you test the capabilities of the organization against solution options by identifying necessary means,” Bosso says. “It comes down to understanding internal means, or levers that would need to be pulled to solve the problem. Potential means available might include people, office space, computer systems, or technical expertise in sales, R&D, inventory management and procurement. The process allows organizations to match the correct means to solutions.”

Capture the enablers. Examples of enablers key to the transformation process are those in program management and data science. “Enablers cannot operate on their own to make something happen,” Bosso says. “They are, however, necessary or simply useful for that same thing to happen. For example, change management cannot improve the performance of the sales organization without some level of sales expertise. Once enablers are defined, it is important to capture the various ways in which each enabler supports the transformation program.”

Explore synergies and interdependencies. This step focuses on understanding the overlaps, synergy opportunities, and constraints caused by ongoing initiatives. “Start with a list of all current initiatives that the organization is running,” Bosso says. “The finance department is typically a good source for the information. Meetings should be held with each team, and it’s important to understand that each may be protective of its objective, ways, and means. This could set up turf battles and heated discussions, so explicitly setting the objective of the meetings to understand synergies can help alleviate disagreements and fears.”

“Undergoing a major transformation is really the best hope for struggling businesses to survive in these difficult times,” Bosso says. “There is no time to waste. There are no resources to waste. To get your transformation on target, setting the right scope is critical from the outset.”

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History Matters

By the Grateful American Book Prize

“The U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world,” according to History.com. It was signed September 17, 1787, but ten months would pass before it was ratified by the required nine of the 13 original states. But, in time, the holdouts -- Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island – sanctioned the document, and on September 25, 1789, the first Congress of the United States convened, and adopted the Bill of Rights.

 

One hundred sixty-six years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated September 17th as “Citizenship Day” to honor the signing of the Constitution. But in 1997, Louise Leigh, a devoted student, initiated a campaign to shift the focus from “Citizenship” to James Madison and “his” Constitution. Her persistence succeeded, and on September 17, 2004, “Constitution Day” was turned into an official holiday.

 

As Ms. Leigh put it during a 2005 interview with Education World: “I became acutely aware of the uniqueness, the greatness, and the miracle of our Constitution. Until the 1800s, every American child could recite all the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, which is not done today. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4 with gusto. The Revolutionary War gave us independence from England, but the Constitution is the document that gave us freedom, which has made us the greatest and mightiest nation in history.”

 

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends W. Cleon Skousen’s The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution.

"A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people."

-James Madison, fourth president of the United States.

 

Eighteen months after the start of the Civil War, 3,953,762 American slaves got a first glint of hope.

 

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The final version—on January 1, 1863—declared that “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.”

 

But Lincoln’s presidential order did not become law until the 13th Amendment--ratified on December 6, 1865—ended slavery in America, eight months after his assassination.

 

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Patricia C. & Frederick L. McKissick’s Days of Jubilee.

"The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty."

- James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights

 

According to Article 3 of the Constitution, “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” On September 24, 1789, President George Washington established the Inaugural Supreme Court of six justices.

 

Washington selected John Jay as his Chief Justice, along with five Associate Justices: John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson. On February 1, 1790, the coterie gathered for their first session in New York City’s Royal Exchange Building.

 

Congress set the number of Justices--at varying sizes--until nine became the agreed-on standard, in 1869.

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Key factors to know about the greatest disruptor of wealth

 

Paying taxes isn’t a favorite pastime of most Americans. And in retirement, paying higher taxes can be an unwelcome surprise when the financial plan did not account for them.

 

A survey by Nationwide revealed that over one-third of current retirees didn’t consider how taxes could impact their income when they were planning for retirement. Less than half said they know how to leverage their financial accounts to minimize their tax burden.

 

“One of the greatest disruptors of wealth and its potential is taxation,” says John Smallwood (www.johnlsmallwood.com), president of Smallwood Wealth Management and author of It’s Your Wealth – Keep It: The Definitive Guide to Growing, Protecting, Enjoying, and Passing On Your Wealth. “Most financial strategies are missing the fundamentals, leaving you to pay much more in taxes than you should over your lifetime.

 

“There are some fundamental concepts of taxes that apply to the financial planning process. The goal is to have multiple sources of retirement income that balance out taxes and fees. That way, if one or more of the sources dries up, or if tax law changes a source or two, then the impact on your portfolio will be minimal.”

 

Smallwood says the following items related to taxes are important to know when creating a retirement plan:

 

Tax deferrals. Tax deferral strategies are intended to defer paying taxes on certain assets, based on the concept of moving from a higher tax bracket to a lower tax bracket in the future. But Smallwood cautions, “The tax rate in the future may not be in your favor. If you defer and don’t end up in a lower tax bracket, you can lose. You might end up paying more than if you had not deferred.”

Qualified plans. Specific rules and potential penalties apply when you withdraw from tax-deferred retirement accounts, Smallwood says. Withdrawing before age 59½ brings a 10% penalty. At 70½, there are required minimum distributions (RMDs). “With RMDs, there is a 50% penalty for not withdrawing the right amount of money.” he says. “Plus, depending on the account, you have to pay taxes according to your bracket.”

Compound taxes. Tax strategy when you are saving for retirement is one of the most important parts of a wealth plan. “For example, a 45-year-old with a savings rate of 6% and putting away $51,000 per year could accumulate a healthy balance of $2.5 million by age 65,” Smallwood says. “But with compound taxation, money is eroding all the time. Each year that an account grows, the investor’s tax liability grows along with it. Interest earnings, along with dividends and capital gains, get larger over time as the investment gains in value. If the gains the first year include $30,000 worth of interest but at the 30% tax bracket, then you’ll have to pay $9,000 more in taxes.”

Systematic withdrawals. Systematic withdrawals, if done properly, can significantly reduce the tax impact on an investment portfolio. “Let’s say, late in 1989, you placed a lump sum of $100,000 in an S&P 500 index fund with a good

track record,” Smallwood says. “Instead of leaving the funds in the account, however, you took $6,000 from the account each year and repositioned those assets elsewhere. After 20 years, the fund balance would have reached $243,191, an annual gain of 7.92% that exceeds the return earned by leaving the funds in the account. Why? Because taking those withdrawals undercuts the impact of compounded taxes. Over time, the tax obligation would be $30,451, or $13,622 less than leaving the money in the account.”

 

“Good retirement planning includes all the possible tax implications and gives you options,” Smallwood says. “Organizing income sources so that they hit your tax return the right way should be a deliberate strategy every year.”

 

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Why today’s leaders are channeling ancient philosophers

 

Steve Jobs wished he had met Socrates.

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Marcus Aurelius fan.

 

Elon Musk leans toward Aristotle.

 

Across the land – and the world – leaders in business, government and other areas look to the future by seeking wisdom from the past – the far past.

While that might sound surprising, perhaps it shouldn’t be – especially when it comes to entrepreneurs and CEOs.

 

“Philosophy is one of the most important things that can be introduced into the corporate world today because of its fundamental properties and practical benefits,” says Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of Wise Up! At Work and founder of MorAlchemy, a leadership consulting firm that helps CEOs and executives use philosophy to tackle challenges by teaching them to think differently and see new solutions to help their companies thrive.

 

“In fact, most of the important and progressive management, communication, and organizational practices are based on principles firmly rooted in philosophy.”

 

Helping others and doing your work dutifully come from philosophies of service espoused by Romans such as Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, DiGiacomo says. Ideas of employee-centric cultures and employee-driven suggestions are a modern expression of Plato’s ideas. Reciprocity and meritocracy, mutually beneficial acts, and equitable work cultures can be traced to ideas from Confucius.

 

“Even the idea of work/life balance has philosophical moorings in Lao Tzu’s teaching on balance in life,” DiGiacomo says.

At some level, many top leaders understand this – either knowingly or unknowingly channeling ancient philosophers whose wisdom has remained constant and relevant for centuries.

 

Just a few examples of the phenomenon are:

 

Musk and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings have both used “first principles” thinking to grow their businesses. The term “first principles” was coined more than 2,000 years ago by Aristotle, who believed we learn more by understanding a subject’s fundamental principles, breaking down problems into their basic elements and then reassembling them.

 

Schwarzenegger, the actor, politician and businessman, cited the words of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius when he addressed 2020 graduates in a video commencement speech. The COVID-19 pandemic created plenty of obstacles in the final months of school for those students, inspiring Schwarzenegger to use the Aurelius quote: “What stands in the way becomes the way.” In other words, Schwarzenegger told the graduates, impediments that keep us from our goals can also  be the motivation to achieve our goals.

 

Robert Ceravolo, head of Tropic Ocean Airways, said in a Forbes interview that one way he manages the stress of running a business is by reading about stoicism, particularly Aurelius and Seneca. “What makes something good or bad is your perception of whether or not it’s good or bad,” Ceravolo says. “When [the worst] happens, it’s not a massive shock.”

 

Lucio Tan Jr., CEO of Tanduay Distillers Inc., has said that his father taught him Confucian values, such as doing to others as if you’re the other person. Tan has said the Chinese philosopher’s teachings “give you a deeper perspective of humanity, respect for others and for nature,” and have served as a guide for his approach to leadership and life.

 

“The reason ancient philosophers continue to have relevance in America’s corporate boardrooms is simple,” DiGiacomo says. “Their ideas stand the test of time and still have practical applications in the 21st century, just as they did hundreds or thousands of years ago.”

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Pandemics, Politics And The Impact Of Women In Leadership Roles

 

Despite enormous strides in business, government and other areas, women don’t always get the respect men do for their leadership abilities, even when they can boast greater accomplishments.

 

But the combination of a pandemic, a recession and an election that 2020 brought could be the impetus for changing the way people view women and their leadership styles, a development that many would argue is long overdue, says Andi Simon (www.andisimon.com), a corporate anthropologist, founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants, and author of the upcoming book Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business.

 

“It’s time we started seeing women leaders through a fresh lens,” Simon says. “When we do, we will all benefit from their styles and their successes.”

Because presidential candidate Joe Biden picked U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, the country potentially could have its first female vice president on Jan. 20, 2021.

 

Meanwhile, around the world, many countries led by women have fared better during the COVID-19 pandemic than those led by men, with New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen among those being hailed for their strong leadership.

Simon says anyone surprised women have what it takes to emerge as great leaders may have fallen for myths that surround both men and women when it comes to taking charge.

 

“Men communicate a myth about women that emphasizes their soft sides, their kindness, and their weakness, not their decisiveness, strength and ingenuity,” she says. “Women might lead differently, but they can and are achieving remarkable results through collaboration, coordination, and creative communication, as opposed to the command-and-control methods men often employ.”

 

Simon offers a few observations about women, leadership and where things could be headed:

Research shows women score better on leadership qualities. Research published  last year in the Harvard Business Review showed that, over several surveys that asked the same questions, women ranked higher than men on almost all key factors measuring leadership capabilities. “Managers, even male managers, saw women as more effective than men in virtually every area, including areas typically viewed as male strongholds such as  IT, operations and legal,” Simon says. Women ranked high in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and showing high integrity and honesty.

More female mentors and role models will mean more female leaders. As more women gain leadership roles, the number of women in such roles will build on itself, Simon says. ““The script on women changing male-dominated workplace culture is still being written,” she says. “But one thing is for sure: The more women become leaders and assume positions of authority, the more they can help other women on their way up.”

An anthropological approach can help. Simon is both a business consultant and an anthropologist, and she believes mixing the two is beneficial. “My career advice for women in leadership roles is to be a little anthropological when you are trying to find your own way in your job or business,” she says. “Do some observational research. Experience your product or service from your customer's point of view, or your employees' point of view. You'll be amazed at what you discover, and the innovative ideas that come to you for solving unmet needs.”

 

“Our cultural biases lead us to believe that something created by a woman is not as good as something created by a man,” Simon says. “For us to see the work of women as at least equal to that of men, those biases must change. The question for all of us is: Can we change them?”

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Why Residential Real Estate Is Becoming More Attractive In the Suburbs

 

This year has culminated in a number of factors that are reshaping the landscape of U.S. real estate. A housing shift is occurring in some cities as some people are trading urban areas for the suburbs or rural places.

 

As more people work from home in the current climate, the  aspects of city living that are appealing to millennials and young professionals, such as theaters, bars, and restaurants, are either closed or restricted.

 

Real estate analysts say the outward-bound residential trend could continue as the pandemic persists. For anyone considering a move out of the city, there are some key factors to consider, says Jadon Newman, CEO of Noble Capital (www.noblecapital.com), a private lending and private equity firm.

 

“The demand to live in rural and suburban areas is increasing compared to urban demand, which marks a big change from where it’s been,” Newman says. “But the cost of city living was getting expensive before the pandemic, and now the exodus is being expedited.”

 

People are rethinking whether they want to live in high-rise rentals with common spaces as amenities, as opposed to being in a single-family house of their own with space and a backyard, Newman says.

 

“Sellers in the suburbs and rural areas are realizing the surge in new demand, and it may increase if there’s a second wave of the virus this fall,” he says.

 

Newman says those considering a new home or a second home should keep in mind these trends in the current economic climate:

 

Good values in suburbia. Depending on geography, some areas took a hit early in the pandemic, the housing market is surging back and median home prices have risen recently. Newman agrees with analysts who say suburban housing could be a better investment for homebuyers than an urban dwelling, given the uncertainty around the coronavirus and its multiple effects on dense population centers. “Much of the value of homes outside of the central city is in the structure and the fact that there is room to build more of them,” Newman says. “Home prices outside of densely populated urban areas tend to follow construction costs, so there shouldn’t be much movement in those prices.”

 

Falling urban home prices. As a result of more people leaving the city for the suburbs, economists say home prices in urban areas may fall as a result. “But it’s too early to count out urban areas altogether,” Newman says. “We’ve had other periods in history where cities survived societal and technological transformation. Meanwhile, relative bargains may be had in some markets if one wants to consider a city condo or property to rent out.”

 

Low interest rates. “Interest rates are the lowest in history,” Newman says, “if you're looking to own a home it’s a good time to buy. And it’s also a good time to sell. For sellers, with demand especially high to move to the suburbs, limited supply, and low interest rates are creating an incentive to buy. Homes in many regions aren’t staying on the market for long.”

 

Investing in small-town rental properties. Newman says because major cities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, smaller towns that have been far less impacted may be ideal for investing in a residential property that can be used as a vacation rental and additional source of income. “There could be a larger shift away from urbanization toward investment in remote locations,” Newman says. “For buyers of second homes, those well removed from urban centers can be reasonably priced and make more sense as people prioritize safety and more space.”

 

“Home ownership has traditionally been a way for families to build equity which is more difficult now in densely-populated areas where home prices are high,” Newman said, “This is one of the best times in our country’s history to build wealth with your home in the suburbs where prices are often more affordable.”

 

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Viral DIY dentistry hacks to ignore, and 3 to try

 

Can you imagine pulling your own tooth with a pair of pliers? Or trying to whiten your teeth at home with undiluted bleach?

 

These are examples of do-it-yourself dentistry being shown on social media sites such as TikTok and YouTube, and dental professionals are concerned that many people are following the amateurs’ advice.

 

“Why risk dental trauma by going the DIY route and following a tutorial made by a lay person?” says Dr. Nammy Patel, DDS (www.sfgreendentist.com), author of Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living.

 

“Even before the pandemic, some people were resorting to DIY measures while trying to be cost-effective, but many of these actions bring significant risk to the teeth and gums. People aren’t realizing that while it may be interesting and cheaper to try these dental actions on their own, it’s going to cost you more money, time, and pain before the mistakes are corrected by a professional.”

 

Dentists cite two pandemic-related reasons for the DIY influence on social media. Dental work can be expensive and many people lost their insurance when they lost their job. Also, virtual work meetings make people self-conscious about their appearance – including their teeth. Dr. Patel gives the downsides of do-it-yourself dental procedures, and also offers tips to stay on top of your oral hygiene at home:

 

Don’t Try These At Home

 

Pulling a tooth. “Don’t ever do this yourself,” Dr. Patel says. “This can cause cavitation, an infection inside a hole in the bone where the tooth used to reside. A dentist has the right instruments to get inside and clean this area properly. Without proper training, self-extraction can lead to snapping the root before it’s all out, infection, and the need for a surgical procedure to fix it.”

Bleaching. “This can cause severe gum damage, burning the gums and causing gum recession,” Dr. Patel says. “It can lead to tooth loss, damage the enamel and make the tooth very sensitive. Some of the people you see doing this on social media are using hydrogen peroxide purchased online that has many times the amount allowed in regulated online teeth-whitening products.”

Filing. People sometimes are compelled to do this when they’ve chipped a tooth, but Dr. Patel says trying to smooth rough edges yourself has consequences. “You can remove too much tooth, and it’s going to mess up your bite, which can cause TMJ issues,” she says.

 

Do These Things At Home

 

Make your own toothpaste.  Using dentist-suggested lists of ingredients, people can avoid the ingredients in conventional toothpaste that health experts consider damaging or toxic. “By making toothpaste yourself you can create a better product, one without dangerous chemicals, and it’s cost-effective, too,” Dr. Patel says. Her DIY toothpaste includes coconut oil, which whitens teeth and combats dry mouth, and other natural oils such as cinnamon and peppermint.

Make your own mouthwash. One advantage of homemade mouthwash, Dr. Patel says, is avoiding the alcohol compound found in over-the-counter brands, which “can dry the mouth and is bad for gums.”  Her mouthwash consists of peppermint oil, On Guard  (which includes a protective blend of essential oils), distilled water and salt.

Power up your daily oral care. Dr. Patel says a water flosser is a good tool to use to get in between the tight crevices that traditional floss can’t reach. “It’s easier to use than floss and provides a deeper clean with a pressurized stream of water, which pulsates to blast away food particles and built-up plaque.” She also suggests using a sonic toothbrush because it’s more powerful than an electric brush and more efficient at eliminating bacteria and reducing the chance of gum disease.

 

“Using this time when you’re home a lot is the perfect time to improve your dental hygiene, and it’s not complicated,” Dr. Patel says. “Doing dental procedures yourself that are better left to professionals can bring major complications.”

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She just loves the water

Shades of Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel at the age of 19. She did it in 1926 and it took her 14 hours and 34 minutes to complete her 21 mile swim and got the nickname, Queen of the Waves. Sixteen year old Vera Rivard, who hails from Springfield, New Hampshire, was hindered by the tides when she made her channel crossing recently. But, although her route was 33 miles, Rivard beat Ederle’s time, clocking in at 14 hours and 10 minutes. She already circumnavigated the island of Manhattan, a swim of 28.5 miles, and now has her mind set on swimming the 20 miles from the coast of California to the island of Santa Catalina, garnering what is known as the “Triple Crown” of long-distance swimming.

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A very, very expensive handbag

To add insult to injury, an Australian woman ordered a designer alligator handbag from a French boutique. When the bag arrived in Australia it was quickly seized by border police even though she had the proper Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species export permit. However, she apparently forgot to purchase a $50 import permit and so the authorities simply destroyed the $18,900 purse. C’est La Vie, big time.

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This brew is good for what’s ale-ing your dog

For that guy who has always has a hankering to share a beer with his best friend, Anheuser-Busch has a new offering -- a drink called “Dog Brew.” It didn’t take long for the product, which is available online at https://www.busch.com/busch-dog-brew.html, to sell out. But, fear not, they are brewing more so anxious canine tipplers can simply ask to have their names put on a waiting list. By the way, the company says Dog Brew is not “fur real.” They say it is actually a pretty healthy drink made from pork, corn, celery, mint, turmeric and ginger.

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No pandemic shutdown for scammers; they are still on the prowl

COVID-19 may have shut down portions of the economy and put restrictions on Americans’ daily lives, but cyber scams and other efforts to defraud people continue to thrive.

“Scammers are tapping into the uncertainty related to the global pandemic,” says Chris Orestis, the president of LifeCare Xchange who is known as the “Retirement Genius” (www.retirementgenius.com).

“They are using social engineering to target people with tactics that take advantage of today's technology. Seniors need to be especially mindful of the mechanisms that have been explicitly designed to target people in retirement.”

Some scams to be on the lookout for include:

Dishonest retailers. Many dishonest retailers and fake products are popping up, Orestis says. “The shortage of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap, and masks at the beginning of the quarantine resulted from people's panic,” he says. “The fear of scarcity created a gateway for scammers. Fraudulent online retailers are showcasing these items as bait, especially medical supplies.” But they don’t have any inventory, so stick with reputable stores, Orestis says. Scammers also try to sell products to prevent or cure COVID-19, even though they do not exist. “Anyone who receives a message from someone selling any of these items should not respond,” Orestis says.

Phony advertisements. Scammers also try to advertise hard-to-find products through social media, email or ads that pop up on certain sites. Avoid clicking on anything unfamiliar because cyber criminals may be trying to steal your personal information or infect your computer with a virus, Orestis says. “Be cautious of people who try to contact you under odd usernames and do not have a profile picture,” he says. “If anyone asks for your personal information or invites you to click on a link, block them immediately or report them as spam.”

Government or organization disguises. Is a government official or someone from the CDC or from the World Health Organization trying to contact you? Maybe, but probably not. Scammers often try to convince potential victims that they are with a legitimate agency or group, Oresitis says. “For example, an email might claim that there have been new COVID-19 cases in your area and ask for your personal information to see if you have been in contact with anyone infected,” he says. “Be suspicious of any COVID-19 related emails and use only official government websites to get information about the virus.”

Fake charities and crowdfunding. Criminals have also created counterfeit charities and crowdfunding sites. They ask for money in the form of cash, gift cards, and wire transfers. “Real charities will never use these resources,” Orestis says. “Be sure to use reputable sites and research the charities you want to donate to for coronavirus relief.”

Phone scams. Phones are still the No. 1 way scammers target seniors, both through calls and text messages. The Federal Communications Commission warns about these methods being used by people who claim to be the IRS or have coronavirus treatments, at-home testing kits, and vaccinations. “If you receive a robotic voice call, do not press any buttons or return any calls,” Orestis says. “Hang up immediately. If you receive text messages regarding this information, do not respond or click on any links.”

“It’s important to be wary of these and other scams, both off and online,” Orestis says. “The more conscious people are of how scammers are trying to trick them, the less likely they are to fall for one of those tricks.”

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Zooming In On Appearance: Why Cosmetic Surgery Is Popular During The Pandemic

Cosmetic surgery was on an upward trend for several years before the pandemic, and the outbreak of the coronavirus hasn’t hurt its popularity.

Since the lifting of lockdown and shelter-in-place orders across the country, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) has reported an increased demand in patients considering cosmetic enhancements. One factor driving the interest: People have had extra time to dwell on their physical dissatisfactions and also to actually address them, says Dr. Scott Miller (www.MillerCosmeticSurgery.com), a cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon.

“Working from home, being seen a lot (and seeing themselves) via company video conferences, and having mask-wearing bring increased focus to certain facial features, I think a lot of people have had a tremendous amount of time to be super-critical of themselves,” Dr. Miller says. “They pick up on things they want to improve about their appearance.

“With people being cooped for a long time, across the country you are seeing pent-up demand. We have seen an increase in consultations and surgeries across the board. In particular, people seem to be noticing their necks and jowls. In many cases, they bring in screenshots from their Zoom calls.”

Dr. Miller says some of the more popular cosmetic procedures people are having done during the pandemic are:

Facial rejuvenation. With considerably more face time required as companies work remotely, facelifts, neck lifts, eyelid and brow lifts are keeping cosmetic surgeons busy. “On Zoom with your boss and co-workers, you can’t help but stare at your face, neck, and crow’s feet,” Dr. Miller says. “And with people wearing masks in public, there’s no better time to hide the neck and lower face during the healing process from cosmetic surgery. That’s probably why we’re doing more lower-face and neck lifts than ever before.”

Body contouring. Liposuction, in which excess fat is removed to contour the body, is annually one of the most frequent cosmetic procedures. It and abdominoplasty – better known as a “tummy tuck” – ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the recent ASPS survey. “Being overweight is an epidemic in our country,” Dr. Miller says, “and sitting around at home quite a bit now, people are more aware of it and tired of it. The body contouring aspect of cosmetic surgery has boomed due to dissatisfaction with diet- and exercise-resistant figure faults. Also, there is newfound time to address this situation definitively with safe, state-of-the-art procedures.”

Lip injections. Fillers like Juvéderm are as popular as ever, despite masks being pervasive and supposedly lessening one’s concern with how their lips look. “You’d think due to face coverings extending from the nose to the mouth that people would only be concerned about their eye areas,” Dr. Miller says. “While they are noticing (and seeking treatment for) their eyes more because of mask-wearing in public, many people are on Zoom, where they are mask-less and noticing their lips and jaw lines in full high definition! They definitely get passionate about filling and shaping them. And again, with masks, you can cover up any swelling and bruising from lip injections.”

Breast augmentation and reduction. The ASPS reports breast augmentations were the most common cosmetic surgery procedure in 2019, and while conducting telemedicine appointments during lockdown, surgeons received many requests for both breast augmentation and breast reduction. “Breast improvement consults – enlargement, reduction, and reshaping – can be easily initiated by taking all the measurements and photographs from the patient’s home,” Dr. Miller says. “During the video consultation, while looking at the photographs, doctors can explain how the procedures are done and what the post-up situation will be.”

“More people want to be the best version of themselves,” Dr. Miller says. “The pandemic has caused people to think more about what they want out of life and how they want to live it, and many are deciding now is the time to make changes they’ve long wanted.”

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As healthcare faces mounting problems, can data science save it?

It’s no secret that COVID-19 threatened to overwhelm hospitals this year.

But even without the added strain of the pandemic, the American healthcare system already faced questions about whether it can meet the needs of an aging population that will put even greater demands on an inadequate supply of doctors and equipment.

Just recently, the Association of American Medical Colleges released a study that said by 2033 the nation could experience, at minimum, a shortage of 54,100 physicians if something is not done.

But boosting the number of doctors isn’t the only answer to the challenges healthcare faces. Instead, making more efficient use of personnel and equipment that already exist could be the true gamechanger, says Sanjeev Agrawal, co-author with Mohan Giridharadas of Better Healthcare Through Math (www.leantaas.com).

“At a time when digital tools that use predictive analytics could dramatically improve the system’s efficiency, appointments for doctor visits and use of equipment such as an MRI essentially are still done by people looking at a calendar,” he says.

Agrawal and Giridharadas, senior executives at LeanTaaS, a software company that focuses on improving healthcare operations, say healthcare can look to FedEx, Uber and other companies for examples of how the power of math can solve complex issues of scheduling, asset utilization, and supply-and-demand.

“FedEx guarantees delivery the next morning anywhere in the country, despite the fact that it has no way of knowing how many packages will be shipped from any origin to any destination on any given day,” Giridharadas says.

In comparison, a patient who needs an MRI might need to schedule two weeks in advance, and then still be forced to wait when they arrive, Agrawal says. Meanwhile, during that two weeks, there likely were 20 to 25-minute chunks of time when the MRI machine sat unused.

Both patients and healthcare providers would win if these old ways of doing things were put aside, Giridharadas and Agrawal say. Some advantages would include:

Increased access for patients. If you can move more patients through the system in the same amount of time, then healthcare becomes more accessible for more people. “It’s also good for the bottom line,” Giridharadas says.

Lower operating costs. Greater productivity allows health systems to absorb a growing number of patients without a corresponding increase in labor or facility costs, Agrawal says. “Lower costs lead to greater revenue retention for the company,” Agrawal says. “And when fewer cost increases need to be passed on to patients, they benefit as well.”

Better patient experiences. Patient complaints often revolve around not their actual care, but difficulties scheduling appointments and long wait times after they arrive. “Increased productivity allows health systems to offer more appointment choices today, tomorrow, and this week, and to reduce patients’ wait times throughout the course of each encounter with the system,” Giridharadas says.

Improved use of equipment. When facilities can get more use out of specialized equipment, then they don’t need to spend more money to expand buildings or buy more equipment, Agrawal says. “In addition, when providers and patients have access to equipment in a timelier manner, the result can be better clinical outcomes as well as reduced patient anxiety,” he says.

Healthcare, until recently, didn’t feel much pressure to change its inefficient ways, Giridharadas says. That’s changing as economic forces such as reimbursement pressures and lack of capital bear down on healthcare.

“As with any other industry, the invisible hand of the market will eventually have its way,” he says. “This means healthcare must begin to think more competitively and innovatively. The market differentiators in healthcare will revolve around better patient access, lower cost, and superior quality of service.”

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How to learn a company’s unwritten office rules when there’s no office

Not every workplace rule, tradition or general way of doing things appears in the employee handbook.

Newly hired employees often must figure out on their own how a company’s culture really operates, and how to maneuver within “unwritten rules” to move up in the organization. Now, with remote work that COVID-19 forced on so many businesses, that daunting transition from rookie worker to savvy employee has become even more challenging.

“At many businesses, new employees probably are not in the office very often, if at all, and much of their interactions with their new co-workers come through virtual meetings or email exchanges,” says Bob Slater, co-author with his son, Nick Slater, of Look Out Above! The Young Professional’s Guide to Success (www.bobandnickslater.com).

“Those spontaneous, one-on-one ‘water cooler’ chats with your new colleagues, where they can clue you in on a lot of things about the business and the bosses, just aren’t happening.”

All is not lost, though, say the Slaters.

Even when starting a new job remotely, there are ways to figure out a company’s unwritten rules and give yourself a better chance to succeed as a result. The Slaters offer a few tips for learning those unwritten rules and also avoiding any missteps in your early weeks as a remote employee:

Observe. As each workday unfolds, pay attention to how things get done, to where the power lies, and to the behaviors that lead to personal success for other employees. “For example, you may notice that the organizational chart says one thing about who needs to approve or support something for it to get done, but the reality may be something else,” Nick Slater says. “You also can begin to notice who people listen to and respect, and what the company will and won’t spend money on.” Meanwhile, also try to be aware of who the rising stars in the organization are and what they seem to be doing to get ahead. “Ask yourself what you can learn from them,” he says, “and what behaviors of theirs you could start doing.”

Ask. When in doubt about anything pertaining to the unwritten rules where you work, find someone you trust and have a candid conversation with them, Bob Slater says. “This could be a manager, a mentor, or a peer,” he says. “Someone just above you in the organizational chart could be a good choice. But you’re the only one who knows who the best person might be for the questions you have, and how candid you should be.” Beyond getting the answers to your questions, those conversations also can help you strengthen your relationships with others in the organization, he says.

Stay in communication. “You want to be visible, so do not hide,” Nick Slater says. Some managers establish standing meetings with the people who report to them, but if yours doesn’t, you may need to ask for regular Zoom meetings to touch base or get progress reports on how you are doing, he says. “At first, if given the opportunity, it’s better to meet too often instead of too little because that will help you discover more about those unwritten rules,” he says.

Contribute in meetings. Even with virtual meetings, it’s critical that you be prepared and ready to contribute, Bob Slater says. Put away your phone or anything else that might distract you. The fact you are distracted and trying to multitask could become evident, even if you are just one of multiple faces on a screen. “Don’t speak just to draw attention to yourself,” he says, “but do recognize that if you rarely contribute it will be noticed.”

Experiment. Depending on your personality, risk tolerance, and the matter at hand, you could simply act and see what happens, Nick Slater says. “Doing so may give you insight as to whether you acted in furtherance of – or in contradiction to – the unwritten rules where you work,” he says. “As the maxim goes, better to ask forgiveness than permission. Don’t ask, just do it. But of course, pick your spots carefully.”

“It’s worth remembering that regardless of what your new company’s unwritten rules are, your success ultimately depends on maximizing your contribution to the organization,” Bob Slater says. “In all but dysfunctional companies, expect rationality to ultimately prevail in terms of the right people being promoted. There may be times when meritocracy seems to be out of whack, but ultimately exceptional performers will be recognized.”

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Report reveals two-thirds decline in wildlife since 1970, advocates for natural solutions to combat climate crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Global populations* of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered an average two-thirds decline in less than half a century due in large part to climate change and also the very same environmental destruction which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020, released today.

The report’s Living Planet Index (LPI), provided by the Zoological Society of London, shows that factors believed to increase the planet’s vulnerability to pandemics — including land-use change and the use and trade of wildlife — were also some of the drivers behind the 68 percent average decline in global vertebrate species populations between 1970 and 2016. In addition to these threats, another major risk to wildlife populations highlighted in the report is the continuing threat of climate change.

Bruce Stein, chief scientist at the National Wildlife Federation and a report co-author noted that this is the first time the Living Planet Report has explored in detail the growing threat of climate change to global biodiversity. Stein said, “healthy ecosystems are not only good for sustaining wildlife, but can also protect people and communities from the worst effects of a changing climate.”

“Nature has an increasingly vital role to play in helping people adapt to intensifying climate impacts and natural disasters,” Stein said. “By absorbing and storing atmospheric carbon, natural ecosystems like forests and wetlands are also important in the fight against climate change. But for nature to provide these climate adaptation and mitigation functions, society will need to dramatically scale up its efforts to help nature itself cope with, and adjust to, the accelerating impacts of climate change.”

The Living Planet Report 2020 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world through the LPI, which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, and contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world.

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How to stop toxic leadership from spreading a virus in your company

Toxic workplaces sometimes start at the top. Difficult, abrasive leaders can create a culture of tension, fear, and abusive behavior at every organizational level.

Those types of leaders may produce results, but their actions also lead to dysfunction and employee turnover.

Ending the pattern of toxicity starts with companies recognizing red flags, coming up with new principles of management behavior, and holding leaders accountable for their actions, says Dr. Katrina Burrus, author of Managing Brilliant Jerks: How Organizations and Coaches Can Transform Difficult Leaders into Powerful Visionaries (www.ExcellentExecutiveCoaching.com).

“Organizations often overlook abrasive behavior or see it as a necessary means to an end,” Burrus says. “This sends employees the message that such behavior is acceptable and to be imitated to skyrocket up the corporate ladder. Then it’s like a virus that continues to spread.

“All too often, companies are overly results-oriented. Leaders tend to be preoccupied with what needs to be done and what key performance indicators to monitor, but they rarely pay attention to how the work is to be done and whether employees are using acceptable behaviors to achieve those results. This focus on outcome over methods allows toxic behaviors to remain unchecked for years.”

Burrus suggests the following ways businesses can encourage leaders to engage in healthy behavior and detoxify the culture:

Establish specific codes of conduct. Burrus says correcting or preventing abusive behavior by leaders means first establishing a code of conduct – with management principles – as an essential part of the corporate culture. “Communicate to all employees, including supervisors, managers, and executives, that the organization will not tolerate bullying to any degree,” Burrus says. “Post these codes everywhere – in company manuals, in meeting rooms, on the website – and discuss them at kickoff meetings and conferences. The codes of conduct should explicitly state that employees who violate this principle will be disciplined and may be terminated. Organization heads should communicate to their brilliant jerks that they are valued for their brilliance, but that misbehavior has consequences, which will be applied.”

Expand evaluations. “Leaders should be evaluated not only on what results they are achieving, but also on how they are performing as overall leaders,” Burrus says. “Performance reviews should also consider the quality of interactions with employees. It’s important in this evaluation process that employees should have an opportunity to evaluate their manager’s leadership in annual or semi-annual reviews.”

Offer coaching and support. “If they are receptive,” Burrus says, “brilliant jerks should be offered the support of a customized coaching program to help them change their destructive behaviors and leverage their strengths. They need to be shown how their outstanding abilities that help the company are being undermined by a lack of interpersonal skills. All too often, leaders think an authoritative, demonstrative style is largely responsible for their success, when an argument can be made that it’s just as responsible for driving good people away, and for planting the seeds of their own future derailment.”

“Management needs to keep behavior principles in mind and reference them every day,” Burrus says. “Otherwise, the company’s values and leadership principles are just talk, and it risks creating cynics throughout the organization.”

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Practice makes perfect

“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated,” according to famed linksman Arnold Palmer. The legendary medalist earned the nickname, The King of Golf, for his prowess on the fairways and proof of his skill are the 21 holes-in-one with which he is credited. West Virginian Rocco Figaretti has only one hole-in-one under his belt, but he has plenty of time ahead of him to rack up his share of aces. The four-year-old amazed onlookers at Oglebay Park in Wheeling, WV recently with his skill and dedication; his dad, Mario, remarked that “to say I'm proud would be an understatement." The boy wonder has been playing since he was three and, obviously, spends a great deal of his time practicing.

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The price is right

What would you be willing to pay for a pair of 35-year-old used sneakers? The folks at Christie’s, the auction house, got $615,000 when the sneakers Michael Jordan wore in 1985 were put up for sale. After all, they were apparently only worn once during an exhibition game in Trieste, Italy. And, as Christie’s described the kicks, they are "a one-of-a-kind Michael Jordan artifact." What also made the shoes special is the shard of glass embedded in the sole as a result of Jordan’s shattering a glass backboard during the game.

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A happy ending

A three-year-old girl was swept up by the tail of a giant kite during a festival recently in Taiwan. The 30-second nightmare ended happily when control of the kite was regained and it was slowly pulled back down to earth. The toddler suffered only minor injuries but appeared shaken by the buffeting winds as she hung entangled at the end of the kite’s long orange streamer

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History Matters

A biweekly feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

By John Grimaldi and David Bruce Smith

On September 7th, Uncle Sam will be two-hundred and seven. The United States got its nickname when a Troy, NY newspaper ran a story about Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker who supplied beef to the American soldiers during the War of 1812. He loaded the portions into barrels marked “US”, which the troops started referring to as “Uncle Sam’s” rations; the moniker went viral, and—eventually— it became the personification of America.

Later in the 19th century, the cartoonist Thomas Nast designed an image to match the name: a white goateed man wearing a top hat, dressed in red, white, and blue.

In 1961 Congress passed a resolution acknowledging that Samuel Wilson was the ingenuity behind Uncle Sam.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough.

———

By the fall of 1776, the Declaration of Independence had already been signed, and delivered to the British. It unambiguously stated that the colonies were now an independent nation. On September 9, 1776, the Continental Congress officially replaced the designation, “United Colonies” with the “United States of America”.

Even though the American Revolution was in still going on, the Congressional resolution stated: “That in all continental commissions, and other instruments, where, heretofore, the words ‘United Colonies’ have been used, the stile be altered for the future to the “United States.”

Seven years later, The Treaty of Paris ended the War—officially--and America was free.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends its 2016 award winner, The Drum of Destiny, by Chris Stevenson.

———

On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote a poem called The Defence of Fort McHenry. The War of 1812 had ramped up rage between the United States and Britain a second time. Baltimore’s Fort McHenry was on the defensive, and Key was imprisoned on an enemy warship.

According to History.com “Key watched the bombing campaign unfold from aboard a ship located about eight miles away. After a day, the British were unable to destroy the fort and gave up. Key was relieved to see the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry and quickly penned a few lines in tribute to what he had witnessed.”

His poem was printed in newspapers—and then--set to music. Its popularity soared; people started calling it “The Star-Spangled Banner”; and, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it should be played and sung at all official gatherings.

Fifteen years later, Key’s “poem” metamorphosed into the national anthem.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends 1812: The War That Forged a Nation by Walter R. Borneman.

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How to keep your medical staff encouraged and engaged in COVID times

Healthcare professionals don’t seek the public spotlight, but while serving others in the dangerous front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, their selflessness and courage have been part of the national narrative.

Labeled as heroes in this unprecedented fight, their daily battles can exact a mental toll that’s sometimes manifest in grief, depression and loneliness. So in addition to trying to protect the health of medical workers as much as possible, it’s vital for healthcare facility operators to keep their staff feeling engaged, connected and encouraged, says Dr. Kyle Bogan (www.drkylebogan.com), a medical office culture expert and general dentist.

“Healthcare workers have experienced immense physical and mental strain during this pandemic,” Bogan says. “You hear a lot in the news about the danger of the virus to frontline workers and whether they have enough protective gear, but the mental effects can’t be discounted.

“Working past the point of exhaustion, worrying they might bring the infection home and infect family members, feeling traumatized from the whole experience, it can be difficult for them to keep navigating this challenging time. Therefore, healthcare institutions and those who run facilities need to light the way for their staff and provide them with added support.”

Bogan suggests the following initiatives healthcare operators can implement to help their employees deal with the challenges posed by the pandemic:

Provide educational resources. “Even the most qualified healthcare professionals are still trying to grasp the nature of the disease.” Bogan says. “To ensure your staff is supported properly, make educational resources easily available to them. Whether you email them articles, send them news updates, include hard copy materials at your healthcare facility, or make important content available on your website, these resources will be much appreciated.”

Provide little extras. It can be easy for healthcare workers to skip a lunch break or extend a shift as they spend an increased amount of time providing support to patients. Bogan says, “Consider initiatives within your healthcare facility to help enhance the employee experience. Things like a rewards program, or providing them with a great meal, encouraging them to take breaks and call their loved ones, and making coffee and snacks readily available. Little things that show you care about them.”

Give them public recognition. While much of the general public is practicing social distancing, many healthcare practitioners are forced to take this safety measure to a more extreme level, such as having to quarantine from family members. “This isolation can have a huge mental toll on even the toughest workers as boundaries between work and home life are diminished,” Bogan says. “It’s important to recognize their hard work and sacrifices. Public recognition can go a long way toward helping their psyche. If your healthcare institution has a website or social media channels, consider showcasing the employees that have gone the extra mile during this crisis. Encouragement from community members can help lift their spirits.”

Let them bank vacation time. Many healthcare workers are finding that they can no longer take their planned vacation. Bogan suggests implementing a system that enables workers to bank their vacation time. “If workers can’t use their vacation time in 2020, for instance, allow them the flexibility to carry it into the following year,” he says. “If some employees have put in extra time during this pandemic, consider providing them with additional vacation time to show appreciation for their sacrifice and service.”

“Healthcare workers are experiencing this pandemic on a whole other level,” Bogan says. “As employers of these workers, implementing some of these strategies to support your employees will give them a boost and make your work culture even stronger.”

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How you can stop fake news from faking you out

The term “fake news” gained traction during the 2016 U.S. presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and it has since become a familiar phrase in the American political vernacular.

Could fake news factor into the current presidential election season? The QAnon movement has been seen by some media and political observers as an example of a politically-driven group promoting fake news. Despite a lack of evidence to support their beliefs, followers of the QAnon movement believe that President Trump is fighting a satanic deep state of global elites. Facebook booted accounts promoting QAnon.

David Dozier (www.DavidDozierBooks.com), a professor emeritus in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University and author of The California Killing Field, thinks QAnon’s origins and emergence into national news cycles symbolizes the intent of fake news: to influence voters.

“We live in a world where it’s hard to believe almost anything you see related to politics on social media, and sometimes in the mainstream media as well,” Dozier says. “Our democratic process for electing political leaders has suffered great harm due to these disinformation campaigns.

“Fake news is definitely an issue heading into this critical presidential election. QAnon is the latest example of how conspiracy theories on the internet can gain traction and build followings.”

Researchers have suggested that false information presented as news fuels public distrust of political leaders and the media, influences people’s attitudes, and damages democracy.

“We’ve never been more polarized as a country, and fake news is dividing us further,” Dozier says. “It’s become a phenomenon, but people still have the power to sort the true from the false.”

Dozier suggests these ways to spot fake news:

Don’t fall into the bias trap. People can fall prey to confirmation bias, a tendency to favor information that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. “Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum,” Dozier says, “people lend more credence to information that reinforces what they already believe. To counteract the confirmation bias trap, try changing your perspective by taking the other side of the argument. Overall, be skeptical and think critically.”

Pause before you share or retweet. “Some people have an emotional reaction to a piece of news and think they should share it,” Dozier says. “But it’s important to know that the people who create disinformation are designing it to do just that – trigger an emotional reaction. So wait and ask questions about the content. Who shared it or created it? Why was this shared? Do some investigating.”

Go straight to the source. “The algorithms used by social media and news aggregator sites are designed to make sure we see stories geared to our interests,” Dozier says. “This makes it harder to identify if a story is real or fake, and who created it. Instead of following a link from the outlet that shows up on your social media, go online and head straight to the source. Inspect the poster’s profile and their post history. See if the poster has affiliations that are in line with spreading a certain point of view.”

Inspect the content the account posted. Conducting a reverse image search can make it easier to authenticate an image by finding its source. “Fake news/disinformation often uses old images,” Dozier says. “With a reverse image search, you can search for previous instances of an image that appears online and to find if the image used is from a different story. You can also reverse image search the profile picture to see if that picture or similar photos are being used on other accounts. That’s a common practice to create fake personas online.

“Getting to the facts is getting more difficult,” Dozier says. “We have tons of information coming at us from all angles and platforms. It’s more important than ever to think for ourselves.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Should We Get Married or Just Live Together?

Dear Rusty: My question is about benefits and getting married. I am a retired man, 65-years-old, and collecting Social Security plus 2 pensions. My girlfriend will turn 62 in October of 2020 and plans to apply for Social Security benefits on her 62nd birthday. If we were to get married, would we be affected money wise? Or should we just live together? Signed: Contemplating Marriage

Dear Contemplating Marriage: Your own Social Security benefit will not be affected in any way if you get married, unless your potential new bride is a very high earner and her Social Security entitlement at her full retirement age (which is 66 years and 8 months) is more than twice the full benefit amount you were entitled to at your full retirement age (even though you claimed your SS earlier). In that case, you would become eligible for a spousal benefit from your new wife after you are married for one year.

If, however, your potential bride is the lower earner and claims at 62 but is entitled to a Social Security benefit at her full retirement age (FRA) that is less than 50% of your FRA benefit amount, your new wife may be entitled to a "spousal boost" from you after you are married for a year. I cannot tell you the answer to those questions without knowing your respective benefit amounts at each of your full retirement ages.

You may also wish to consider potential survivor benefits. If you are married and one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to 100% of the amount the deceased spouse was collecting at their death, if the surviving spouse has reached full retirement age (otherwise the survivor benefit is reduced for claiming it early). The surviving spouse gets the survivor benefit if that benefit is more than they are entitled to on their own.

In any case, neither of you would be eligible for a Social Security spousal benefit or survivor benefit from the other unless you are married (you must be married for at least one year to get a spousal benefit and at least 9 months for a survivor benefit).

Note that so-called "common law" marriage isn't recognized in most U.S. states, and Social Security goes by state law on that topic. The only states which currently recognize common law marriage are Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah (and the District of Columbia). So, unless you were to live in one of those states, or in D.C., cohabitating would not be considered a "marriage" for the purposes of Social Security benefits, and no spousal or survivor benefits would be available to either of you.

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Plant trees now for decades of shade and beauty

By MELINDA MYERS

Cooler temperatures and warm soil make fall a great time to add trees to your landscape. Make the most of this investment of money and time and give your tree its best chance at survival with proper planting and care.

Select a tree suited to the growing conditions, your landscape design and available space. Make sure it tolerates the sunlight, soil and temperature extremes. Check the tag for the mature height and spread. You’ll have a better-looking plant that always fits the space with minimal pruning.

Avoid planting near overhead utilities since trees and power lines make for a dangerous combination. Contact your underground utility locating service at least three business days before placing the first shovel in the ground. It’s free and all you need to do is call 811 or file an online request.

Once the area is marked, you can get busy planting. Ensure your tree thrives for many years to come with proper planting. Dig a saucer shaped hole three to five times wider than the root ball. It should only be as deep as the distance from the root flare to the bottom of the root ball. The root flare, where the roots bend away from the trunk, should always be at or slightly above the soil surface.

Set the tree in the hole, then peel back and cut away any burlap and wire cages. These can eventually constrict root growth. Roughen the sides of the hole and backfill with the existing soil. Water thoroughly to moisten the roots and surrounding soil.

Continue to water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and moist. Proper watering, especially during the first two years, is critical for establishing trees. Watering thoroughly as needed encourages deep roots and a more drought tolerant and pest resistant tree.

Monitor soil moisture near the trunk and beyond the rootball. Since many containerized trees are grown in soilless mix, the rootball dries out more quickly than the surrounding soil. Adjust your watering technique and schedule to accommodate this difference.

Mulch the soil surface with a two- to three-inch layer of woodchips or shredded bark to conserve water, suppress weeds and improve the soil as it decomposes. Pull the mulch back from the trunk of the tree to avoid disease problems.

Remove any tags that can eventually girdle the tree and prune out any broken or rubbing branches. Wait a year to fertilize and two years, once the tree is established, for additional pruning.

Continue providing tender loving care for at least the first two years. Make regular checkups, prune to create a strong structure, and keep grass, weeds and lawn care equipment away from the trunk throughout the lifetime of your tree. Your efforts will be rewarded with years of beauty and shade.

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Go figure

Identical twin sisters, Brittany and Briana Deane, met a pair of identical twin brothers, Joshua and Jeremy Salyers, at a Twins Day festival in 2017. The festival is an annual event that takes place in the town of Twinsburg, OH of course. A year later the foursome returned to Twinsburg where Briana married Jeremy and Brittany married Joshua and now, two years later, Brittany and Briana have announced that they are pregnant. They posted the news on their joint Instagram account, noting that “Our children will not only be cousins, but full genetic siblings and quaternary multiples!”

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How embarrassing

Northamptonshire, England Police Sgt. Scott Renwick apparently never explained how he accidentally handcuffed himself. Buthe did fess up to the fact that he had to call in the Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service to set him free. He posted a message on Twitter that read: "Well that wasn't a good start to the day. Thanks to @northantsfire for cutting me out of some broken cuffs. #NotFunny. I would have laughed too!!"

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Treasure chest or hoax?

Residents of the community of Barre, NY have a mystery on their hands. It seems that one day recently there suddenly appeared a very large safe in a field belonging to farmer Kirk Mathes. No one seems to know how it got there; nor does anyone know who put it there. But attached to it was a note that read, "If you can open this, you can have what's inside." It caused quite stir as trespassers swarmed the Mathes farm trying to open the 500 pound strongbox. The police were called and farmer Mathes relocated the safe to an unknown location, telling WHAM-TV: "If you open it, the show is over. In these times, with the virus and the politics, it might get people a chance to set their problems or troubles aside and have a lot of fun talking about it."

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4 tips for avoiding hair loss in COVID times

People go partially or fully bald for any number of reasons – hormones, genetics and aging, among others – but in the middle of a pandemic-fueled recession, one factor is taking center stage.

Stress.

“Stress certainly can contribute to hair loss because it can affect hormone levels,” says Dr. Patrick Angelos (drpatrickangelos.com) author of The Science and Art of Hair Restoration: A Patient’s Guide. “Any number of stressful events can lead to a sudden loss of hair, although in those cases the hair typically will grow back over time.”

For more permanent hair-loss concerns, Angelos, a plastic surgeon who specializes in hair restoration, uses robotic treatment to help patients regain their beloved locks. That process involves an advanced, minimally invasive hair transplant system that uses technology driven by artificial intelligence.

“Among the reasons patients consider hair restoration is that they want to get back some of their youthful look and feel better about themselves,” Angelos says. “Helping them accomplish that is one of the great satisfactions I get from being a plastic surgeon.”

But for those who want to keep their hair healthy and full now and who hope to avoid ever reaching the point where they need hair-loss intervention, Angelos offers a few tips:

Maintain good hair care and hygiene habits. The way you wash your hair could undermine your efforts to prevent hair loss, Angelos says. As you wash, avoid pulling back on your hair because that can put traction on the follicles. “The same goes for combing,” he says. “It’s less stressful on the follicles to wash and comb your hair forward, toward your face, instead of toward the back of your scalp and neck. Also, long hair weighs more, so on its own, it can put more traction on the follicles.” Brushing your hair regularly, however, is good because it massages the scalp and helps improve blood flow and circulation. The condition of your hair should also be in balance – not too oily, not too dry. “Finally, don’t overuse a hair dryer because that can make hair weak and brittle, which can lead to more hair loss,” Angelos says.

Treat health issues. Hormonal imbalances and other medical conditions such as low thyroid and iron or iodine deficiency can contribute to hair loss, Angelos says. “Avoid overuse of supplements and medications,” he says. “Since supplements such as testosterone, human growth hormone, whey, and DHEA can cause thinning and hair loss, especially avoid excessive use of these.”

Be aware of your nutritional needs. Some fad diets may have a nutritional impact on hair loss. “It’s really important to eat a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fat,” Angelos says. He also recommends taking a multivitamin that includes vitamins A, B complex, C, D and E, along with the minerals zinc, iodine and iron, all of which help with hair health.

Avoid unhealthy environments. The negative health effects of smoking are well known, especially related to lung cancer. But one more reason to avoid smoking, Angelos says, is that it can affect hair loss. In addition to smoking, other environmental factors that can contribute to hair loss include environmental exposures like radiation and air pollution.

When efforts to prevent hair loss fall short, those who prefer to avoid baldness can explore the possibilities that modern science provides.

“Not every patient needs hair transplantation, though,” Angelos says. “Especially when it comes to younger patients, it may be best to start with other options. Since the reasons for hair loss vary from person to person and are unique to their circumstances, a good place to start is by determining the cause of hair loss in the first place, and then go from there.”

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Fall lawn care tips

By MELINDA MYERS

As summer transitions into fall, it is time to help lawns recover from summer stress. Let the weather and the condition of your lawn help you develop a plan suited to your landscape.

Continue mowing actively growing lawns. Mow high, leaving cool season grasses like bluegrass and fescues at least 2 ½ preferably 3 ½ inches tall after cutting. Warm season grasses like bermudagrass, carpetgrass, centipedegrass and zoysia should be grown at 1 to 2 inches tall, while St. Augustine should a bit higher at 2 to 3 inches for best results. Taller grass is better able to compete with weeds, is more drought tolerant and less susceptible to insects and disease.

Mow often, removing no more than one third the total height. Leave short clippings on the lawn. They will quickly break down, adding organic matter, moisture and nutrients to the soil. Run your mower over long clippings to reduce their size and speed decomposition.

As the tree leaves begin to fall just mow them into small pieces and leave them on the lawn. As long as you can see the grass blades through the shredded leaves your lawn will be fine. And just like the clippings, they add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

Fertilize lawns in early September and high maintenance northern lawns again around Halloween, but always before the ground freezes. Make sure the last fertilizer application to warm season grasses is at least one month prior to the average first killing frost.

A healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds. Even with proper care these unwanted plants can bully their way into your lawn. Try digging, root and all, to remove small populations of weeds. Think of it as a workout or way to reduce stress.

If you decide to use a weed killer, try spot treating weeds or problem areas to minimize the amount of chemical used. Select the least toxic or an organic product whenever possible. Whether using traditional or environmentally friendly products read and follow label directions carefully. All these products are plant killers and can cause damage to other plants if not applied properly.

Fall, when the cool season grasses are actively growing, is also the best time to core aerate or dethatch lawns suffering from thatch build up or compacted soil. Overseed thin lawns after core aeration or dethatching. You’ll have better results once the thatch layer is removed or openings exist for the grass seeds to contact the soil and sprout.

Those growing warm season grasses should wait until the lawn greens up in spring or is actively growing in early summer. Avoid doing this when the weather is hot and dry.

Begin implementing some of these strategies and soon you’ll be on your way to a healthier, better looking lawn for the coming growing season.

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Why residential real estate is becoming more attractive in the suburbs

This year has culminated in a number of factors that are reshaping the landscape of U.S. real estate. A housing shift is occurring in some cities as some people are trading urban areas for the suburbs or rural places.

As more people work from home in the current climate, the aspects of city living that are appealing to millennials and young professionals, such as theaters, bars, and restaurants, are either closed or restricted.

Real estate analysts say the outward-bound residential trend could continue as the pandemic persists. For anyone considering a move out of the city, there are some key factors to consider, says Jadon Newman, CEO of Noble Capital (www.noblecapital.com), a private lending and private equity firm.

“The demand to live in rural and suburban areas is increasing compared to urban demand, which marks a big change from where it’s been,” Newman says. “But the cost of city living was getting expensive before the pandemic, and now the exodus is being expedited.”

People are rethinking whether they want to live in high-rise rentals with common spaces as amenities, as opposed to being in a single-family house of their own with space and a backyard, Newman says.

“Sellers in the suburbs and rural areas are realizing the surge in new demand, and it may increase if there’s a second wave of the virus this fall,” he says.

Newman says those considering a new home or a second home should keep in mind these trends in the current economic climate:

Good values in suburbia. Depending on geography, some areas took a hit early in the pandemic, the housing market is surging back and median home prices have risen recently. Newman agrees with analysts who say suburban housing could be a better investment for homebuyers than an urban dwelling, given the uncertainty around the coronavirus and its multiple effects on dense population centers. “Much of the value of homes outside of the central city is in the structure and the fact that there is room to build more of them,” Newman says. “Home prices outside of densely populated urban areas tend to follow construction costs, so there shouldn’t be much movement in those prices.”

Falling urban home prices. As a result of more people leaving the city for the suburbs, economists say home prices in urban areas may fall as a result. “But it’s too early to count out urban areas altogether,” Newman says. “We’ve had other periods in history where cities survived societal and technological transformation. Meanwhile, relative bargains may be had in some markets if one wants to consider a city condo or property to rent out.”

Low interest rates. “Interest rates are the lowest in history,” Newman says, “if you're looking to own a home it’s a good time to buy. And it’s also a good time to sell. For sellers, with demand especially high to move to the suburbs, limited supply, and low interest rates are creating an incentive to buy. Homes in many regions aren’t staying on the market for long.”

Investing in small-town rental properties. Newman says because major cities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, smaller towns that have been far less impacted may be ideal for investing in a residential property that can be used as a vacation rental and additional source of income. “There could be a larger shift away from urbanization toward investment in remote locations,” Newman says. “For buyers of second homes, those well removed from urban centers can be reasonably priced and make more sense as people prioritize safety and more space.”

“Home ownership has traditionally been a way for families to build equity which is more difficult now in densely-populated areas where home prices are high,” Newman said, “This is one of the best times in our country’s history to build wealth with your home in the suburbs where prices are often more affordable.”

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5 ways seniors can safeguard against cyber criminals stealing their identity

As the use of personal computers and cell phones has grown over the last two decades, identity theft has surged. One study found that over 14 million consumers were victims of identity fraud in 2018, and that their out-of-pocket costs totaled $1.7 billion.

Seniors have been particularly vulnerable in recent years to online scams and telemarketing tricks. Unfortunately, another negative effect of COVID-19 has been scammers targeting seniors and the elderly by developing coronavirus hoaxes that prey on fears of the virus.

The growing problem of identity theft for all age groups makes it vital for consumers to develop a strategy to protect their devices, and those of their loved ones, although no system is perfect, says Chris Orestis (www.retirementgenius.com), a senior care advocate known as the "Retirement Genius" and president of LifeCare Xchange.

At a minimum, no one should give out their Social Security number to a stranger and should never click a link in an email from an unknown source. But cyberthieves have many ways to steal your identity, invade your computer, or raid your bank account and credit cards.What should you do to protect yourself from these scam artists and criminals?

“First, it’s important to understand that identity-theft protection services don’t actually stop identity theft,” Orestis says. “There is no fool-proof way to stop identity theft from happening; there are just too many different types of valuable information and avenues for cyberthieves to hack them.

“The Federal Trade Commission actually prohibits identity-theft services from using the word ‘prevention,’ and if a company is promoting that as part of their service they should not be trusted. But regardless of any service you might use, no one can be disengaged from protecting their own identity. It’s important to take care of your identity and credit health with smart and regular maintenance, just like you do with your physical health.”

Orestis offers a five-step plan to help protect your identity:

Register for fraud alerts. “You want these alerts on credit cards and bank accounts so you can be notified quickly of any suspicious activity on your accounts,” Orestis says. “With fraud alerts, data security companies and financial services will text, email or phone you if there is a suspected security breach, or if they detect spending on a card or account that doesn’t align with your spending habits or your location.”

Review accounts regularly. Vigilance of your identity protection means you should go over your monthly bank and credit card statements and review online account activity weekly. “Immediately notify your bank or credit companies if you detect fraudulent activity,” Orestis says. “Either freeze your account or cancel your card. If you believe there could be a problem with your credit, you can place a credit freeze by phone with each credit agency’s customer service line.”

Monitor your credit reports. Orestis says monitoring credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion is another way to find discrepancies that may indicate fraud.

Don’t leave a paper trail. “It’s a good idea to get rid of physical private records and statements that include personal or financial data,” Orestis says. “Identity thieves get into mailboxes and trash. They can use receipts to piece together your personal data, so it’s smart to shred those and avoid any kind of paper trail.”

Create strong passwords. Orestis suggests mixing upper and lower-case letters with numbers and symbols, and to avoid using the same password for every account. “Not having a strong password on your smartphone or computer is like leaving your house with the front door wide open,” Orestis says. “Identity thieves are counting on people to use the same or similar passwords for their electronic devices and financial accounts. Mix up your passwords, and change them whenever you suspect an account has been compromised.”

“Identity theft and cyber security are a very real threat in today’s internet-connected world,” Orestis says. “We all live online and are exposed to a lot of risk if we don’t do the right things to protect ourselves.”

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5 leadership traits of the founding fathers that can unify America

With the COVID-19 pandemic worsening, the economy faltering, and protests against racial injustice continuing, millions of Americans face difficult times and worry about the nation’s future.

And with a presidential election around the corner, it’s a critical time for the country to take stock of what political leadership should mean by going back to the principles embodied by the framers of the Constitution, says Dr. Jim White (www.opportunityinvesting.com), author of THE BROKEN AMERICA: Ten Guiding Principles to Restore America.

“Mending the nation requires a return to the values of the Constitution and the civility and wisdom of our Founding Fathers,” says Dr. White, founder and president of JL White International. “Citizens must hold leadership accountable at the national, state and local levels.

“There is stupefying dishonesty and an alarming lack of accountability by politicians on both sides of the aisle. The global pandemic served not to unite us against a deadly common foe, the coronavirus, but instead further divided the public along party lines. Regardless of which party voters belong to, there are political criteria all patriotic Americans should be requiring, and these can easily be found in the texts and teachings of our Founding Fathers.”

Referencing the leadership of the Founding Fathers as a framework, Dr. White cites leadership attributes he believes today’s political leaders must have to guide the nation back on course:

A clear, unifying vision. Dr. White says a political leader’s vision must be inclusive. “Political candidates usually have a vision in tandem with their campaigns that appeal to their bases and convince others to hop on the bandwagon,” Dr. White says. “Once in office, however, the vision needs to be amended to include all Americans – not just one party or sector. The elected official must repeatedly convey the vision in a way that’s clear. People should understand why the vision is important, what it means to the average citizen, and how it will be rolled out.”

Recognizes potential in others. Just as in business, it’s crucial for political leaders to hire the best possible job candidates. The problem, Dr. White says, is the freedom these leaders have in hiring cronies, donors and family can lead to less effective governing and even scandal. “Political leaders should be able to identify stars and empower them,” Dr. White says. “The leader is only as good as the team, and at the same time, ‘yes’ men and women is not what any true leader should want.”

Develops trust. “To some people, the words ‘trust’ and ‘politics’ don’t belong in the same sentence,” Dr. White says. “The truth is, politicians often lie. We must always hold them accountable for telling the truth. Leaders must have a level of transparency or else public trust in government gets lost.”

Shows empathy. “Political leaders must wear many hats, but the most important one is serving the people,” Dr. White says. “That means being present and empathetic when unforeseen tragedy strikes. Leaders are looked upon to help provide immediate help in all facets, including emotional support and encouragement. Our leaders must represent all of the people and show that they care.”

Conveys passion. “The nation’s leaders need to have unbridled, unconditional love for our nation,” Dr. White says, “which translates to optimism and a bright future for everyone – not just the wealthy and privileged few. People want to follow a passionate leader who puts the country’s interest above themselves, their political party, and winning.”

“Do today’s political leaders have what it takes to drive our nation?” Dr. White asks. “Tragically, the answer is as plain as day: no. But at a minimum, we must expect that our leaders will excel at the attributes the Founding Fathers exemplified.”

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Sports heroes who served: From Coast Guardsman to golf legend

Although his claim to fame happened decades ago, ardent golfers of any age know the name Arnold Palmer. He is considered one of the greats. He won 62 PGA tour titles from 1955 to 1973, making him one of the top five golfers of all time.

Many, particularly the older generation, know about Palmer the golf legend, but here is some of the story about Palmer, the Coast Guardsman.

Palmer, born in 1929, attended Wake Forest College in North Carolina on a golf scholarship. In 1950, his close friend and roommate Bud Worsham was killed in an auto accident.

Worsham's death affected Palmer deeply, he told Richard A. Stephenson, a historian with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Feb. 28, 2013.

Palmer couldn't focus on his studies and decided he needed a change from the academic venue. So, in 1951, he joined the Coast Guard.

"I thought it was a great outfit that specialized in saving lives," he told Stephenson.

He served in the Coast Guard from 1951 to 1954.

After basic training at Cape May, New Jersey, which is still the basic training center for all enlisted Coast Guard recruits today, Palmer received nine-month orders to serve as a lifeguard for the center's recruits. While there, Palmer also taught the recruits physical education, including judo and how to use force when necessary.

His next duty station was at the 9th Coast Guard District Auxiliary, Cleveland, Ohio, working at the Cleveland East Pierhead Lighthouse, which looks out over Lake Erie. While there, he was assigned as a photographer taking military ID card photos for all the Coast Guardsmen in the district.

At the end of his enlistment, Palmer returned to Wake Forest to complete his studies. Regarding his golf course legacy, it is one for the history books.

Golfer pans the area

"I'm very proud of the fact that I was in the Coast Guard," Palmer told Stephenson, regarding his time in service. "I think it's a wonderful outfit. Young people need the kind of training in one of the military outfits."

"The knowledge that I gained, the maturity that I gained in the Coast Guard made me a better person," he continued. "The military isn't just about restrictions, it's a learning experience and it's very important that young people have that opportunity to learn and to know themselves a little better, and I think the military helps put that in the right perspective."

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Keeping your career goals on track, even in a remote world

Is remote work and a lack of face-to-face time with the boss derailing career advancement for ambitious employees?

Possibly, but even when working from home, savvy individuals can find ways to demonstrate they possess what it takes to move up in the organization, says Kimberly Roush, founder of All-Star Executive Coaching (www.allstarexecutivecoaching.com) and co-author of Who Are You… When You Are Big?

“We’re living in a world in which fear and doubt are on the rise, and while staying positive can be a challenge these days, it’s still the route to success,” Roush says. “When we are in a state of positive emotions, we are more creative and resourceful. Even when you are working remotely, there are ways to bring your creativity and resourcefulness into play.”

She offers a few tips on how to put your best foot forward despite the fact you, your colleagues, and your bosses are working miles apart:

Make the most of virtual meetings. Even when working remotely, employees will have interactions with their supervisors and co-workers through Zoom, email, phone calls or text messages. “Your attitude during those interactions can make a big difference in how your boss views you,” Roush says. “Do you come off as an upbeat problem solver? Are you someone who always comes up with the ideas, or are you someone who squelches them?”

Don’t let the stress show. The pandemic has taken its toll on nearly everyone, but be careful about letting others know how much the stress is getting to you, Roush says. “You want to be seen as someone who handles stress well, not someone who freaks out when times get tough,” she says. “COVID-19 isn’t going to be the last crisis your company faces, and career advancement is more likely to happen for those who can show they handle difficulties well.” Meanwhile, she says, one way to reduce your stress is to do things that make you happy, such as listening to a favorite song, playing with your dogs, or taking a walk around the neighborhood.

Be a leader even when you aren’t a leader. Anyone who wants to be promoted into a leadership position would do well to take time during this remote-working period to study how good leaders perform, Roush says. “People want to be around the best leaders because they release a positive energy that spreads to others,” she says. “They establish a company culture in which that energy thrives and where employees certainly feel comfortable to be themselves. People want to feel that they make things happen of their own volition, and powerful leaders have the gift of encouragement. They are servant leaders who are clear about what they stand for—they have led themselves first—and now they are interested in fostering the greatness in those whom they lead.”

Be aware of who influences you. As you keep in touch with friends and co-workers while you stay home, be careful about who you let into your remote inner circle, Roush says. “If you have naysayers around you telling you, ‘No, you can’t,’ then they can hamper that spirit of boldness, the voice of the champion who says, ‘Yes, you can,’ ” she says. “If you aspire to move into a leadership position, or move further up the leadership chain, you must pay attention to who influences you.”

“Even in today’s remote world,” Roush says, “the way you think about things greatly affects what you can accomplish and the opportunities you will encounter.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Can I Hide My Social Security in A Tax-Advantaged Account?

Dear Rusty: I will be 62 years of age at the end of this year. Can I start drawing my Social Security at age 62 and have it directly deposited into my IRA (arm’s length), not spend it and continue to work without affecting my tax position? I will defer actually using it until a later date Signed: Curious Investor

Dear Curious Investor: Regardless of where you have your Social Security benefits deposited, if you continue to work after claiming early benefits, you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings test. The earnings test applies to anyone who collects benefits before they reach their full retirement age (which for you is 66 years and 8 months).

It doesn’t matter if you spend your benefits, save them, or invest them; you’ll still be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit. And, since IRS rules say that only earned income (which excludes Social Security benefits) can be deposited into an individual retirement account (IRA), it is not possible for you to direct-deposit your Social Security benefits into an IRA. In any case, even if you otherwise save your benefits for later use; you will still be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit. For 2020 the annual earnings limit is $18,240 (the limit changes annually) and if that is exceeded, Social Security will take back benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. The earnings limit goes up by about 2.5 times in the year you reach your full retirement age (FRA) and goes away once your FRA is attained.

Social Security gets your earnings information from the IRS when you file your income taxes, and you cannot avoid the earnings test by having the money deposited for later use. The earnings test will still apply, and they will take back some of your benefits if you exceed the limit. For information, by “take back” benefits, I mean they will notify you that they have overpaid you (due to your earnings from working) and will give you the option of either paying them back in full with a lump sum payment, or they will withhold your future benefits until they recover what you owe because you exceeded the earnings limit.

As for your “tax position” on your benefits, that will depend upon your combined income from all other sources (investments, interest, pensions, earnings, etc.), plus 50% of the SS benefits you received during the tax year, plus any non-taxable interest you may have (combined this is known as your Modified Adjusted Gross Income, or “MAGI”). If you file your income taxes as a single and your MAGI is more than $25,000 (or if you file “married-jointly and your MAGI is more than $32,000) then 50% of your SS benefits will become part of your taxable income. And filing single with a MAGI of more than $34,000 (or $44,000 if married-filing jointly), up to 85% of your Social Security benefits will become part of your taxable income (by the IRS). Once again, it doesn’t matter how you dispose of your benefit payments; they will still be taxable if you exceed the clip levels mentioned above, and you will still be subject to Social Security’s earnings test until you reach your full retirement age.

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Bear in mind

Bears will be bears and it’s a good idea to keep clear of them when out for a stroll in your local forest this summer. That’s the advice the National Park Service is offering visitors to its Facebook page. For example, its post starts out with this bit of pithy advice: “Please don’t run from bears or push your slower friends down in attempts of saving yourself.” The post appropriately concludes with a contrite “PS: We apologize to any ‘friends’ who were brought on a hike as the ‘bait’ or were sacrificed to save the group. You will be missed.”

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You’re never too old

Growing old is what you make of it. Take, Dorothy Pollack who resides in a nursing home in Muskegon, MI. She decided to celebrate her 103rd birthday recently by getting her first tattoo. And then there is Bob Mettauer, of Santa Maria, CA. He’s 95-years-young and is better known by friends and neighbors as “Bicycle Bob.” He retired in the 1990s, took up cycling and recently logged his 100,000th mile of biking all these years. Let that be a lesson to you, says the senior advocacy organization: you’re never too old.

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She’s a regular ‘whiz kid”

Quick: spell “amazing” backwards. Pal Onnen of Hastings, MN can do it in little more than one second. In fact, she recently earned the new Guinness World Record for spelling 56 words backwards in just one minute. Oh yeah, she can also pronounce words from back to front and is a veritable speed demon when it comes to reciting the alphabet backwards. And, that is truly “gnizama,” as she would say. Want to see her do it? Check her out at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yhzu9lB0G8.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

The official acknowledgement that gave women the right to vote came to a successful resolution 100 years ago this month. After the state of Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920, the two-thirds requirement to make it law was satisfied. Eight days later, the Constitution was formally modified to reflect the change.

Historical documentation shows that the suffrage movement started in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized a meeting of 200 suffragists in Seneca Falls, NY, and adopted a resolution: “it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

However, there is strong evidence that the notion of voting rights for women might have begun even earlier, before America’s independence. In a March 31, 1776 letter written by Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams, the nation’s future second president, she wrote “If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage by Anne Firor Scott and Andrew MacKay Scott.

On August 21, 1959, another star was added to the American flag. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation, which admitted Hawaii into the union as the 50th state.

According to The Washington Historical Quarterly, traders from Boston were probably the first Americans to visit the Islands in 1789; during the succeeding centuries, commerce between the American colonists, planters and missionaries proliferated, and throngs of people made the Islands their home; by 1894, the newly formed Republic of Hawaii was turned into an American protectorate.

For more information about the Aloha State, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Unsustainable Empire: Alternative Histories of Hawai‘i Statehood by Dean Itsuji Saranillio.

On August 28, 1963 America’s most prominent civil rights leader -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – delivered the words that have gone down in history—perhaps—as the most stirring call for the end of racial segregation and discrimination: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal’.”

The event took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial, surrounded by 250,000 persons--the largest audience in the history of the civil rights movement. Later, The New York Times said the speech played an important role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Clayborne Carson.

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From the battlefield to the backyard: A franchisee’s story of fighting pests

By MIKE JEFFREY

I figured I had two choices: to take the bullets or a rocket-propelled grenade.

I got neither, but it was no bargain.

It was back in 2003 in Iraq, the early part of the Iraq War. I was a tank driver and cavalry scout for the U.S. Army as we fought the insurgents who had emerged to fight the occupying forces. The insurgents were enemies we often could not see – they embedded deeply in buildings, bunkers, and bushes – and we had to always be ready.

This time, we got ambushed from both sides in broad daylight.

I was sitting in the back of a Humvee, climbing over the hump between the back seats to get out the other side and take cover. I was thinking, “Which is worse, an RPG or the bullets?” I thought I’d prefer the bullets. But as I was about to jump to the other side, something went “boom” and I went flying.

Later, a guy who in our group said I was airborne and flipped. When I landed on my back, I knew something was wrong. But I didn’t have any bullet holes in me, so I kept moving and fighting with our guys. We won at the end of the day, and the medics took care of me on the hush-hush so I could stay in the fight.

That was August 2003 and we didn’t get home until March 2004. I was back in Iraq from November ‘05 through November ‘06, and in October of that stint I got injured in another explosion that further messed up my back. Eventually, the U.S. Army medically retired me in 2012.

I pushed through getting hurt until I couldn’t push any longer. I loved fighting for our country overseas. We were all so proud to serve the U.S. of A. I received the Purple Heart in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., with my little brother Joe – who now serves in the military – getting to pin it on my chest. But after the Army said my time was up – due to back injuries leading to numerous surgeries, including spinal fusions – I returned home with not much to do.

While fortunate to be able to still walk – I eventually got rid of the cane and walker – I was considered disabled and unemployable due to my back and head injuries. I wasn’t allowed to do physical work anymore. In my pre-army days I had been a bull rider, driven a forklift, and worked on semis as a mechanic. What would I do now? It was a dark time in my life.

But a life-changing experience was awaiting me. Franchise ownership – running your own shop as part of a proven, successful business model – can open a whole new promising chapter in your story. Now here I am at 42, and becoming a franchise partner for Mosquito Authority has brought sunshine back to my future.

In Iraq, we considered the enemy to be pests. Now I’m fighting a different kind of pest, which like those in Iraq are often hard to see. The satisfaction now is protecting families from disease-carrying mosquitoes and allowing them to enjoy the outdoors in the summertime.

I look at so many unemployed people now, hopeless and hurting due to the severe economic impact of the coronavirus, and I see operating a franchise as a great opportunity for people. It sure is for me. I remember being hopeless. After returning home from the Army, sitting around doing nothing took a toll.

Also, I had issues trusting people, but that changed when I got to know Daniel McCubbins, a franchise owner for Mosquito Authority, one of the nation’s leading pest control services with franchises all over the country. I was back home in Kentucky, and believing in Daniel and the company. I said yes when he asked me to join him as a partner in a south Louisville franchise.

Had I ever, years ago, thought I would own a business or get into a franchise? No. But Daniel was sold on the quality of the product, the guarantee and no-contract concept, both of which customers like, and the growth rate of the company. And so was I. Customers stay with us because they trust us to protect their yards and their families.

So much for my trust issues!

This great opportunity for me in franchising means, as an investment, I can have more than just my disability payments. I’m back in a leadership role, helping people, and helping a company grow. I feel energized. And I’m enjoying fighting a different kind of pest.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – What Will My Wife’s Benefit Be If I Die?

Dear Rusty: I am 76 years old and began collecting Social Security when I retired at the age of 62. My wife also began collecting SS when she turned 62 based on my benefits. She did not work enough to qualify on her own for Social Security benefits. My question is, how much will my wife receive after my death? Will she receive what I receive now, or will it be a percentage of the total that we both receive? Or will it be based on just my benefits alone or some other formula? Signed: An Inquisitive Senior

Dear Inquisitive: Your wife’s survivor benefit as your widow will be based upon your Social Security benefit alone. Usually a surviving spouse receives the same amount the deceased spouse was receiving at death, if that is more than the survivor is already receiving, and if the survivor has reached their full retirement age. However, in your case, if you should predecease your wife there’s a special rule which may benefit her because you claimed your benefit at age 62.

That rule says that because you claimed before your full retirement age (FRA), your wife’s benefit as your survivor should be at least 82.5% of the benefit you were entitled to at your full retirement age (66), even though you actually claimed at age 62. And because your benefit was reduced by 25% when you took it at age 62, your wife’s benefit as your widow may actually be more than you are receiving when you pass. This special rule is known as the “widow limit,” which stipulates that a surviving spouse is entitled to the greater of what the deceased was receiving while alive, or 82.5% of the deceased’s “primary insurance amount” or “PIA,” which is the amount due at full retirement age.

Here’s an example: If your FRA benefit amount was $1500/month, then your age 62 amount when you claimed was $1125. But due to the special rule, your wife would get $1238 (82.5% of $1500) instead of the reduced $1125 amount. Of course, this example doesn’t reflect the COLA (cost of living) increases which would have been applied to your benefit over the years, but as your widow and because you claimed before your full retirement age, your wife would be entitled to at least 82.5% of your PIA if that is more than the actual amount you were receiving when you passed.

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Job-hunting tips to restore your hope despite the pandemic

This can be an especially frustrating and worrisome time for job seekers. Massive unemployment resulting from the coronavirus pandemic reflects decline and uncertainty in many industries. With fewer companies hiring, some workers who were laid off or furloughed face a more competitive job search.

But while it’s easy to get discouraged, employment numbers are creeping back, and retooling the job search method can help them stand out in the crowd and find desirable employers, says Jack Whatley (www.humancodeofhiring.com), a recruiting strategist who specializes in creating employer-branding campaigns.

“Many companies still are actively recruiting and looking for people with the right skill set and mindset to fit these changing times,” Whatley says. “People seeking employment not only to pay the bills but also to find work that is meaningful to them can leverage this time to be strategic and nimble.

“While there are factors job seekers can’t control, they can choose to equip themselves with more information, skill, and overall preparation, and in the process conduct a successful job search.”

Whatley offers five tips to help job seekers navigate their job search during the pandemic:

Gather intel. Whatley says the pandemic can reveal the essence of a company’s culture, which is a priority for many job candidates today. In the process of searching companies, pay attention to their social media sites and websites, reviews by former employees, and how they are handling things now, Whatley says. “How are they treating employees during this continuing emergency? How have they adapted? Are they working from home? Did they lay off people, and if so, how quickly? Is there a community-mindedness to the business?”

Expand your skill set. With fewer positions or expanded roles in different positions, versatility is key. “This is an ideal time to take online courses to expand your professional toolkit,” Whatley says. “Acquiring new certifications will be helpful when applying for new roles. Use online learning modules for platforms such as Zoom and Skype, which help practice interview skills and remote work. Hiring managers want to know you have the capabilities to navigate the tools and platforms for remote work.”

Expand your network. Data shows that networking remains a frequent factor in getting hired. Whatley says this is the time to make new connections and re-establish existing ones. “First, paint a complete, updated picture with your profile on the job search site,” Whatley says. “Does your headline create a strong brand, and does your profile highlight your accomplishments and capabilities? Include keywords that might appear in job descriptions. Post content on your social media sites to show you’re engaged in meaningful conversation. And challenge yourself to reach out to new people by sending customized invitations.”

Be flexible in career paths. The kind of work one has been accustomed to may not be feasible given the current economic climate and the changes some industries are undergoing. “Research what industries are hiring, those in which you could apply your skills, and consider taking something that may not be on your Plan A list, but rather might be Plan B or C,” Whatley says. “Consider temporary opportunities. Search for opportunities in which you can leverage your transferable skills in a different capacity.”

Be prepared for the virtual interview. Virtual interviewing is the new normal. “Dress appropriately, as though you’re in the company’s office,” Whatley says. “Make your environment clean, appealing, and well-lit. Treat the video interview as though it were in-person. Be aware of making eye contact through the monitor, your tone, and your mannerisms.”

“Be proactive and persistent, but also be patient,” Whatley says. “Hiring processes may go slower for some companies, but there is a lot a job seeker can do to be ready when they call.”

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Give your landscape a late summer facelift

By MELINDA MYERS

Whether it is the hot weather, the age of your landscape or simply the need for change; a late summer makeover can help you increase your landscape’s beauty. Put the “wow” back into your garden with a few new plantings, garden art, or other simple improvements.

Many established landscapes have a few or many overgrown plants. Sometimes the plants you purchase perform better than expected or oftentimes we try to squeeze too many plants into a garden or too large of plants into small spaces.

Remove overcrowded plants that have outgrown the space or lost their ornamental appeal. Replace these and other unsightly plants with those more suited to the growing conditions, your landscape design, and available space. Now is a good time to plan and fall is a great time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. The soil is warm and air cool, making it less stressful on new plantings.

Phase in removals and replacements over time. This is easier on your budget, back, and will keep your landscape looking robust. And be sure to properly space plants to avoid overcrowding in the future. Check plant tags for the plant’s mature size and plant accordingly.

Fill in the voids between new plantings with annuals and perennials. As your shrubs increase in size, you will need fewer annuals each year. Move perennial flowers and grasses to a new garden as your shrubs reach full size. Perennials are much easier to move than an overgrown shrub.

A bit of pruning may be all that is needed to bring back the beauty and reduce the size of overgrown plants. Make a note on your calendar to do a bit of pruning at the right time. Prune spring flowering shrubs right after they bloom. They have already set their flower buds for next spring and pruning now will eliminate the spring floral display. You can prune summer flowering shrubs during their dormant season from fall through spring. Prune evergreens in colder climates in late winter or early spring once the worst winter weather has passed. Fall pruning where winters are brutal can lead to an increase in winter damage.

Replace tired annuals in the garden and containers with fresh plants suited to the upcoming fall season. Don’t be afraid to add dried materials to existing planters for added color and texture. Or create new container gardens to set by the front door and welcome guests. These also make great fillers in the garden. Just place the container in a spot where an existing plant has failed. You will benefit from the instant color and extra time you gain to plan for a permanent replacement.

Garden art is another option for filling those late summer voids in the garden. Or use it to create a focal point, drawing attention to areas that are looking their best.

Adding a few new cushions on your outdoor furniture can further enhance your landscape’s appeal. It is an easy way to change things up with minimal investment of time and money.

Big or small, a few changes can make a big difference. Tackle a few of the easier ones or those with the biggest impact first. Once you get started, you will not want to quit.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

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Virtual school means extra screen time – And added eye strain for kids

This school year is beginning in much the way the last one ended, with many districts opting for virtual learning, which means children sit at home in front of computer screens rather than in a classroom in front of teachers.

But that extra screen time – mixed with the screen time many children and teenagers spend on their own – brings with it the potential for serious eye strain, says Dr. Jeff Kegarise, an optometrist, clinical management expert, and co-author with his wife, Susan, of One Patient at a Time: The K2 Way Playbook for Healthcare & Business Success (www.theK2Way.com).

“Spending too much time in front of screens on computers, phones and tablets can lead to headaches, blurry vision, dry eyes and more,” Kegarise says. “Gritty, scratchy, watery, or irritated eyes can be common because of all the digital devices people use these days.”

And if things aren’t bad enough, even without this added time staring at computers, about one-fourth of children in the U.S. have a vision problem significant enough to affect their performance in school, Kegarise says.

It’s not unusual for some children to spend hours staring at a video game screen, perhaps so caught up in the game’s action that they fail to notice or care about any eye discomfort that results.

Add several hours of online school, though, and eye strain becomes more difficult to ignore.

Kegarise says parents can help their children alleviate some of the eye strain by making sure they do the following:

Take breaks. To a certain extent, students won’t have control over this because teachers will decide when breaks happen during the school day. But ideally, they should take a break from the screen every 30 minutes, Kegarise says.

Choose the right lighting. The type of lighting used in the student’s work space can make a difference. Incandescent lights work better than fluorescent lights because they give off less glare, Kegarise says. “It’s also better if the light is placed over your shoulder than if it’s shining straight down on the screen because that will cause fewer reflections,” he says.

Adjust the position of the computer. The computer monitor and the keyboard should be positioned to conform with the child’s size. Make sure the screen isn’t too high in the child’s field of view. A report by the National Institutes of Health suggests an adjustable chair is the best option to get height just right.

Remind them to blink. Parents should remind children to blink when they spend a lot of time in front of a screen. That helps spread tears across the eyes, keeping the eyes lubricated and aiding in the prevention of dry eyes, Kegarise says.

Even without all this added screen time, children often develop vision issues that hurt their performance in school and sports, Kegarise says. Forty percent of children develop nearsightedness, he says, and it’s an even higher percentage for those who have a parent who is nearsighted.

“In addition, reading difficulties and attention problems are often the result of eye muscle, visual processing, and function problems.” Kegarise says. “Parents who feel that their child has a tougher time reading and comprehending than others should consider an eye exam for them. It’s possible through vision therapy to make life-changing and long-lasting improvements to their learning and confidence.”

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5 financial pressure points to evaluate during COVID times

Financial pressure is a part of life for most people, and now the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new financial pressure points or exacerbated existing ones for many individuals and families.

But to navigate those pressures and build a successful financial strategy, you must first identify where the pressures are coming from, says John Smallwood (www.johnlsmallwood.com), president of Smallwood Wealth Management and author of It’s Your Wealth – Keep It: The Definitive Guide to Growing, Protecting, Enjoying, and Passing On Your Wealth.

“Once you’ve identified financial pressures,” Smallwood says, “you can decide what steps you will take to mitigate or reduce that pressure now and in the future. But if you don’t take any steps, you may end up repeating the mistakes of the past and never reach your financial goals.

“Major lifetime events such as the pandemic and the financial crisis of 2007-2008 can result in big financial setbacks for people and their portfolios for years thereafter. But identifying financial pressure points allows you to capture unique dynamics and elements of your financial life and form the building blocks of a wealth plan.”

Smallwood says to identify specific financial pressures, focus on the following areas:

Family. “The key to a successful wealth plan is not just the numbers,” Smallwood says. “What matters is the family dynamics – spouse, ex-spouses, children, parents, siblings, and in-laws. And right now, changes within a home can be tremendous because of the virus.” There are business struggles and cash-flow issues. Meanwhile, children are at home more because schools are uncertain of when they will be in session. Smallwood says the ages, health, and financial situations of all the individual members of the family can have an impact on the overall finances.

Income. “The majority of people have less than $50,000 in the bank,” Smallwood says, “and they have more in qualified and nonqualified assets. Where most balance sheets fall down is by looking only at income. You also want to look at all of the liabilities and future liabilities, and how assets and interests will determine income and cover your obligations in the future.”

Taxes. Knowing the details of your taxes can lead to better planning around them and lessen that pressure point. “Most people do not know what they really pay in federal or state taxes,” Smallwood says. “If you look at the income and understand where the taxes are, you can begin to find strategies for reducing the amount of income that shows up on a tax return, but still get money back and grow the wealth.”

Savings. What percentage of income are you actually saving, and where is going? “If it’s going to a retirement plan, we want to know whether any available employer match is being maximized,” Smallwood says. “Is the savings being built up in life insurance cash values or annuities? But when it comes to saving, it’s all about the habit itself.”

Debt structure. Debt can include everything from credit cards to car loans, mortgages to student loans. “The key with debt is to look at how it is structured,” Smallwood says. “Is the cash flow optimal? Paying off debt is a form of savings, but if it’s done the wrong way, you won’t have enough liquidity.”

“It’s critical to view the whole financial picture and see where you are spending and saving money currently,” Smallwood says. “If you don’t know, you’re not going to get to where you want to go.”

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How to stop toxic leadership from spreading a virus in your company

Toxic workplaces sometimes start at the top. Difficult, abrasive leaders can create a culture of tension, fear, and abusive behavior at every organizational level.

Those types of leaders may produce results, but their actions also lead to dysfunction and employee turnover.

Ending the pattern of toxicity starts with companies recognizing red flags, coming up with new principles of management behavior, and holding leaders accountable for their actions, says Dr. Katrina Burrus, author of Managing Brilliant Jerks: How Organizations and Coaches Can Transform Difficult Leaders into Powerful Visionaries (www.ExcellentExecutiveCoaching.com).

“Organizations often overlook abrasive behavior or see it as a necessary means to an end,” Burrus says. “This sends employees the message that such behavior is acceptable and to be imitated to skyrocket up the corporate ladder. Then it’s like a virus that continues to spread.

“All too often, companies are overly results-oriented. Leaders tend to be preoccupied with what needs to be done and what key performance indicators to monitor, but they rarely pay attention to how the work is to be done and whether employees are using acceptable behaviors to achieve those results. This focus on outcome over methods allows toxic behaviors to remain unchecked for years.”

Burrus suggests the following ways businesses can encourage leaders to engage in healthy behavior and detoxify the culture:

Establish specific codes of conduct. Burrus says correcting or preventing abusive behavior by leaders means first establishing a code of conduct – with management principles – as an essential part of the corporate culture. “Communicate to all employees, including supervisors, managers, and executives, that the organization will not tolerate bullying to any degree,” Burrus says. “Post these codes everywhere – in company manuals, in meeting rooms, on the website – and discuss them at kickoff meetings and conferences. The codes of conduct should explicitly state that employees who violate this principle will be disciplined and may be terminated. Organization heads should communicate to their brilliant jerks that they are valued for their brilliance, but that misbehavior has consequences, which will be applied.”

Expand evaluations. “Leaders should be evaluated not only on what results they are achieving, but also on how they are performing as overall leaders,” Burrus says. “Performance reviews should also consider the quality of interactions with employees. It’s important in this evaluation process that employees should have an opportunity to evaluate their manager’s leadership in annual or semi-annual reviews.”

Offer coaching and support. “If they are receptive,” Burrus says, “brilliant jerks should be offered the support of a customized coaching program to help them change their destructive behaviors and leverage their strengths. They need to be shown how their outstanding abilities that help the company are being undermined by a lack of interpersonal skills. All too often, leaders think an authoritative, demonstrative style is largely responsible for their success, when an argument can be made that it’s just as responsible for driving good people away, and for planting the seeds of their own future derailment.”

“Management needs to keep behavior principles in mind and reference them every day,” Burrus says. “Otherwise, the company’s values and leadership principles are just talk, and it risks creating cynics throughout the organization.”

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Why you should know the ABCs of investing before you start

Financial literacy in America has long been lacking, spanning the generations. It’s well-documented the problem begins with a lack of education on personal finance in youth and extends to the autumn working years, when many people are ill-prepared for retirement.

Yet, it’s never too late to address this shortfall of important knowledge, and for those trying to formulate a retirement plan, it starts with grasping some basic investment terms that many people find slippery, says Bob Kaye (www.bobkaye.net), a personal wealth manager and the author of How to Avoid Not Having Enough Money To Live On After Retirement: Making Smarter and Simpler Decisions for Stress-free Retirement.

“In my work with investors who are planning for retirement, I have found there is generally a limited understanding of investment terminology,” Kaye says. “They don’t want to appear unsophisticated, so they will not ask the questions they should ask.

“The many types of retirement plans, tax statuses, etc., are complicated, and a simpler approach to learning them is needed. At the same time, there are conflicting theories, opinions and data in the investment field, and those factors can be detrimental to someone trying to plan for retirement.”

Kaye explains some key investment terms and how knowing them can help one avoid mistakes in retirement planning:

Risk. People sometimes think an investment is risky if its value can go down. But Kaye says that logic may get you in trouble. “The stock market, which goes up and down, might be less risky over the long term than a savings account, which never goes down,” Kaye says. The reason: Based on historical averages, the stock market can increase eight times its value in a 20-year period. “A savings account might increase only twice its value in the same period,” Kaye says. “That’s a big loss on the potential return for the person who chose the savings account. Often, the definition of risk to most people does not include short-term or long-term loss, which it should.”

Short-term investments vs. long-term investments. A failure to understand the distinction between short-term and long-term investments is responsible for a large portion of consumer unhappiness with investments, Kaye says. Examples of short-term investments are savings accounts, certificates of deposit, or fixed accounts. “Usually, any place to put money with a guaranteed rate is a short-term investment,” he says. “This is because you do not usually want money to fluctuate in value if you need it soon.” Kaye draws the line of demarcation between short term and long term at about five years, and he puts stocks in the latter investment bracket. “Due to the frequent ups and downs of stock investments, they are usually only a correct investment for the long term,” Kaye says. “Historically, after five years, the market may be up or even, but not significantly down.”

Mutual funds. “Some people get mutual funds and individual stocks mixed up,” Kaye says. “The risk can be significantly different. A mutual fund is usually a much safer way to invest than buying only one or two stocks. It is an arrangement in which someone invests in about 100 different stocks all at one time, requiring only one minimal investment. With such a diversified investment, even if one of the companies – and these are large companies – went completely under, you might barely notice the difference in your overall investment. Each company could be only 1 or 2% of your total investment.”

“Knowing the basics of investing cannot be accentuated enough,” Kaye says. “An understanding of them is needed to navigate a field fraught with conflicting opinions and advice, and to build a stronger foundation for financial success.”

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5 tips to focus your company’s transformation as COVID forces change

While the recession caused by COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on businesses of all sizes and industries, some are finding new ways to run daily operations, reach customers, re-shape their business, and stay relevant.

But others are still trying to figure out how to transform, and an expert in the field says that launching a transformation begins with setting the right scope.

“Over the years, I have seen an ill-defined program scope cause serious problems,” says Edwin Bosso (www.myrtlegroup.com), founder and CEO of Myrtle Consulting Group and the ForbesBooks author of 6,000 Dreams: The Leader’s Guide To A Successful Business Transformation Journey.

“For example, the scope may drift from the originally defined target. The scope is the description of the transformation’s area of focus, and in most cases the scope is defined as a combination of categories. Examples are functional – sales, logistics, production, operations – and organizational – leadership, technology, processes, management systems. It’s most important that the scope is defined to address the challenges at hand and avoid distractions or wasted resources.”

Bosso has five tips for companies to set the right scope for their transformation:

Articulate the problem. Which problem are you trying to solve? Bosso says that question is at the heart of a company transformation. “Defining the specific problem may take numerous discussions and disagreements,” Bosso says. “The human brain has a natural tendency to drift. Blurry lines sometimes separate root causes and symptoms. This step is generally completed with a well-crafted statement of the problem that the organization is setting up to solve.”

List the ways. “When properly conducted,” Bosso says, “this step helps in visualizing the solution. Listing possible solutions is a way of testing the definition of the problem. This step calls for honest questions and thorough analysis to identify the solution options.”

Identify the means. “This is the stage where you test the capabilities of the organization against solution options by identifying necessary means,” Bosso says. “It comes down to understanding internal means, or levers that would need to be pulled to solve the problem. Potential means available might include people, office space, computer systems, or technical expertise in sales, R&D, inventory management and procurement. The process allows organizations to match the correct means to solutions.”

Capture the enablers. Examples of enablers key to the transformation process are those in program management and data science. “Enablers cannot operate on their own to make something happen,” Bosso says. “They are, however, necessary or simply useful for that same thing to happen. For example, change management cannot improve the performance of the sales organization without some level of sales expertise. Once enablers are defined, it is important to capture the various ways in which each enabler supports the transformation program.”

Explore synergies and interdependencies. This step focuses on understanding the overlaps, synergy opportunities, and constraints caused by ongoing initiatives. “Start with a list of all current initiatives that the organization is running,” Bosso says. “The finance department is typically a good source for the information. Meetings should be held with each team, and it’s important to understand that each may be protective of its objective, ways, and means. This could set up turf battles and heated discussions, so explicitly setting the objective of the meetings to understand synergies can help alleviate disagreements and fears.”

“Undergoing a major transformation is really the best hope for struggling businesses to survive in these difficult times,” Bosso says. “There is no time to waste. There are no resources to waste. To get your transformation on target, setting the right scope is critical from the outset.”

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Why today’s leaders are channeling ancient philosophers

Steve Jobs wished he had met Socrates.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Marcus Aurelius fan.

Elon Musk leans toward Aristotle.

Across the land – and the world – leaders in business, government and other areas look to the future by seeking wisdom from the past – the far past.

While that might sound surprising, perhaps it shouldn’t be – especially when it comes to entrepreneurs and CEOs.

“Philosophy is one of the most important things that can be introduced into the corporate world today because of its fundamental properties and practical benefits,” says Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of Wise Up! At Work and founder of MorAlchemy, a leadership consulting firm that helps CEOs and executives use philosophy to tackle challenges by teaching them to think differently and see new solutions to help their companies thrive.

“In fact, most of the important and progressive management, communication, and organizational practices are based on principles firmly rooted in philosophy.”

Helping others and doing your work dutifully come from philosophies of service espoused by Romans such as Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, DiGiacomo says. Ideas of employee-centric cultures and employee-driven suggestions are a modern expression of Plato’s ideas. Reciprocity and meritocracy, mutually beneficial acts, and equitable work cultures can be traced to ideas from Confucius.

“Even the idea of work/life balance has philosophical moorings in Lao Tzu’s teaching on balance in life,” DiGiacomo says.

At some level, many top leaders understand this – either knowingly or unknowingly channeling ancient philosophers whose wisdom has remained constant and relevant for centuries.

Just a few examples of the phenomenon are:

Musk and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings have both used “first principles” thinking to grow their businesses. The term “first principles” was coined more than 2,000 years ago by Aristotle, who believed we learn more by understanding a subject’s fundamental principles, breaking down problems into their basic elements and then reassembling them.

Schwarzenegger, the actor, politician and businessman, cited the words of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius when he addressed 2020 graduates in a video commencement speech. The COVID-19 pandemic created plenty of obstacles in the final months of school for those students, inspiring Schwarzenegger to use the Aurelius quote: “What stands in the way becomes the way.” In other words, Schwarzenegger told the graduates, impediments that keep us from our goals can also be the motivation to achieve our goals.

Robert Ceravolo, head of Tropic Ocean Airways, said in a Forbes interview that one way he manages the stress of running a business is by reading about stoicism, particularly Aurelius and Seneca. “What makes something good or bad is your perception of whether or not it’s good or bad,” Ceravolo says. “When [the worst] happens, it’s not a massive shock.”

Lucio Tan Jr., CEO of Tanduay Distillers Inc., has said that his father taught him Confucian values, such as doing to others as if you’re the other person. Tan has said the Chinese philosopher’s teachings “give you a deeper perspective of humanity, respect for others and for nature,” and have served as a guide for his approach to leadership and life.

“The reason ancient philosophers continue to have relevance in America’s corporate boardrooms is simple,” DiGiacomo says. “Their ideas stand the test of time and still have practical applications in the 21st century, just as they did hundreds or thousands of years ago.”

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Pandemics, politics and the impact of women in leadership roles

Despite enormous strides in business, government and other areas, women don’t always get the respect men do for their leadership abilities, even when they can boast greater accomplishments.

But the combination of a pandemic, a recession and an election that 2020 brought could be the impetus for changing the way people view women and their leadership styles, a development that many would argue is long overdue, says Andi Simon (www.andisimon.com), a corporate anthropologist, founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants, and author of the upcoming book Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business.

“It’s time we started seeing women leaders through a fresh lens,” Simon says. “When we do, we will all benefit from their styles and their successes.”

Because presidential candidate Joe Biden picked U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, the country potentially could have its first female vice president on Jan. 20, 2021.

Meanwhile, around the world, many countries led by women have fared better during the COVID-19 pandemic than those led by men, with New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen among those being hailed for their strong leadership.

Simon says anyone surprised women have what it takes to emerge as great leaders may have fallen for myths that surround both men and women when it comes to taking charge.

“Men communicate a myth about women that emphasizes their soft sides, their kindness, and their weakness, not their decisiveness, strength and ingenuity,” she says. “Women might lead differently, but they can and are achieving remarkable results through collaboration, coordination, and creative communication, as opposed to the command-and-control methods men often employ.”

Simon offers a few observations about women, leadership and where things could be headed:

Research shows women score better on leadership qualities. Research published last year in the Harvard Business Review showed that, over several surveys that asked the same questions, women ranked higher than men on almost all key factors measuring leadership capabilities. “Managers, even male managers, saw women as more effective than men in virtually every area, including areas typically viewed as male strongholds such as IT, operations and legal,” Simon says. Women ranked high in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and showing high integrity and honesty.

More female mentors and role models will mean more female leaders. As more women gain leadership roles, the number of women in such roles will build on itself, Simon says. ““The script on women changing male-dominated workplace culture is still being written,” she says. “But one thing is for sure: The more women become leaders and assume positions of authority, the more they can help other women on their way up.”

An anthropological approach can help. Simon is both a business consultant and an anthropologist, and she believes mixing the two is beneficial. “My career advice for women in leadership roles is to be a little anthropological when you are trying to find your own way in your job or business,” she says. “Do some observational research. Experience your product or service from your customer's point of view, or your employees' point of view. You'll be amazed at what you discover, and the innovative ideas that come to you for solving unmet needs.”

“Our cultural biases lead us to believe that something created by a woman is not as good as something created by a man,” Simon says. “For us to see the work of women as at least equal to that of men, those biases must change. The question for all of us is: Can we change them?”

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He had a hunch

Some lottery players have a system they’ve devised to “beat the system” and some simply play the game on a “hunch.” But would you risk putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, and purchase 25 “pick 4” tickets using the same numbers? Raymond Harrington did just that while shopping at a Virginia Beach, VA supermarket recently. His gambit payed off, big time, when the four numbers he chose, 4640, paid off and each of the 25 tickets gave him a return on his dollar-a-ticket gamble of $5,000 for a total of $125,000. As he put it, "Something just told me to play 25 times."

Finders keepers

The British are fond of treasure hunting with the use of metal detectors. Those who engage in the pastime take it seriously. In fact, they are known as “detectorists” and there’s even an organization that many belong to known as the National Council for Metal Detecting. Some detectorists search beaches and parks in hope of finding a long lost item of value. But, Luke Mahoney, Dan Hunt and Matt Brown of Suffolk, England are team players and they recently got permission from the owners of a pub in the town of Lindsey to search the establishments 15-acre back yard. And, they are now potentially $130,000 richer for the effort. That’s the estimated value of their find of 1,061 silver coins dating as far back as the 15th century.

The write stuff

Czech playwrights Karel and Josef Capek wrote a play in 1921 called R.U.R. The initials stand for Rossum's Universal Robots and the play is credited with originating the word “robot.” And so, to celebrate the drama’s hundredth anniversary researchers at Charles University in Prague, at the behest of financier Tomas Studenik, hope they can get real, 21st century robots to write a play about men. To that end, an artificial intelligence team is hard at work developing what they call “a general tool for theater script generation.” If they can get the creative juices of their android playwrights flowing in time, they are planning to schedule a January 2021 opening night for their artful, artificial theatrical production.

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History Matters

A biweekly feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

By August 1782, the American Revolution was over, John Adams was in Paris toiling over a peace agreement, and George Washington was taking a respite from his duties as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. After contemplating the six years of valor, bravery, and privations he had gotten from his troops, the General decided to create the Badge of Military Merit.

According to the Military Order of the Purple Heart “In its shape and color, the Badge anticipated and inspired the modern Purple Heart. In the exceptional level of courage required to be considered for the Badge, however, it was the forerunner of the Medal of Honor.”

But it fell out of use, even after it was presented to three known recipients of the original Badge: Elijah Churchill, William Brown and Daniel Bissell, Jr. In 1931 Generals Charles Summerall and Douglas MacArthur lobbied Congress to reauthorize a newly named “Order of the Purple Heart” in time for Washington’s 200th birthday celebration on February 22, 1932.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Military Medals of the United States by Frank Foster and Lawrence Borts.

Often, museums are named after their artifacts or collections; for example, it is easy to know what one will find in the Museum of Natural History. But, what about the Smithsonian Institution? In August 1846, James Smithson, a British benefactor, who had never been to America, bequeathed his $500,000 estate—$16,740,065 in today’s dollars—to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Since then, it has morphed into 18 museums, including the National Zoo. Learn more about it in The Smithsonian Experience: Science, History, the Arts ... the Treasures of the Nation by the Smithsonian Institution.

Music festivals are an American tradition, but the grandest was the fabled Woodstock; it opened August 15, 1969 on a 600-acre patch of farmland near the village of Bethel, NY. Its young promoters, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman, Artie Kornfield, and Michael Lang were relatively inexperienced, but they were optimistic about attracting a sizeable audience--enough to help them finance a rock-and-roll recording studio.

Early estimates indicated 50,000 music enthusiasts would show for the three-day event, but nearly 500,000 came, because of the enticing lineup of performers, which included Jefferson Airplane, the Who, the Grateful Dead; Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix; Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Melanie; Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, and Joe Cocker.

America’s love of music started during Colonial times. The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Music: INVESTIGATE THE EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN SOUND by Donna Latham.

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4 factors to consider before buying an essential business in COVID times

The shutdowns and rollbacks of businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to play havoc with the U.S. economy. But the least-affected businesses during the crisis, for the most part, have been those deemed “essential” by state and local governments, allowing those companies to remain fully operational or close to it.

Meanwhile, with the idea that essential businesses can be recession-proof and even boom during a public crisis, buying one is becoming a more attractive prospect for some people, says Chris Buitron, president of Mosquito Authority® (www.mosquito-authority.com).

“Our current economic challenges as a nation are showing that owning an essential business can be a solid financial strategy for an individual,” Buitron says. “They are practical purchases. They are not often glamorous businesses, but they make sense largely because they offer services that are currently in demand, and as such they can weather economic downturns.

“Some essential businesses, such as ours, are busier than ever as people are trying to maintain social distance by staying home and not taking many vacations. People consider protection from mosquito bites and the diseases they carry as a high priority for their family’s health and outdoor enjoyment. Like other essential businesses, our franchisees provide measures of security and comfort, allowing people to enjoy being in their yards at a time so many are cooped up inside due to the pandemic.

“And at the same time, all kinds of essential businesses provide ownership opportunities while millions of unemployed people are looking for new opportunities or new career tracks. Perhaps they’re looking to be their own boss and to have more control over their financial future.”

Buitron suggests considering the following when weighing whether to buy an essential business:

Focus on successful types of essential businesses. Among the essential businesses that have the potential to succeed even during difficult economic times are: delivery services, grocery stores, convenience stores, e-commerce, gas stations, cleaning services, liquor stores, auto repair, lawn care, pest control, mailing/shipping services, and contracting. “The pandemic may be with us for a while,” Buitron says. “People will be home more often, and businesses that can service their needs while home will gain customers.”

Consider franchises as ownership opportunities. While some franchises are struggling during the pandemic, others are in a better position, Buitron says. “For franchises in general, much of the industry will be entering a buyer’s market, and those with the means will find some good opportunities,” he says. “People need jobs, and franchises annually employ 9 million people in the U.S. One benefit of buying a franchise is having an organizational and management team already in place to train you and help guide you. Reach out to other franchise owners to get a sense of the company’s commitment and support.”

Know a bargain vs. a bad investment. A relatively low sale price tempts some people into making a poor buying decision on a business. Buitron says it’s important to pore over the business’ financial numbers that it recorded before the pandemic and do all the research possible – especially of the market where the business is located – to determine if it was on a growth track and what the competition is like. “Two questions you need to ask yourself as a potential buyer of an essential business are: What can you bring new to the business to make it more successful, and why was or wasn’t it profitable?” he says.

Be sure you’re up to owning a business. “There are no guarantees with owning an essential business,” Buitron says. “The pandemic has put a spotlight on their importance, but they take lots of work and organizational skills to run. If you are someone who can’t deal well with uncertainty, buying a business any time, let alone during the most uncertain time in our history, isn’t the right choice. Buying a business and committing to it requires thorough research, a passion for the business, a solid financial foundation and a leap of faith.”

“Owning an essential business brings with it the satisfaction of providing necessary services for people,” Buitron says. “In these times especially, that’s a noble pursuit.”

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Zooming in on appearance: Why cosmetic surgery is popular during the pandemic

Cosmetic surgery was on an upward trend for several years before the pandemic, and the outbreak of the coronavirus hasn’t hurt its popularity.

Since the lifting of lockdown and shelter-in-place orders across the country, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) has reported an increased demand in patients considering cosmetic enhancements. One factor driving the interest: People have had extra time to dwell on their physical dissatisfactions and also to actually address them, says Dr. Scott Miller (www.MillerCosmeticSurgery.com), a cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon.

“Working from home, being seen a lot (and seeing themselves) via company video conferences, and having mask-wearing bring increased focus to certain facial features, I think a lot of people have had a tremendous amount of time to be super-critical of themselves,” Dr. Miller says. “They pick up on things they want to improve about their appearance.

“With people being cooped for a long time, across the country you are seeing pent-up demand. We have seen an increase in consultations and surgeries across the board. In particular, people seem to be noticing their necks and jowls. In many cases, they bring in screenshots from their Zoom calls.”

Dr. Miller says some of the more popular cosmetic procedures people are having done during the pandemic are:

Facial rejuvenation. With considerably more face time required as companies work remotely, facelifts, neck lifts, eyelid and brow lifts are keeping cosmetic surgeons busy. “On Zoom with your boss and co-workers, you can’t help but stare at your face, neck, and crow’s feet,” Dr. Miller says. “And with people wearing masks in public, there’s no better time to hide the neck and lower face during the healing process from cosmetic surgery. That’s probably why we’re doing more lower-face and neck lifts than ever before.”

Body contouring. Liposuction, in which excess fat is removed to contour the body, is annually one of the most frequent cosmetic procedures. It and abdominoplasty – better known as a “tummy tuck” – ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the recent ASPS survey. “Being overweight is an epidemic in our country,” Dr. Miller says, “and sitting around at home quite a bit now, people are more aware of it and tired of it. The body contouring aspect of cosmetic surgery has boomed due to dissatisfaction with diet- and exercise-resistant figure faults. Also, there is newfound time to address this situation definitively with safe, state-of-the-art procedures.”

Lip injections. Fillers like Juvéderm are as popular as ever, despite masks being pervasive and supposedly lessening one’s concern with how their lips look. “You’d think due to face coverings extending from the nose to the mouth that people would only be concerned about their eye areas,” Dr. Miller says. “While they are noticing (and seeking treatment for) their eyes more because of mask-wearing in public, many people are on Zoom, where they are mask-less and noticing their lips and jaw lines in full high definition! They definitely get passionate about filling and shaping them. And again, with masks, you can cover up any swelling and bruising from lip injections.”

Breast augmentation and reduction. The ASPS reports breast augmentations were the most common cosmetic surgery procedure in 2019, and while conducting telemedicine appointments during lockdown, surgeons received many requests for both breast augmentation and breast reduction. “Breast improvement consults – enlargement, reduction, and reshaping – can be easily initiated by taking all the measurements and photographs from the patient’s home,” Dr. Miller says. “During the video consultation, while looking at the photographs, doctors can explain how the procedures are done and what the post-up situation will be.”

“More people want to be the best version of themselves,” Dr. Miller says. “The pandemic has caused people to think more about what they want out of life and how they want to live it, and many are deciding now is the time to make changes they’ve long wanted.”

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The 'musts’ to make meetings safer in the age of COVID-19

By DR. RICHARD ARRIVIELLO

Large corporate meetings and industry events, so much a part of the American business ecosystem, remain on hold, have been postponed, or have been cancelled altogether. When they will happen again is anybody’s guess.

COVID-19’s spikes in many states have prompted pauses and rollbacks to business re-openings and put large gatherings farther into the future. But at the same time, the uncertainty gives event planners and business leaders more time to learn how they can protect and monitor the health of large numbers of people when it is deemed safer to hold such events.

By nature, travel and mass gatherings at conference centers or hotels are high-risk for getting sick. The ultra-contagious coronavirus, resulting in a world-wide pandemic that now finds the U.S. as the epicenter, continually reminds us that there is no definitive playbook to combat it. And there is a palpable anxiety and outright fear people have now, and will continue to have, until an effective vaccine is approved.

So, whenever meetings finally resume, planners will need to have a plan in place for protecting their attendees, reducing the risk of infection spread, and providing every stakeholder with the resources they need without fearing for their health. Essentially, we need to re-establish health security in the meetings industry, and doing so means applying three main principles from which a sound plan can be formed.

Prevention. There are certain things you must do to prevent illness at a meeting. They include seating configurations that allow for social distancing, sending out communications about all the protocols, encouraging frequent breaks for hand washing, and disinfecting surfaces more frequently in heavy-traffic rooms. Hotel staff should guarantee the cleaning of each meeting room between each meeting, including the cleaning of all chair/table surfaces and spraying the room before the next group arrives. Also, you need the ability to provide PPE or work with a vendor to procure masks and gloves for those who will still be on edge about attending.

Detection. If you’re a forward-thinking company that’s going to hold meetings this fall or in the winter of 2021, you will have to deal with sick attendees. They may have the seasonal flu, a cold, or they may have COVID-19, and you need to plan accordingly. It starts with giving temperature checks at the beginning of each day, temperature checks at general sessions, and temperature checks when people are registering at the conference.

If there are people at the meeting showing flu-like symptoms, it’s a must to find out whether they have COVID-19, and providing access to rapid COVID-19 testing. The testing doesn’t necessarily have to be on site; if not, find a local resource to do the testing.

Response. If some attendees are sick, meeting organizers need to know how they will handle that. It’s advisable to come up with a strong sick-attendee policy that’s enforceable and that can be monitored. That means if one is sick, they don’t attend the meeting, or if at the meeting they must go back to their room. If testing is positive for COVID, they have to be quarantined. Who did they come into close contact with while at the meeting? Those people, too, will need to be tested.

Remember, communication is extraordinarily important at a large meeting – now more than ever. You may want to have somebody dedicated to that role, putting informative and honest content together. Attendees must be told the facts, such as what the COVID situation is at that time in the U.S. and in the city where the meeting is held. Give people the opportunity to ask questions and address them. Conference planners are not medical experts, so it’s helpful to guide attendees to appropriate websites that can update them on the virus and safety precautions.

What the meetings industry needs to start accepting is that pandemics now happen more frequently – we’ve had two in the first two decades of the 21st century. It’s an industry always vulnerable to illness. Therefore, the industry should adhere to the principles above and develop consistent strategies to reduce that vulnerability, and in future pandemics we won’t have such a decimation as we’ve seen with the industry in the past few months. It will take an industry-wide effort of getting leaders to work together and create standards.

About Dr. Richard Arriviello

Dr. Richard Arriviello (www.inhousephysicians.com) has been the CMO for InHouse Physicians for over 15 years, helping provide employee health services to some of the largest corporations in the world. Most recently he spearheaded IHP's COVID return-to- work program for employers. Dr. Arriviello graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his residency at Midwestern University in Chicago. He is board-certified in Emergency Medicine, licensed to practice medicine in over 20 states, and has worked for the past 25 years in a variety of medical settings, ranging from level-one trauma centers to regional community hospitals and multinational corporations.

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How businesses can avoid becoming irrelevant in a changing world

The business world has produced a veritable graveyard of once magnificently successful companies that came, conquered and thrived – but ultimately perished.

In many cases, those businesses share a common reason for their demise: Times changed. They didn’t.

“I’ve always been fond of the saying that if you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less,” says Adam Witty, a successful entrepreneur and the ForbesBooks co-author of Authority Marketing: Your Blueprint to Build Thought Leadership That Grows Business, Attracts Opportunity, and Makes Competition Irrelevant.

“Over the years, many businesses discovered they didn’t change quickly enough, much to their chagrin. Others realized their old business model no longer applied, and they did adapt.”

In the last decade or so, media companies especially have had to navigate their way through an extraordinary disruption of their business models, says Witty, who also is the founder and CEO of Advantage|ForbesBooks (www.advantagefamily.com).

“Reading habits and advertising habits shifted,” he says. “This meant media companies needed to diversify and be innovative if they wanted to continue to thrive.”

Witty was involved in such a diversification recently when his company announced a partnership with American City Business Journals, the publisher of 44 weekly Business Journals in cities across the U.S. Through the partnership, American City Business Journals is branching out into the book-publishing field with the creation of Business Journals Books, an enterprise that will be operated jointly with Witty’s company.

“This is an exciting new way for them to be creative and create a new revenue stream for their business,” Witty says.

With COVID-19 and the 2020 recession forcing companies to navigate their way through even more changes, Witty says businesses that want to avoid tumbling into irrelevance need to:

Review and rank their products. A few years ago when Witty’s company did such a ranking, he realized one product line the business had offered for years didn’t measure up and needed to go. “It was hard to deliver, had low gross margins, was extremely people intensive, and had very limited scalability,” he says. “The time, energy, effort and capital we were investing in this product line were taking away our ability to invest in new products that would be more scalable and more profitable.”

Always be on the lookout for new ideas. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so savvy business leaders are always open to new ideas for bringing in revenue, Witty says. “You should also encourage employees to suggest ideas,” he says. “Maybe a lot of those won’t work. But the more ideas that get tossed around, the better the odds something will prove a winner.”

Favor facts and data over opinions. No matter how much an entrepreneur loves the business plan they used originally to launch their business, they need to make decisions about the future based on facts and data, Witty says. “You must deal with the way things are, rather than the way you want them to be,” he says. “Facts and data will tell you the way things are.”

“Because of COVID-19 and the recession, a willingness to adapt to changing consumer habits and ways of doing business is probably more important than ever,” Witty says. “The businesses most likely to thrive coming out of this are those that have a plan, but also remain flexible and are willing to change that plan as the circumstances around them change.”

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4 factors to consider before buying an essential business in COVID times

The shutdowns and rollbacks of businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to play havoc with the U.S. economy. But the least-affected businesses during the crisis, for the most part, have been those deemed “essential” by state and local governments, allowing those companies to remain fully operational or close to it.

Meanwhile, with the idea that essential businesses can be recession-proof and even boom during a public crisis, buying one is becoming a more attractive prospect for some people, says Chris Buitron, president of Mosquito Authority® (www.mosquito-authority.com).

“Our current economic challenges as a nation are showing that owning an essential business can be a solid financial strategy for an individual,” Buitron says. “They are practical purchases. They are not often glamorous businesses, but they make sense largely because they offer services that are currently in demand, and as such they can weather economic downturns.

“Some essential businesses, such as ours, are busier than ever as people are trying to maintain social distance by staying home and not taking many vacations. People consider protection from mosquito bites and the diseases they carry as a high priority for their family’s health and outdoor enjoyment. Like other essential businesses, our franchisees provide measures of security and comfort, allowing people to enjoy being in their yards at a time so many are cooped up inside due to the pandemic.

“And at the same time, all kinds of essential businesses provide ownership opportunities while millions of unemployed people are looking for new opportunities or new career tracks. Perhaps they’re looking to be their own boss and to have more control over their financial future.”

Buitron suggests considering the following when weighing whether to buy an essential business:

Focus on successful types of essential businesses. Among the essential businesses that have the potential to succeed even during difficult economic times are: delivery services, grocery stores, convenience stores, e-commerce, gas stations, cleaning services, liquor stores, auto repair, lawn care, pest control, mailing/shipping services, and contracting. “The pandemic may be with us for a while,” Buitron says. “People will be home more often, and businesses that can service their needs while home will gain customers.”

Consider franchises as ownership opportunities. While some franchises are struggling during the pandemic, others are in a better position, Buitron says. “For franchises in general, much of the industry will be entering a buyer’s market, and those with the means will find some good opportunities,” he says. “People need jobs, and franchises annually employ 9 million people in the U.S. One benefit of buying a franchise is having an organizational and management team already in place to train you and help guide you. Reach out to other franchise owners to get a sense of the company’s commitment and support.”

Know a bargain vs. a bad investment. A relatively low sale price tempts some people into making a poor buying decision on a business. Buitron says it’s important to pore over the business’ financial numbers that it recorded before the pandemic and do all the research possible – especially of the market where the business is located – to determine if it was on a growth track and what the competition is like. “Two questions you need to ask yourself as a potential buyer of an essential business are: What can you bring new to the business to make it more successful, and why was or wasn’t it profitable?” he says.

Be sure you’re up to owning a business. “There are no guarantees with owning an essential business,” Buitron says. “The pandemic has put a spotlight on their importance, but they take lots of work and organizational skills to run. If you are someone who can’t deal well with uncertainty, buying a business any time, let alone during the most uncertain time in our history, isn’t the right choice. Buying a business and committing to it requires thorough research, a passion for the business, a solid financial foundation and a leap of faith.”

“Owning an essential business brings with it the satisfaction of providing necessary services for people,” Buitron says. “In these times especially, that’s a noble pursuit.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About the Virtues of Claiming Benefits Early

Dear Rusty: It seems like we are always encouraged to wait until our full retirement age or age 70 to claim our Social Security. For me, benefits at age 62 were a good jump start to my retirement. How about listing the many benefits to early (age 62) retirement? And at what age does it become a liability, if ever? Signed: Happily Retired at age 78

Dear Happily Retired: You’re correct that most financial advisors and Social Security Advisors, including me, frequently encourage people to delay claiming Social Security until at least their full retirement age (FRA). And that’s because far too many claim their benefits as soon as they are available at age 62 “because it’s there,” without evaluating whether that’s a smart move for them personally. There are many reasons why it’s best to wait, but there are also some very good reasons for claiming benefits at age 62. Let’s explore those.

Claiming at age 62 is exactly the right move if you are in poor health and don’t expect to live a long life. Benefits taken age 62 are 25% less for those with a full retirement age (FRA) of 66, and 30% less if your FRA is 67. But those reductions become insignificant if you don’t expect to live a long, healthy life from that point forward. If you wait until your FRA, it takes about 12 years to collect the same amount in total benefits as if you had claimed at age 62.

Even if you are in decent health now, if your family history and your lifestyle suggest less than average longevity, claiming before your FRA, as early as 62, may be a prudent choice. By “lifestyle” I mean, for example, whether you exercise regularly, smoke or drink excessively or drive without a seatbelt. There are several life expectancy calculators available which can assist with predicting your life expectancy by evaluating your family history and lifestyle, including those available at this website: https://socialsecurityreport.org/tools/life-expectancy-calculator/. Just remember that no one can accurately forecast how long they will live but making an informed decision on when to claim should consider your estimated longevity, among other things.

If collecting your Social Security benefits early is needed to help pay for life’s necessities, such as food, housing, and out-of-pocket medical costs, then claiming as early as age 62, or any other time before your FRA, could be exactly the right choice. In other words, the need for the money now is a driving force in deciding when to claim.

Which brings me to your point that claiming at age 62 was a “jump start” to your retirement, allowing you to begin enjoying your golden years much earlier than you might have otherwise been able to. There’s a lot to be said for taking benefits early to fulfill your bucket list while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. And, from your signature, it looks like you’ve been putting that extra Social Security money to good use for many years now. Good for you! Now, at age 78, you’ve reached your “breakeven point” where, if you had waited until your FRA to claim, your cumulative lifetime benefits would hereafter be more than they will be because you claimed at 62. That may not, however, offset the many years of happy retirement you’ve been able to enjoy because you took your benefits early.

In the end, deciding when to claim Social Security should be done after carefully evaluating your personal situation. Anyone who claims benefits before their full retirement age must beware of Social Security’s “earnings test” which limits how much you can earn before your benefits are affected. But those who can afford to wait and who expect to live to a ripe old age would do well to consider delaying until their full retirement age, or even beyond, to claim their Social Security benefits. If their life expectancy is at least “average” they’ll collect much more in cumulative lifetime benefits by doing so.

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Tomato troubles

By MELINDA MYERS

You waited all season for that first red ripe tomato only to discover less-than-perfect fruit. Don't worry, you can still have a great harvest and improve things for next season.

Blossom end rot is a common problem on the first set of fruit. The bottom of the tomato turns black. This is not caused by a disease but is the result of a calcium deficiency in the developing fruit. This deficiency is usually caused by fluctuations in water uptake by the plant. Fluctuating soil moisture, damage to the roots, excessive nitrogen fertilizer and high humidity can all impact water and calcium uptake and result in blossom end rot.

The first set of fruit are most susceptible because young tomato plants are growing rapidly and require more water and calcium. As the plants mature, the problem is less common.

Avoid the problem by watering thoroughly to encourage deep roots. Mulch the soil to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Avoid excessive fertilization and be mindful when weeding near the plants. And consider growing more blossom end rot resistant tomatoes like the All-America Selections winner Early Resilience.

Don’t pitch blossom end rot tomatoes in the trash. Just cut off and compost the black portion and enjoy the rest.

Cracked fruit is another problem that worries gardeners. Fluctuating temperatures, moisture, high humidity and improper fertilization result in irregular development of the fruit and cracking.

These cracks often occur when heavy rains follow a dry spell. The rapid change in soil moisture causes the fruit to expand faster than the skin of the tomato. Vertical splits on the side of the tomato are called radial cracks. These are the most serious and commonly occur during hot and humid weather. Concentric cracking appears as rings of cracks around the stem of the fruit.

When cracks appear on green tomatoes the fruit usually rots before it ripens. Since this is not caused by a disease, the rotten fruit is safe to compost. Save affected fruit by harvesting cracked tomatoes immediately and finish ripening them inside. The flavor is not as good as tomatoes that ripened on the vine during sunny weather, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the harvest. If the tomatoes develop a sour smell or begin to ooze, toss them in the compost pile.

Catfacing is another disorder you may discover when harvesting your tomatoes. The blossom scar on the bottom of the fruit becomes enlarged or perforated. It is not clear what causes the problem, but it appears to be more common when cold temperatures occur during flowering, there are extreme fluctuations in day and night temperatures, excessive pruning has occurred or there’s been an overapplication of nitrogen fertilizer. As long as the fruit is otherwise undamaged, it is safe to eat.

When these problems occur make notes to correct your garden maintenance to avoid these problems in the future.

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Celebrating Women and the Vote

WASHINGTON, DC –After seventy-two years of campaigning, lobbying, hunger strikes, imprisonments, and appeals to rigid government officials—including President Woodrow Wilson—women—50% of the population--got the right to vote. The American Bar Association called it “the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country.”

On August 26, 1920, Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby, signed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution into the law of the land: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

According to some historians, the women’s suffrage movement started in 1848 at a meeting attended by 200 suffragists, that was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. It concluded with a resolution: “it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

But, history advocate David Bruce Smith, believes the origins of the crusade might have begun with a letter Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, the future second president of the United States:

“In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

Smith is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize with the late Dr. Bruce Cole, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In an interview with the NEH magazine, Humanities, he described the role Mrs. Adams played in her husband’s presidency. Smith also revealed the reason he wrote Abigail & John, his book for young readers:

“If you go to Mount Vernon or Montpelier, the signage says, ‘George Washington’s Mount Vernon’ and ‘James Madison’s Montpelier,’ respectively. After a while, it occurred to me that little girls were being excluded from the narrative. If that changed, they would experience these places as something more than old houses that were once occupied by men who are now dead; with a modernized context, girls might feel more engaged, and—over time—historical literacy could rise.

“I gave Abigail top billing in Abigail & John because, without her, the prickly John Adams probably would not have made it to the White House. She was his confidante, savvy political adviser, beloved friend, and wife.”

 Swept away

A California couple took “the plunge” -- for real -- on their wedding day recently when they decided to memorialize the occasion with a seaside photo. There they were posing on a rocky outcrop at Laguna Beach when an enormous ocean wave literally swept them away. And, if the wedding photographer missed the moment, a bystander managed to capture it all on video. Neither the man nor the woman suffered injuries but the recording will likely be replayed frequently over the coming years for family and friends.

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The gift of speech

The speech impaired who rely on sign language to communicate now have a new way to “talk,” thanks to a team of UCLA researchers. They have developed an electronic glove that converts American Sign Language [ASL] into the spoken word. The journal, Nature Electronics, says the glove allows real-time translation and wireless transmission of ASL into speech via a smart phone app. Lead researcher, assistant professor of bioengineering, Jun Chen said: "Our hope is that this opens up an easy way for people who use sign language to communicate directly with non-signers without needing someone else to translate for them."

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All’s well that ends well

Christopher Town of Guilford, CT was helping his friend move furniture into a new home when the floor gave in and he fell some 25 feet into an abandoned 19th Century well. Firefighters came to the rescue and Town was hoisted from the cistern having suffered minor injuries. The house dates back to 1843 and, according local police, the well was originally located outside the house and when it was extended in 1981 the hole was simply covered with wood flooring. "It is important to note that some of these older, historical homes may have hazards that were not upgraded by current code," they said. 

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How to help employees thrive, even when their career goals are uncertain

These uncertain times filled with racial unrest, a global pandemic, massive unemployment and economic anxiety have caused some people to reevaluate their lives and their priorities. Within that introspection, there are a few potential outcomes, whether it’s reassessing career goals, losing sight of them, or coming to the realization that some workers are happy in their job and do not aspire to a higher position.

Whether a worker likes the road they are on or sees a fork in it approaching, company leaders who want to keep valued people should empower them to achieve the career paths of their choosing, says Ed Mitzen (www.edmitzen.com), founder of a health and wellness marketing agency and ForbesBook author of More Than a Number: The Power of Empathy and Philanthropy in Driving Ad Agency Performance.

“Don’t steer them down a path that you envision,” Mitzen says. “Some companies have rigid career progressions, and if someone does not want to follow that path, eventually they are shown the door. We’ve had great employees whom we wanted to promote but who wanted to stay in the jobs they had. Maybe they aren’t motivated by money, or it’s more important for them to spend time with their families than to get a promotion that may require more travel. At our company, that is not just accepted, but encouraged, because we know the value of a good employee no matter what their career trajectory looks like, and want to support them in that journey."

“Especially now, it’s important for companies to understand that and respect having valued performers who are happy and productive in their roles as opposed to saying, ‘These people don’t have what it takes to grow within the company; let’s cut them loose.' "

Mitzen offers the following ways to help employees who might be wobbly on their career paths or struggling in some ways, and let them know they’re worth keeping:

Approach performance with guidance and caring. Even the best employees sometimes fall short of performance goals and expectations. Mitzen says it’s incumbent on the company’s leaders – who have invested time in the person and often seen good results – to look for ways to help. “Asking employees how you can help when they are struggling is extremely powerful,” Mitzen says. “By looking for ways to help employees when they need it, you build a stronger relationship with them. Not only will this build loyalty to the company and a culture of caring for each other that positively affects everyone, but a stronger, supportive culture will benefit your clients as well.”

Strive to make people’s lives better. “Life is hard, so try to remember that work serves life, not the other way around,” Mitzen says. “Employers should do everything they can to help their people, including outside of work, and especially now, with change and anxiety fairly constant in our lives. If employees have a lot going on at home, understanding those stresses and accommodating for those situations goes a long way. Whatever you can do to ease concerns outside of work is the right thing to do and will drive focus to your employees’ projects in the workplace.”

Celebrate successes. “Most companies don’t celebrate enough,” Mitzen says. “Those that do find they will keep most of their best employees, who feel appreciated and assured that they’re at the right place in their career. Find reasons to acknowledge the great things your team does. It makes a big impact on your staff and incentivizes them further.”

“Goals can change, people can change, and circumstances can change,” Mitzen says. “But when you’ve taken time to know your people, you as a leader can help them through almost anything that’s throwing them off course. And in the process, you keep your company on track to meet its goals. You end up with great performers at all levels of the company who are happy to be in their roles, and your culture benefits greatly.”

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Does the drama and tension never stop? 5 signs that you work for a brilliant jerk

Some business leaders who are bright and hard-working also can be extremely demanding and difficult to work for. Such that a leader’s behavior and its negative impact on others may reach the point where the business becomes dysfunctional.

Dr. Katrina Burrus, author of Managing Brilliant Jerks: How Organizations and Coaches Can Transform Difficult Leaders into Powerful Visionaries (www.ExcellentExecutiveCoaching.com), says a boss who is both bright and abrasive has many characteristics, and the draining combination of them can lead to running more people off than running a long-term successful business. 

“A brilliant but abrasive leader is extremely talented but is driven to gain recognition above all else,” Dr. Burrus says. “They are exceptionally intelligent, but they use that intelligence for their own professional benefit rather than in the best interest of the company.

“Moreover, they are blinded to the costs their behavior has for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. They can destroy people’s self-confidence and inflict serious, lasting damage on their company. This toxic environment erodes

morale and causes turnover to spike.”

Dr. Burrus points out five characteristics of a bright but abrasive leader:

They lack empathy. “These leaders have a blind spot – their understanding of other people’s emotions,” Dr. Burrus says. “Leaders of this type are not naturally tuned in to what others are thinking and feeling. Their focus is on goals and outcomes rather than on people.”

They are volatile and manipulative. Nobody is comfortable with a leader who could explode at any second or sabotages them. “They are verbally abusive, flying into screaming rages and even physically threatening coworkers,” Dr. Burrus says. “Their underlying anxiety often translates into explosive and uncontrolled emotional outbursts. They micromanage an employee to an extent that makes work impossible. More subtly, abrasive leaders undermine employees by creating conflict, withholding critical resources, and waging a kind of psychological warfare against those they perceive as a threat.”

Many are perfectionists. While being a driven leader is an admirable quality, some go too far when rarely taking the foot off the accelerator and running over employees in the process. This often comes in the form of setting unrealistic standards and changing deadlines without much notice or reason.

“They’re never satisfied with their own work and continually push themselves to work harder,” Dr. Burrus says. “Abrasive leaders are intensely motivated to gain recognition through outstanding results, and they expect no less of the people around them. They can be very hard on their employees. They put constant pressure on their direct reports and offer little to no recognition.”

Struggle to maintain good relationships. “Not good at reading others’ emotions, abrasive leaders find it hard to maintain positive interpersonal relationships,” Dr. Burrus says. “They hurt people without intending to. Some abrasive leaders are good at identifying people’s weaknesses, but they use this skill to satisfy their drive toward perfectionism and, by doing so, harm people. They place enormous focus on results, but they fail to see that to increase results, they need to engage autonomous, thinking, creative people who are not submissive to their leader’s every request.”

Have a fear of failure. “Abrasive leaders are often defensive and on high alert for challenges to their leadership,” Dr. Burrus says. “They feel personally threatened by their direct reports’ failures. To protect themselves, they feel a strong need to control their environment. A perceived threat to their professional reputation or self-image will send brilliant but abrasive jerks into attack mode immediately.”

“Abrasive leaders can be incredibly charismatic, especially to clients,” Dr. Burrus says. “Due to their razor-sharp intelligence, they have strong powers of persuasion. But they also create a culture of fear that robs employees of their voice and deadens creativity.”

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With national crises harming mental health, technology provides hope

The constant stream of stressful news never seems to end. A confluence of earth-shattering events – the coronavirus pandemic and mass protests against racial injustice – causes millions of people to check on the latest developments via their social media feed. 

The habit has given rise to the term “doom scrolling” – continuing to scroll through bad news even though it’s disheartening or depressing. But while technology can keep people down in the dumps with reports of the latest dismal events, it also provides a way for them to improve their mental health.

And that’s important because the pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis, says Matt Marek, founder and CEO of Good Neighbor (www.goodneighbor.care), which provides mental health services and assistance with developmental disabilities.

“As COVID cases surged across many states, and now are doing so again, the mental health industry needs to act fast in order to help people who are falling into their own crisis,” Marek says. “But the good news is that the industry is better equipped to help people, thanks in large part to technology.”

Marek points to three key technological access points that make help for mental health troubles more readily available:

Smartphone apps. These can help people cope with anxiety, depression, addiction and other disorders. There are hundreds of available apps, and they allow users to share stories and cope with symptoms. “When you can’t afford therapy but are struggling to handle your illness alone, apps are a good alternative,” Marek says. “Most are free and others are reasonably priced, and they offer resources that make therapeutic techniques more accessible and cost-effective. Mental health apps also can provide useful data to therapists and physicians as well as benefit patients.”

Telehealth. With social distancing still a primary safety measure, telehealth allows the patient to video conference with the doctor, and the method is gaining momentum in mental health. “Telehealth offers many advantages for mental health treatment,” Marek says. “It improves access and comfort for patients who won’t see a doctor in person, and sometimes video conferencing is more beneficial than phone calls because a human connection happens faster via video. Many people in the wellness industry are still trying to figure out how to incorporate mental health into their practice, and telehealth offers that integration.”

Internet support groups. With some people not comfortable attending support groups near their homes, internet support groups provide an alternative. “People can be anonymous and feel comfortable revealing their struggles and engaging with other participants,” Marek says. “One of the best things about support groups always has been the sense of community and comfort in relating to others going through similar struggles as yourself. For a time, you forget that feeling of being alone. Also, support groups often provide resources for mental health information and professional help.”

The toll these life-changing times are taking on the general population’s mental health cannot be overstated. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found nearly half the people in the United States feel the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their mental health.

Accessibility to mental health treatment has long been a problem, with people sometimes waiting three to six months to get an appointment, Marek says. The effects of the pandemic on people’s sense of isolation, anxiety, and the economy, coupled with the emotional impact of the social unrest, have made mental health options more important than ever. 

“Challenging times like this exacerbate mental health struggles,” Marek says. “Many suffer in silence, but they don’t have to. Technology has opened the door to more people to get the help and support they need.”

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Maintaining a healthy brain

By DEBBIE ARCHER

Extension associate-communications

UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

Our brains begin working while we are in our mother’s womb, and they continue to work throughout our lives to control body functions that help us to understand and interact within the environment around us. The blink of an eye, the twitch of a muscle and every thought originate in the brain. A healthy brain is key to maintaining a clear mind and to remaining active. 

Brain health is about reducing risk factors, keeping your mind active and getting the best out of your brain as we age, according to Linda Inmon, Cooperative Extension Program associate-family and consumer sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. As people get older, the brain tends to lose some of its elasticity. 

“The older brain does not make connections as it did during the teen, young and middle adult years,” Inmon said. “In older adults, remembering things and focusing becomes harder. Energy levels also begin to decrease.” 

The brain must be kept healthy to prevent it from decreasing in its cognitive abilities, she said. Maintaining a healthy brain will cause it to keep its elasticity and allow new things to be learned. Mental health is just as important as physical health at every age.

“Medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and family history have an impact on the functions of the brain,” Inmon said. “Family history cannot be changed, but we can change our lifestyle, such as eating and exercising habits, to reduce the risk of diseases that affect the brain and reduce the risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline.” 

There are some things that can be done to help slow the process of the aging brain. 

Dr. Donn Dexter, a neurologist in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, recommends exercising the body and brain, eating healthy and socializing to help maintain brain health. Getting plenty of sleep also plays a vital role in keeping the brain healthy.

“Exercise the body and mind regularly to help the brain grow new brain cells (neurons). Exercise is believed to increase blood flow to the brain that helps slow brain shrinkage that comes with age,” Dr. Dexter said. “Brain exercises such as crossword puzzles, reading, playing cards and other mind strengthening games slows mental decline that happens during the aging process.”

Eating healthy is also important in maintaining a healthy brain, he said. Eating more colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, especially plant-based, is recommended. Reducing red meat consumption is also beneficial. 

Staying socially active helps protect against depression and stress that can contribute to memory loss. According to Dr. Dexter an active social life helps reduce your risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. 

“Remember if do not use it, you lose it,” Inmon said. “Love each day, live life and laugh often.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Should My Wife Claim at 62? Will She Get Widow Benefit?

Dear Rusty: I am almost 64 and still working, and I plan to work until about 66 or 67. My wife is 62. Should she go ahead and file for her Social Security? Is it true that she can draw on my SS after I pass away? Signed: Inquiring Husband

Dear Inquiring Husband: The answer to your first question (should your wife claim at 62) isn’t simple, because it depends upon a number of things. 

Is your wife working? If so, and she claims before her full retirement age, she’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings test, which limits how much she can earn before they take back some of her benefits. If your wife starts collecting at age 62 and exceeds the annual earnings limit ($18,240 for 2020) SS will take back benefits equal to half of what she exceeded the limit by. This is true until she reaches her full retirement age (66 ½ if she was born in 1957), although the earnings limit goes up by about 2.5 times and the penalty is less in the year she reaches her full retirement age (FRA). 

Will your wife be eligible for a spousal benefit from you when you start collecting? If so, and she claims at age 62, her eventual spousal benefit from you will be less than 50% of your full retirement age (FRA) benefit because she took her own benefit early. Whether your wife is eligible for a spousal benefit depends upon whether her own benefit (from her own work record) at her FRA (regardless of when she claims) is smaller than half of your benefit at your FRA (regardless of when you claim). If it’s not, she won’t get a spousal benefit. If it is, she’ll get a spousal boost on top of her own benefit but claiming at age 62 will mean a smaller spousal benefit.

Your wife’s age 62 benefit amount will be 27.5% less than her benefit would be at her full retirement age, and that reduction is permanent. And Social Security benefits are taxable if your combined income (married, filing jointly) is more than $32,000. If your combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000 then 50% of your wife’s SS benefits will become part of your taxable income, and if more than $44,000 then up to 85% of your wife’s SS benefits will become part of your taxable income. My point is, with you still working, your wife’s SS benefits will almost certainly add to your income tax obligation. 

I’m not trying to dissuade your wife from applying; rather only making you aware of the potential consequences of her claiming at age 62, or at any time prior to her full retirement age. If she needs the money now and the above points are not a concern, then applying at 62 could be the prudent choice. But you and your wife should consider the above before deciding if she should claim at age 62. 

Regarding your second question, if you should predecease your wife, and if the benefit you are receiving at your death is more than your wife is already receiving (or is entitled to receive) on her own, then she will get a survivor benefit from you. If she has already reached her full retirement age when that happens, she’ll get 100% of the benefit you were getting. If she hasn’t yet reached her FRA, she can still claim the survivor benefit, but it will be permanently reduced by a fraction of a percent for each month earlier than her FRA. However, if she hasn’t yet reached her FRA, she can also delay taking her survivor benefit until she reaches FRA to get 100% of your benefit (instead of her own). Remember, she gets her survivor benefit, or her own benefit, whichever is higher (she doesn’t get both).

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The stress impact of COVID-19: 5 ways to cope and protect your health

The millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought globally are creating stress over everything from personal health to employment, lifestyle, and finances.

Given these difficult circumstances, it’s more important than ever for people to know about coping mechanisms to better manage stress, protect their immune system, and increase their chances of staying healthy, says Dr. Nammy Patel, DDS (www.sfgreendentist.com), author of Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living.

“COVID is maximizing stress for so many people,” Dr. Patel says. “It has a far-reaching impact into every part of our lives, and if we don’t manage the stress, it severely affects our bodily systems – causing burned-out adrenals, high cortisol, and thyroid issues, to name a few consequences of high-stress levels. Thus, the immune system is lowered, and we are more vulnerable to illness.

“This era we are living in is very traumatic, and it’s very concerning. In dentistry, gum disease, sleep disturbances or apnea, and teeth breakage can all be evidence of stress. Poor oral health, as studies show, can be a gateway to medical issues. People often don’t identify how much stress they’re under, and how it’s affecting them physically, until they actually get sick.”

Dr. Patel has the following suggestions people can incorporate into their daily lives to better deal with stress:

Adhere to a healthy diet. While in quarantine or a new normal in which people are spending the vast majority of their time at home, having healthy foods at home and not over-snacking are vital considerations. “We must be more mindful of the foods we put in our bodies,” Dr. Patel says. “Eat as many greens and whole foods as possible. Avoid dairy products as they increase mucus production in the sinus and the chest, leading to lots of sneezing and congestion. The coronavirus enters the nose and makes a home in the sinus, and to increase immunity, it’s important that the sinus and chest are not inflamed. Food prep makes it easier to eat healthy while working from home. Prepare salads and other healthy meals in advance.”

Don’t over-indulge in drinking. “For some people, drinking is the only source of enjoyment during the pandemic,” Dr. Patel says. “And we see people who are isolating having Zoom calls with friends while drinking wine. The problem is that one glass turns into two or more, and with the sugar content of wine, you may wake up during the night. This disturbs sleep, and sleep is when the immune system regenerates. Restorative sleep is essential to our health.”

Take vitamin supplements. “Often, those with adrenal fatigue don’t take in enough essential nutrients as stress increases their body’s nutritional demands,” Dr. Patel says. “To address adrenal and cortisol burnout, take multivitamins in order to get trace minerals.”

Develop a morning ritual. “Deep breathing exercises can be calming and get you out of the hyper state,” Dr. Patel says. “You want to get rid of the ‘fight or flight’ mode and enter the ‘rest and digest’ state of mind.”

Find a stress management activity that works for you. Many people don’t like to exercise, but Dr. Patel notes exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous to be effective. “A type of exercise one enjoys doing at home like walking, running, or yoga goes a long way toward releasing stress hormones,” she says. “And for those who like intense workouts, it’s all good in terms of reducing stress. Another good stress management technique is using biofeedback mechanisms like alpha state meditations to increase immunity.”

“The disruption of daily life by COVID-19 has caused us to rethink many things that we do,” Dr. Patel says. “How we deal with stress needs to be a priority now, and it’s not overly difficult if you develop good daily habits.”

Westward Ho!

They don’t call Wyoming The Cowboy State for nothing; the state’s Wild West Heritage is well known and celebrated where you’d least expect it. In fact, they built a whole 900 acre town on New Zealand’s North Island that could easily fool a 19th Century Wyoming cowboy. It comes complete with a genuine frontier saloon, a sheriff’s office and ten realistic buildings, including a ranch house that doubles as a hotel able to accommodate 22 guests and that rents out at the rate of $5,000 a night. And, it’s all up for sale for just $7.5 million. International bidders have already expressed interest, according to the folks at Sotheby's International.

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The kid’s got it

He’s not a card sharp; he’s just an honest young wizard when it comes to the game of bridge. The American Contract Bridge League has bestowed on eight year old Andrew Chen of San Jose, CA the title of Life Master. He’s the youngest ever to receive the honor. The UPI News Agency reports that “The organization said it normally takes players decades to accumulate 500 masterpoints by playing at tournaments and accredited clubs, but Andrew was able to earn his points in just two years by participating in local games and playing online.”

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You’re never too old

Growing old is not what it used to be. Take, Gordon Precious of Ontario, Canada. He celebrated his 95th birthday recently by taking a helicopter ride to the summit of a snow-capped mountain in the Cariboo Mountains in British Columbia and skiing back down the slope. It was his way of letting the kid inside of him out for a day. To be fair, Precious says he has been skiing all of his life and it is not the first time he has gone heli-skiing. But, this time he set a record, according to the folks at Guinness.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

In a swipe against Jim Crow, the Supreme Court ruled in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in American schools was illegal.

Eight years later, President Lyndon Johnson ratified the Civil Rights Act—landmark legislation that was powered—in part--by Dr. Martin Luther King, and his philosophy of passionate, passive, and peaceful resistance.

The fourth of July is not about barbecues, beaches, or even festive fireworks. It is intended to commemorate the 1776 founding of America, and ratification of the Declaration of Independence.

In the beginning, Colonial Americans intended to assert their rights as British citizens, but the Redcoats misread their message, perceived defiance, tightened their control over the colonists, and backed into the fiery freedom fighters. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, published in January of 1776, pushed perspective onto the people, and a mass of momentum for the revolution.

Tennessee made it a crime to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

John Thomas Scopes, a local high school science teacher, was accused of violating the law, and in July 1925, the Scopes Monkey Trial began.

The inquiry lasted eleven days; thousands of spectators gathered around the Dayton, TN courthouse. The curious were mesmerized by the issue under consideration—and-- the reason why William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow’s--two of the most notable orators and legal experts of the times-- were siding with the defense.

When the overflow became unmanageable, Judge John Raulston moved the proceedings to the front lawn of the court.

On July 21, the jury delivered a “guilty” verdict in less than nine minutes, but two years later, the decision was overturned by the Supreme Court of Tennessee; in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court, forever resolved the issue when it declared that the original verdict violated the Constitution.

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Medal of Honor: Army 1st Sgt. Frederick Fuger

BY KATIE LANGE

DOD NEWS

The Battle of Gettysburg is remembered as one of the most pivotal encounters of the Civil War, a conflict that led to more than 1,500 men earning the newly created Medal of Honor. One of those recipients, Army 1st Sgt. Frederick Fuger, wasn't even a U.S. citizen when he held the Union position during Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett's famous charge.

Fuger was born in Goppingen, Germany, on June 18, 1836. He was a teenager when he immigrated to the United States, boarding a ship in France and arriving in New York City on April 3, 1854. After acclimating to his new home, Fuger enlisted in the Union Army in August 1856. He was assigned to the 4th U.S. Artillery, Battery A, and served all over the country.

In 1861, his five years of service were about to end when civil war broke out. So, Fuger reenlisted and was promoted to first sergeant of Battery A, which was under the command of 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing.

Fuger fought in many skirmishes leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, and it was then that his dedication proved he was worthy of the Medal of Honor.

On July 3, 1863 — the third day of the famous battle — Battery A was positioned near some trees in an area called "The Angle" on Gettysburg's Cemetery Ridge. It was the precise point of the Union line where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was determined to break through in what became known as Pickett's Charge.

First, the rebels launched artillery that tore apart Battery A. There were so many casualties that only Cushing, Fuger and a few other soldiers remained standing. Of those few, many of them were injured, including Cushing, who refused to disband the unit.

Next, about 15,000 Confederate soldiers charged, hoping to pierce through the Union line right where the 4th Artillery was positioned. Battery A continued to fire on them relentlessly, even as some rebels broke through some of the forward infantry lines.

Fuger, literally, propped up an injured Cushing so he could give orders as the rebels got closer. Unfortunately, the young commander was shot and killed just as the rebel's leader fell within feet of their guns.

Fuger took over command of the battery and ordered his cannoneers to fight as infantrymen while he continued to shoot the last of the six cannons that still worked. Finally, the Confederate soldiers began to retreat. Under Fuger's leadership, the battery held its position, and the Union line remained intact.

The outcome at Gettysburg was the straw that broke the camel's back for the South and proved to be the pivotal battle of the Civil War.

Fuger earned his commission as second lieutenant later that year and went on to command the battery for the rest of the war. He stayed in the Army for several more decades and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in February 1888.

In 1897, Fuger was awarded the Medal of Honor, which had been first authorized for soldiers during the war in which he'd earned it. Fuger retired from the Army in 1900 as a lieutenant colonel. He died Oct. 13, 1913.

Nearly 150 years after that fateful day in battle, Cushing, Fuger's fallen commander, was also awarded the Medal of Honor. Both men have been memorialized in a life-sized diorama at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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5 reasons company leaders resist needed change – even during this crisis

The thought of change can be scary, even more so during the type of crisis we’re experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are business leaders who are already implementing change in response to the challenging economic and operational landscape, many others are not.

“Sometimes the writing is on the wall and organizations are triggered to change,” says Edwin Bosso, Founder and CEO of Myrtle Consulting Group and the ForbesBooks author of 6,000 Dreams: The Leader’s Guide To A Successful Business Transformation Journey. “In fact, members of the organization often are keenly aware that something needs to be done. However, despite that, management does not act, and the cost of inertia can be high.”

According to Bosso, there are five reasons why leaders resist change and, as a consequence, struggle to move their company forward:

They confuse important versus urgent. Leaders sometimes confuse the terms important and urgent. “Important issues are those that do not necessarily have an explicit deadline, like urgent issues, but can effectively have some impact, large or small, on a business,” Bosso says. “The confusion sets in when owners and managers spend too much time putting out fires rather than planning. For example, the company may know that it is important to upgrade its operations. But it doesn’t become urgent until later on when the company looks at the output of its competitors that have completed transformation projects and have become a lot more cost-competitive.”

They lack courage/leadership abilities. Successfully initiating and executing a change process involves numerous leadership skills. “It can be intimidating taking on such a challenge that, to some leaders, may seem like moving a mountain,” Bosso says. “Others are better prepared to take risks, confront reality, envision a better way, make plans, and then act on those plans to lead a change.”

They misalign the incentives. The incentive to change or transform organizations can be misaligned with the incentives of people who are in charge of leading those transformations. “Misalignment of personal incentives can cause us not to act, even when we know it’s the best thing for the company,” Bosso says. “When we are in line for a promotion and higher pay, we certainly don’t want to take on risks that can potentially work against us.”

They lack support and/or resources. Not being afforded the requisite tools or the consensus for necessary transformation can leave a leader feeling powerless. “This is a set of obstacles that many leaders run into,” Bosso says. “The powerlessness can come from the lack of company means, organizational backing, human capital and resources to support the cost of a transformation. After a while, they run out of energy, or time, to make the case.”

They lack a method. It’s not uncommon for leaders to know the difference between where their company is and where it could be, but they don’t know how to proceed. “In such situations, leaders often freeze up and put off the impending need to change, or they approach it through trial and error,” Bosso says. “Having a methodology is beneficial when taking on such an effort. Some leaders take the time and effort to learn what needs to be done, while others bring in experienced people to provide a method for leading a smooth and successful transformation.”

According to Bosso, leaders must understand that there will never be a perfect time for change, but also that often the right change only happens if they force the issue.

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All in or out? How business owners can deal with COVID’S cloudy future

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, small businesses have reopened across the nation but certainty and optimism are a long way from being restored.

Spikes in infections in many states, double-digit unemployment, consumer and lender concerns, and steep economic challenges in the wake of a long shutdown make it difficult to forecast if and when many companies will fully recover. Small business owners – many of them baby boomers and in the retirement age range – are in a difficult position trying to decide whether to risk staying in business or sell and cut their losses, says Michael Sipe, author of The AVADA Principle and founder of the consulting firm 10x Catalyst Groups (www.10xgroups.com).

“We are in the early stages of a depression that’s going to go on quite a while,” Sipe says. “Many small business owners are in their 60s and 70s, and they’re tired and beat up. Some recovered from the financial collapse of 2008, but now they’re getting hammered again.

“Customers and employees are scared or nervous. The supply chain is a big problem, and there’s this crazy situation where prices are going up because of the shortages, but meanwhile we have a depression because there aren’t enough transactions.”

Sipe offers the following suggestions to small business owners as they try to sort out their future amidst so much uncertainty:

Quit. “A lot of people are going to do that,” Sipe says. “And if that’s the decision, they should quit fast. Don’t drag this out. One of the things that happened in the recession of 2008 was people refused to face reality, and it cost them everything, their savings and retirement. If you’re 60 to 70 years old right now and don’t know if you can gut this out another 10 or 15 years, then cut your losses. You’ll have a little nest egg now as opposed to spending all of it trying to bail the business out.”

Reinvent. “If you’re not going to quit,” Sipe says, “then you’ve got to change. Just slugging it out and hoping it’s going to get better or that it will get back to normal – that kind of thinking is ridiculous. We have huge structural problems as a country. So if you’re going to reinvent, you have to come back to the fundamentals of business. The owner has to back up and say, ‘What are the fundamental concerns of customers we are actually trying to address here?’ And focus energy on those prime areas that are going to move people to pay a good margin for your product. Don’t ask why it’s not easier; ask how you can get better.”

Be flexible. Given the fluid state of our world, Sipe says changing some of your business model and processes may have to become a habit. “The next thing business owners have to do is realize what they changed today may need to change tomorrow,” he says. “The innovation has to happen every day. That has a lot to do with listening to customers and anticipating what they would respond to. Engagement with customers and engagement in the innovation process for owners is absolutely critical. If an owner is not willing to try and get that figured out with and for their customers, they’re going to fail.”

“The business has to be infused with a fresh energy and a fresh passion,” Sipe says. “If you’re not going to quit during these extremely difficult times, that means you’ve got to get back in the game. And you’ve got to play hard, because this is going to be tough.”

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10 considerations to help a person decide if military service is right for them

By CHAD STORLIE

There are a lot of big decisions in life: marriage, finances, buying a house, and others. Right up there is the decision to join the military. In today’s COVID-19 world and economy, many people are considering if the military might, or might not, be the correct choice for them. It is vitally important that before a young person rushes off to find a military recruiter that they understand and reflect on a decision towards military service.

Below are 10 considerations to provide guidance, support, understanding and just a bit of wisdom to help others decide of a military career is right for them.

1. Listen to A Young Person’s Goals in Their Words. Before even starting to describe the benefits of military service, what does a young person want to accomplish? Do they want to travel, live somewhere else, have new experiences, or just get out and see the world? These can be reasons to join the service, but they can also be gateways to other career decisions to personal travel, higher education, working in a new location, serving others in a different profession, or waiting for a decision to become more apparent.

2. Military Service Means Serving Others. When someone joins the military their time, their effort, and most of their day-to-day decisions no longer belong to themselves. The military decides your schedule, what you do with your day, and where you live. In an era of widespread personal freedom, this important aspect of military service still needs to be openly discussed. Service to others initially seems like a loss of personal freedom when acting in the service of others truly gives you freedom.

3. Talk About Other Forms of Public Service. Military service is only one form of service. Teachers, Nurses, Doctors, Medical Technicians, Community Activists, Emergency Personnel, and Civil Servants are other vital forms of public service that matter as much as military service. These other forms of service need to also be discussed as viable, rewarding, and vital forms of public service. The military is only one way to serve the community.

4. The Military Has Unique Standards That Must Be Met to Serve. The military has exacting standards of fitness, intelligence, pre-existing body art (tattoos), prior drug use, and prior criminal activity just to name a few of the tests military recruits must pass. If someone wants to join the military and they do not meet the various standards, then they cannot join. A young person that wants to join the military needs to be in shape, not obese, pass the military mental aptitude test, not violate the military’s tattoo policy, not have an extreme criminal record, and not use illegal drugs.

5. Understand Possible Military Occupations for Each Military Service. The military recruiting websites plus social media channels (especially YouTube) give a great deal of information about possible military occupations. Understanding the full range of occupations is an effective way to get excited (or not) about military service. Potential military members need to understand that if you chose the Army or the Marines, you will do your computer programming job pouring sweat in a tent (maybe) with a weapon by your side. Or, if you like to fix generators in the Navy, you will fix a generator on a pitching deck of a ship.

6. Discuss the National Guard and Reserve. For some young people, joining the military full time can be too much of an initial commitment. For those young people, the National Guard and the Reserve may be a perfect fit. The attraction of the National Guard and Reserve: staying local, serving the military, learning new skills, and the potential for Active Duty can be a great option.

7. Discuss the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is America’s “forgotten” military service that offers great options. Many young people are compelled by more altruistic goals of public service, helping others, and being on the “front lines” daily instead of just when they are deployed. In this case, the Coast Guard offers a poignant answer. The Coast Guard fills law enforcement roles combined with public service with a primary focus on rescuing others in need.

8. Military Recruiters Are a Salesperson & An Information Source. Websites are great for one-way information. Talking to a live military recruiter offers excellent options. A young person should have a trusted adult in the room when they talk to a military recruiter to help them ask questions and not be intimidated by the authority of the uniform and other “unknown” words. Meet with recruiters from multiple military branches and see what they have to offer and what sounds interesting to the young person.

9. Talk About the Four D’s: Disability, Death, Divorce, and Deployments. The four D’s of Disability, Death, Divorce and Deployments are where the “rubber meets the road” of military service. Every day in the military is and will be difficult. Military members are in arduous conditions, deployed for months away from loved ones, in physical danger, and you often cannot call even for a family member’s birthday. Disability, Death Divorce, and Deployments are the hard set of subjects that must be talked about because they will be the constant companions throughout military service.

10. Understand the Full Range of Benefits for Military. Looking and understanding the full range of pay, education, medical, and housing benefits is the last step in considering military service. Too often, interested young people jump to the “what do I get” before fully considering “why do I want to serve.” Military benefits are great if you want to serve. But, if you do not want to serve, then military benefits do nothing to build the desire to serve.

There is no correct answer for military service. The goal of young people should be to serve their community with military service being an equal of many forms of potential public service. Young people that want to help others but want to remain in their communities can be Nurses, Public Officials, Emergency Responders, Community Activists, Teachers, and other service-oriented professions that makes the entire community better. It is service to the public that matters, not which form of service. Listening to a young person’s goals and ambitions is the best way to discuss the potential of military service. Listen more than you talk, discuss the joys and sorrows of military service, and make a relaxed, informed, and confident decision if the military sounds like a good option.

Chad Storlie is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, an Iraq combat veteran, and has 15 years university teaching experience as an adjunct Professor of Marketing. He is a mid-level B2B marketing executive and a widely published author on leadership, logistics, business, data, decision making, military and technology topics.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Dear Rusty: I am looking for information on my Social Security survivor benefits from my husband. I just turned 65 and have been collecting my Social Security widow’s benefit since I was 60. Someone told me that I should take my own Social Security and half of my deceased husband’s. I am not sure if that’s what I should do. Should I stay as I am until age 70 and then look into this option? Is it even an option? I’m just not sure. I work part time because the widow’s benefit just isn’t enough to pay my bills. I know there must be others out there as unsure as I am. Signed: Unsure Widow

Dear Unsure Widow: It appears that you have been given some inconsistent information. If you are currently collecting a widow's benefit from your deceased husband and have been since you were 60 years old, you cannot "take my own Social Security and half of my husband's." You only have two options now - to continue your current surviving widow's benefit (which was reduced because you claimed it before your full retirement age), or to claim your own SS retirement benefit if that is more.

If you are now collecting your survivor benefit (only), your benefit from your own work record is still growing. The key question is whether your own benefit from your own work record will ever be more than you are now collecting from your deceased husband as his widow. If your own SS retirement benefit will be more, you can switch to it whenever it has grown to be more than your current widow's benefit. Your own benefit will reach maximum at age 70, so never wait beyond that to claim it. But if your current survivor benefit as a widow is more than your own benefit will be at any age, you should simply stay on that widow's benefit.

The easiest way to find this information out is to request a Statement of Estimated Benefits from Social Security. That statement will show you the amounts you are due on your own at your full retirement age and also at age 70 (if you were born in 1955 your FRA is 66 plus 2 months). If either or both of those amounts are more than your widow's benefit, you can continue to collect your widow's benefit until it makes financial sense to switch to your own. To request your Benefits Statement, contact Social Security directly at 1.800.772.1213, or your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator). You can also get this online if you have a “my Social Security” account, and which you can create at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.

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3 ways to prevent the pandemic from spoiling your retirement – whenever it is

By ALBERT LALONDE

The pandemic has brought the possibility that some older workers will have to retire sooner than they planned.

One factor is that people 65 and above are considered to be among the highest-risk groups for severe illness from COVID-19. Thus, as the economy opens back up, baby boomers in particular are thinking twice about returning to office environments that could expose them to an increased risk of contracting the disease. And while in some cases retirement decisions will be voluntary, retirement may be essentially decided for some older workers due to jobs being eliminated as struggling companies restructure.

One report showed retirements of people from 50 to 65 and over have surged because of the pandemic. Medicare eligibility starting at age 65 and full Social Security benefits soon thereafter become economic incentives. But as we know, it takes a lot more than government aid to get us through the retirement years. And for older workers who planned to work long enough to collect full Social Security benefits but instead retire earlier, that could have permanent financial consequences. Filing at the earliest age of 62 will get the retiree only 75% of their annual full benefit. Whereas every year you delay filing for Social Security past full retirement age brings an additional 8% until you turn 70.

People often keep working as long as they can so they can continue to add to their retirement savings while also benefiting from employer-subsidized health insurance. Many older workers from the 40s on up think they will need to work longer because of the current economic crisis. But due to the pandemic, we seem to have less control over length-of-career considerations than ever before. And because of that, it ups the ante on taking care of your retirement funds in advance of retirement, and knowing ways to grow them and balance the risk to them.

When trying to figure out how to protect your retirement portfolio in the uncertain months ahead, remember that sometimes, trying to save yourself from future market volatility can result in major investing mistakes. Here are some examples to avoid during this recession:

Being too conservative. Finding a foothold for financial stability is on many people’s minds given these nervous times, but stability can be taken a bit too far. For example, focusing almost exclusively on fixed-income investments limits your growth potential. They won’t match the growth of equities when the economy rebounds. One rule of thumb: the majority of those not yet retired should put at least half of their portfolios in equities, and the younger one is, the higher the percentage of equities. You can reduce risk and achieve stability by improving the quality of your equities, such as those with well-regarded management and consistent customers, and those that have paid dividends over a long period.

Ceasing to invest. While some companies have paused matching employee 401(k) programs due to the pandemic, it’s not out of the question that they’ll one day resume when a recovery ensues. But no saving plus no investing equals putting yourself much further behind for retirement. If you can afford to contribute to an IRA or 401(k) during the recession, do it. Suspending your investing because of concerns that your positions will lose value is a back-sliding strategy that can bite you. As the economy climbs back, share prices increase, but if you sat on cash while waiting for a recovery, you won’t benefit from the upswing. And later on you’ll pay higher prices for those shares, when you could have gotten them for less.

Trying to time the market. Basing investment decisions on current market conditions is tricky. Some people are making those kinds of decisions, such as selling off or pausing contributions, to protect themselves from future market declines. But for example, when deciding to liquidate, you later may have to decide when to reinvest. Will that timing always be good? No. Even professional fund managers have difficulty timing the market. So it’s better to remember that you got into the stock market in the first place because, over long periods, history shows it often trends up. Don’t react to what’s happening today. Stick to a consistent schedule of investing. And remember: long-term growth helps fund your retirement.

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How seniors can protect their healthand finances during the pandemic

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, health officials have been clear and consistent in their message to seniors: While anyone can fall victim to COVID-19, those who are 65 and older are in an especially high-risk group.

That’s why older Americans need to be especially careful and – in the case of the very elderly – family members may need to step in to make sure they are taking the right precautions, says Chris Orestis, the president of LifeCare Xchange and a national senior care advocate.

“As with just about everyone, coronavirus is touching all areas of the lives of seniors, from health to finances to how they socialize,” Orestis says.x

He offers a few tips on things seniors and their families can do:

Prioritize healthy practices. Follow health guidelines. Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and sanitize surfaces. “Social distancing and staying in place have become important new additions to our lifestyle because avoiding contact with infected people is the surest way to prevent contracting the virus,” Orestis says. “Grocery stores and retailers have set up senior-only shopping hours, and seniors should take advantage of those. In addition, food delivery services can bring take-out meals or groceries to your home.”

Trust nursing homes. “Despite the tragic deaths that occurred at Life Care Center's nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., the nursing home industry has been working around the clock in every community to protect their residents,” Orestis says. Nursing homes are always vigilant for influenza, pneumonia, and other viral outbreaks. “If you have a loved one in a nursing home, do not go visit,” Orestis says. “Stay in touch remotely through a cell phone, computer, or the staff to help the nursing home avoid contamination.”

Know what financial resources are available. “We’ve experienced a stock market drop, but It is important at times like this to not ‘panic sell’ and lock in your losses,” Orestis says. He points out there are still safety nets and even financial opportunities that can help seniors. For example, the passage of the CARES Act will pump $2 trillion into the economy. Social Security income, Medicare, and Medicaid payments remain unchanged. Income from annuities remains guaranteed.

For owners of permanent life insurance policies, Orestis says, there are a couple of options to get liquidity from this asset. If the owner wants to keep the policy in force, they can take out a policy loan for upwards of 90% of the cash surrender value. If the policy owner wants to stop paying premiums, they could use a life settlement to sell the policy under tax-favorable conditions to receive a percentage of their death benefit as a lump-sum today.

Beware of scams. Seniors often are prime targets of scams, and with their heightened level of distress, could be even more susceptible than usual, Orestis says. “Be on the lookout for such things as emails from imposters of the CDC asking you to open a link or download a list telling you where positive cases are in your area,” he says.

Vet your news sources. The coronavirus is getting round-the-clock news coverage. But mixed into the information coming from reliable sources is a flood of misinformation. “Fact-check information by reading statistics from the websites of reliable medical resources and verified news organizations,” Orestis says. “Don't fall for conflicting statistics or attempts to minimize the severity of the outbreak by comparing it to car accidents, the flu, or other outbreaks. The danger is people can be lulled into underestimating the danger and let their guard down.”

“No one is sure how long this crisis will last or what the outcome could be,” Orestis says. “But the most vulnerable members of our population can protect themselves by following smart health practices, avoiding unwise financial decisions, taking advantage of financial safety-nets, and being on the lookout for scams and bad information.”

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Keep your landscape looking good with less effort

By MELINDA MYERS

Keep your garden looking its best and reduce your workload by enlisting practices that provide multiple benefits. Your garden will flourish and you’ll have more time to enjoy its beauty.

Put your yard waste to work in your garden. You’ll save time hauling plant debris to the recycling center and money spent buying bagged material. Use shredded leaves, evergreen needles, herbicide-free grass clippings or other pest- and weed-free organic material as mulch. Spread a one to two-inch layer of these materials over the soil around annual and perennial flowers and vegetables.

Use woodchips and shredded bark to mulch pathways, trees, and shrubs. Consider joining forces with your neighbors, renting a chipper, and turning brush into mulch for your landscape. Maintain a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around these plants. And keep the mulch away from tree trunks and the crowns of the plants.

Organic mulch helps conserve moisture, reduce weeds, and improve the soil as it breaks down. So, you get multiple benefits from this one task while burning a few calories and strengthening your muscles.

Water plants thoroughly and less frequently whenever you irrigate the garden. This encourages deep roots, making your plants more drought tolerant and pest resistant. Water early in the day to reduce water lost to evaporation. And consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to deliver water right to the plant roots where it is needed.

Check container gardens daily. Water thoroughly until the excess water runs out the bottom. Or enlist the help of one of the many container irrigation systems. Consider using a slow release fertilizer when needed to keep plants thriving with less effort. These types of fertilizers provide a slow, steady release of nutrients for balanced growth without sacrificing flowers or burning drought stressed plants.

Don’t forget your trees and shrubs. Proper watering will also improve their health. Water new plantings and moisture lovers whenever the top few inches of soil are dry. Even established trees and shrubs need a helping hand during extended periods of drought. Always water thoroughly to encourage deep, drought-resistant roots.

Keep mowing your lawn as long as your grass is actively growing. Mow high since taller grass is better able to out compete the weeds and forms deeper roots, making it more drought tolerant. Minimize the stress by removing no more than a third of the total grass height each time you mow.

Always use a sharp mower blade. Sharp blades cut more efficiently, saving you time whenever you mow. You’ll consume 22% less fuel and the lawn will use up to 30% less water when using sharp blades. Plus, the clean cut will be less noticeable and the wound will close quickly, helping you grow a healthy, better-looking lawn.

Be sure to leave grass clippings on the lawn. They add nutrients, moisture, and organic matter to the soil. A season’s worth of clippings is equal to one fertilizer application. So every time you mow you are fertilizing the lawn and improving the soil.

Finish every garden chore with a bit of cleanup. Sweep clippings, plant debris and fertilizer off walks, drives and patios, so it won’t wash into storm sewers. Keeping plant debris out of our waterways is good for us and the environment.

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Smashing myths that gave birth to the glass ceiling

In 1986, a Wall Street Journal headline promised to explore a then puzzling problem: “The Glass Ceiling: Why Women Can't Seem to Break The Invisible Barrier That Blocks Them From the Top Jobs.”

More than three decades later, that headline still holds relevance. While women have made great strides, they still make up a small percentage of the top management at America’s largest corporations.

But while obstacles remain, there is also evidence that the tide can turn.

“As an anthropologist, I am watching women shatter these myths that have kept them from achieving the leadership needed in our society, today and into the future,” says Andi Simon (www.andisimon.com), a corporate anthropologist, founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants, and author of the upcoming book Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business.

“It is time for everyone to rethink what women can do and how we should enable them to do it. Our society needs it more than ever as we recover from this pandemic and restore the vitality of our economy and our cultures.”

One obstacle ripe for dismantling is that most corporate cultures are set up with a male leadership approach in mind, Simon says.

“Unfortunately, men communicate a myth about women that emphasizes their soft sides, not their decisiveness, strength, and ingenuity,” she says. “Women might lead differently than men, but they can achieve remarkable results.”

The latest statistics on female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies spark hope and disheartenment all at the same time. Women now hold 37 of those jobs, which is a record. But that’s a mere 7.4 percent of the total.

Why aren’t women already further along in breaking down barriers that were talked about decades ago? Simons suggests a few reasons:

The system often forces talented women to give up before they reach the top. “Regardless of what women achieve, business leadership and society deem them to be less worthy of leadership roles and success,” Simon says. “Women find that the way forward is blocked, and at times they jump off the proverbial ladder rather than continue to fight to get to the top in companies, in government, and in male-dominated cultures.” The good news is that in many cases they launch their own businesses.

The narrative society tells about women colors reality. Through most of human history, men have controlled societies around the globe, along with the myths and narratives surrounding those societies. But Simon says that organizations from the Women’s Business Collaborative to groups like Women TIES (Women Together Inspiring Entrepreneurial Success) are helping change the culture’s narrative about women.

More role models are needed. “Momentum in changing the culture is hard to sustain without strong role models, communities of women, and a media that changes the narrative,” Simon says. She does her part in her book by showcasing female role models “who will encourage younger women to push forward into dangerous territory where they can be the talented success stories they want to become.”

Here’s one more thing Simon has noticed when she applies an anthropological lens to the differing leadership approaches of men and women when solving problems.

“Men think they climbed the Empire State Building and saved the damsel in distress while saving their clients millions of dollars,” she says. “Women think they mobilized a group of talented people who never let the client fall into distress in the first place.”

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Kiss me quick

You can’t be too careful if you want to avoid exposure to the COVID virus, especially if you are an actor or actress and the scene calls for a bit of smooching. And so, Bradley Bell, head writer for the classic soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful, has announced that they’ll be using blow up dolls when rehearsing for some of the steamier romantic scenes in upcoming episodes. Bell told the New York Post that "we put our heads together trying to figure out a way to make these scenes work without breaking the eight-foot [distancing] rule... and we brought out a doll we used years ago as a corpse. We posed it and it was very convincing."

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The show must go on

Pandemic or no pandemic, the folks at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest have announced that its annual competition will take place, as it has since 1916. To be sure, the organizers of the event are taking precautions. The contest will take place at a secret location with no audience in attendance. And, social distancing rules will apply, so there’ll be only five contestants in both the men’s and women’s competition instead of the usual 15. And they will all be tested for the coronavirus before participating. Workers will wear masks and gloves but it is assumed that the hungry contenders will forego the face masks, which would obviously limit the amount and speed of consumption.

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Affordable housing, and then some

What can you buy for a buck these days? How about your very own home in the picturesque Italian village of Cinquefrondi. The town is located between the Ionian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea in Calabria, a region in the extreme southern part of Italy that boasts one of the country’s lowest levels of COVID cases. In fact, Cinquefrondi calls itself “a COVID-free village” as it has reported not a single case of coronavirus since the pandemic started. Mayor Michele Conia tells CNN: "Finding new owners for the many abandoned houses we have is a key part of the Operation Beauty [mission] that I have launched." The mayor’s dollar deal comes with a catch: the buyers must agree to renovate their newly purchased properties within a period of three years or face a steep fine.

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How Aristotle can help you lead your business through tough times

Business leaders face plenty of questions as they try to get a handle on the new economic reality brought about by the COVID-19 shutdown and the resulting recession.

But the answers to those questions may not appear in their corporate handbooks. Instead, they could lie in ancient philosophies with lessons that apply just as much today as they did centuries ago, says Cristina DiGiacomo (www.cristinadigiacomo.com), author of Wise Up! At Work and founder of MorAlchemy, a philosophical consulting firm that helps CEOs and executives tackle their biggest challenges by teaching them how to think differently so they see new solutions and their companies thrive.

“We could all use a little wisdom these days because COVID-19 has caused a shift in the way people think, the way people work, the way they live and how they think of themselves,” DiGiacomo says. “Technology may change, culture may change, but acting wisely is no different in the 21st century than the 5th century.”

Too often, when people hear words like philosophy and wisdom, they conjure images of a bearded man on a mountain, with enlightenment seekers trekking to see him, DiGiacomo says.

“In reality, the philosophers whose teachings changed the world were the kind of people who rolled up their sleeves, got to work, dug deep, and spoke up despite hardship, resistance and even threat of death,” she says. “Their views aren’t some abstract idea, but have practical applications in today’s world.”

So, if Aristotle, Socrates, Voltaire and Immanuel Kant opened a corporate consulting business, here are a few things they would tell you about moving your business forward as the world tries to recover from COVID-19:

Don’t be rushed into rash decisions. Voltaire said “doubt is an unpleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Sometimes CEOs feel the need to make quick decisions, perhaps to avoid seeming indecisive. That’s not always the best approach, DiGiacomo says. “Are you making critical decisions, with long-term consequences, on the fly without actually having developed your ability to deliberate?” she asks. “Our reactionary mind wants us to set it and forget it, so it can move onto the next thing.” Resist that temptation.

Avoid letting your “darkest moments” color reality. Immanuel Kant, among others, believed your mind shapes and structures your experience. “Your mind influences to a very large degree how you see the world and how you feel about it,” DiGiacomo says. “Those things you say to yourself, in those darkest moments, are shaping your reality. But it's entirely possible that those thoughts you have about what you think reality is might not always be true.” She says it helps to “hit the pause button” and make sure the situation is what you think it is.

Say “I don’t know” even if you think you know. The country faces uncertain times over the next several months, but that’s not unusual, DiGiacomo says. The future is always uncertain – coronavirus or no coronavirus. One of her favorite quotes from Socrates is: “I know that I know not, and that makes me a wise man.” DiGiacomo says being in “I don’t know” mode releases your mind to discover new solutions and ideas. “If you constantly believe you know everything,” she says, “then there’s no impetus for your mind to be creative or continue to look for new information.”

And finally, DiGiacomo says, Aristotle offers encouragement for business leaders who are afraid they aren’t up to the task of making wise decisions.

“Aristotle’s foundational idea of being human is that we are all wise, inherently,” she says. “It’s just a matter of tapping into that innate wisdom and building the skills that will help you to not only be wise, but to act wisely.”

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How dental offices are protecting patients and staff during the pandemic

It’s not exactly business as usual for the dental industry – or patients – as offices reopen for routine care amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The outbreak of the virus has brought several changes, some of which may be permanent, in how dental offices protect their employees and patients.

"Dentists have always prioritized safety, but now we’ve significantly ramped up our precautions and standard practices because we want both patients and workers to feel comfortable during a time of great uncertainty,” says Dr. Kyle Bogan (www.drkylebogan.com), a general dentist and speaker on workplace culture.

“After three months of being able to handle only emergency cases because of the pandemic, we understand the challenges as we reopen for elective and preventative care. The experience, knowledge and concern for patients that oral care workers bring to their positions is especially important at this time.”

Dr. Bogan points out some concerns of patients and dental staffs and new protocols being implemented as offices reopen:

Pre-screening patients. The asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19 limits the effectiveness of pre-screening patients for the virus, but patients should be asked a range of relevant pre-visit questions on the phone. “It forces dental staff to treat every patient as if they have the virus,” Dr. Bogan says. “Before patients come in, they need to be asked if they’ve had COVID-19 symptoms and, if so, if they’ve been tested.”

Upon arrival, a new look. Dr. Bogan says that staff can allay patients’ fears by informing them of all the new safety procedures their office is taking. The visit will look and feel much different from the moment they arrive. “Patients can expect to wait outside upon arriving for their appointment until summoned by the staff,” he says. “This will greatly reduce the number of people in the waiting room and the time you’re close to other people. And patients should have their temperature taken upon arrival. The office should be devoid of the usual magazines and toys, and hand sanitizer should be available.”

Helping fearful employees. It’s understandable if oral care workers are hesitant to return, and Dr. Bogan says it’s important to engage them in dialogue about their concerns. “The person may be worried about contracting the virus from a patient or co-worker,” he says. “They may be high-risk or have someone at home who is. Ask them what you could do to alleviate concerns, and make sure your office is following the CDC and ADA recommendations and requirements.

Aerosols and protection. Most dental procedures create aerosols – sprays of saliva or blood from a patient’s mouth splashing into the air. Given the possibility of the virus being included in those particles, the attending staff around the patient should wear more personal protective equipment, and environmental upgrades also are advisable. “The ADA recommends face shields, N95 and KN95 masks, goggles and disposable gowns,” Dr. Bogan says. “Some practices are installing plexiglass in the front office area, air-purification systems and ultraviolet lights to reduce exposure to aerosols.”

Diligent hygiene and cleaning. “Dentists and hygienists should adhere strictly to hand hygiene measures,” Dr. Bogan says, “including before and after contact with patients, after contact with contaminated surfaces or equipment, and after removing PPE. Disposable gowns should be discarded in a dedicated waste container after use. Cloth isolation gowns should be laundered after each use. The staff will thoroughly clean patient treatment areas between appointments with disinfectants.”

“It’s important for people to get back to the dentist for routine treatment,” Dr. Bogan says. “The virus can give some people a reason to stay away, so it’s critical for dental practices to do all the right things to mitigate risk.”

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Bold, beautiful, and healthful cabbage

By MELINDA MYERS

Cleanse the toxins out of your body with the help of fresh vegetables. Cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts are a few of nature’s detoxifiers.

You can add variety to your garden and diet by including green, red or Savoy cabbage. It’s fun and easy to grow in the garden or a container and can be used in a variety of healthful dishes.

There is still time to add cabbage to your garden. Cabbage grows best in cooler temperatures. Those in the northern half of the country can plant seeds directly in the garden in early July for a fall harvest. Those in hotter regions should wait another month. Simply check the number of days from seed to harvest and count backwards from the average first fall frost. That will be the time to plant. Those in the far south should plant seeds or transplants in fall or early winter for a winter harvest.

Be sure to allow enough room for the plants to grow to mature size. Space plants at least 12 inches apart in the garden and grow in a sunny to lightly shaded location.

Protect cabbage plantings from pests with floating row covers. Made of polypropylene spun material, the covers allow air, light, and water through while preventing cabbage worms from laying their eggs on the plants. This means no green worms eating holes in the leaves or ending up on your dinner plate.

Loosely cover the planting with the fabric and anchor the edges with boards, pipes, stones, or wickets. Leave enough slack for the plants to grow. The plants support the fabric, so no frames or construction is needed.

Increase your garden’s productivity by interplanting the cabbage with quick maturing radishes, beets and heat tolerant greens. You’ll harvest these short season crops at about the time the cabbage needs the space.

Harvest cabbage when the heads are firm and full size. Use a sharp knife to remove just the cabbage head, leaving the lower leaves and roots intact. Four to six new heads will arise from buds around the stem. These smaller heads can reach four or five inches in diameter.

Remove any wilted or damaged leaves before storing cabbage in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. If using only half a head of cabbage, wrap the cut end in plastic wrap.

A medium head of cabbage weighs about one and a half pounds and yields about five to six and a half cups of shredded cabbage. A few heads of cabbage can turn into lots of slaw, stuffed cabbage rolls and other tasty cabbage dishes.

Preserve some of your harvest for winter meals. Freeze cabbage by cutting it into coarse shreds, thin wedges or by separating the leaves. It can also be dehydrated and used as a base for casseroles or added to soups and stews.

Consider turning it into sauerkraut with simple fermentation. Make large batches in crocks then can or freeze when fermentation is complete. Smaller batches can be processed in mason jars and stored in the refrigerator.

No matter how you prepare it, cabbage makes a great addition to the garden and your meals.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Special Extra Earnings for Military Service

Dear Rusty: How do I find out if I get any extra earnings for my military service of 28 years (Navy, 1982-2011), when I begin collecting my full Social Security retirement benefit next year (in July 2021)? Signed: Retired Veteran

Dear Retired Veteran: First, as a fellow veteran, I want to thank you for your 28 years of military service, but I need to clarify what those “special extra earnings” are. That’s not an additional amount which will be added to your monthly Social Security benefit as a bonus for serving. Rather it is an additional dollar amount which has already been added to your earnings record for the years you served in the military.

Those receiving active duty military pay have contributed to Social Security since 1957, and that record of your military pay is already on file with Social Security. But a long time ago Congress decided to bump up the recorded earnings of those with earlier military service to make it easier for them to qualify for Social Security, and to possibly provide a slightly higher benefit when the earnings from those years in the military are included in the computation of SS benefits.

To compute your benefit, Social Security uses the 35 highest earning years from your lifetime earnings record (adjusted for inflation). So, if your earnings during the years you were in the military are among the 35 years used to calculate your SS benefit, those military earnings were supplemented with an additional amount to make them up to $1200 per year higher than you were actually paid. And that higher earnings amount possibly means a higher Social Security benefit because it could make your lifetime Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME) higher (a higher AIME translates to a higher benefit amount).

In your case, an extra $100 for every $300 in your actual military pay should have been added to your earnings record for each year you served between 1982 and 2001 (maximum of $1200 for each year).

For service years after 2001, no additional “special credits” are awarded. To verify this, you may wish to obtain a copy of your lifetime Earnings Statement from Social Security and verify that your recorded earnings for 1982 – 2001 are $1200 more than you were actually paid while serving. And if not, you should supply a copy of your DD-214 when applying for your Social Security benefits. You can obtain a copy of your lifetime Earnings Statement online if you have a personal “my Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount; otherwise you’ll need to request a copy directly from Social Security.

For general information applicable to those who served prior to 1978, computation of their “special extra earnings” were computed a little differently. For those veterans, the maximum annual “special extra earnings” supplement was still $1,200, but the method for computing their extra earnings was to give an extra $300 for each calendar quarter of active duty military service. But in any case, the special extra earnings are an addition to your military pay record on file with Social Security, not an additional dollar amount added to your Social Security benefit.

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How COVID-19 is reshaping corporate culture

The outbreak of COVID-19 is radically changing how many U.S. companies operate.

Public safety measures have closed physical offices and made remote working the norm. Travel restrictions have heightened the importance of efficient technology, communication and collaboration. Executives have had to pivot quickly, reorganizing and rallying their workforce to push forward in an unprecedented time.

Some business leaders think COVID-19 marks a permanent turning point. And at the center of the seismic change is the reshaping of corporate culture – the beliefs and behaviors that influence how a company’s employees and management interact, says Chuck Crumpton (www.chuckcrumpton.com), author of The Jagged Journey: A Raw & Real Memoir about the Non-Perfect Path of Life & Business.

“The pandemic unquestionably will have lasting effects on corporate cultures,” Crumpton says. “There’s a growing sense it’s a fundamental shift, a new normal.

“It starts with empathy. Company leaders are seeing they need to listen more to their employees’ concerns, which are really everybody’s concerns right now. Many people have fear and uncertainty. It’s an opportunity to be more understanding and build relationships with the people you work with, and from there as a company, being better able to work in new and more collaborative ways.”

Crumpton explains the ways corporate culture will be reshaped in the wake of COVID-19 and how leaders can influence those positive changes:

Providing emotional support along with technical support. While technology is the key to keeping a remote workforce functioning at a high level, Crumpton says how leaders create a culture of mutual support will be a big factor in company culture and the employee experience. “You want to get people helping and looking out for each other,” Crumpton says. “Not every Google Chat, call or email has to be business-related.”

More, and better, communication. Working remotely, with managers and employees at different locations, places an emphasis on focused and more precise communication – even over-communication if necessary – to keep operations flowing, Crumpton says. “The use of video conferencing is very effective, keeping everyone connected and agendas targeted,” he says. “It increases responsiveness, attention span, and strengthens collaboration.”

More of a family feeling. “Working from home personalizes the workplace, partly because you are working from your personal space, and the imaginary line between family and work is basically gone,” Crumpton says. “People are out of their shell now, more relatable. Colleagues and clients are happy to share a screen with their kids or pets in the background. There’s a blending of the personal and professional, and it’s liberating.”

Better collaboration. “Your relationship with your teammates will improve,” Crumpton says. “Fighting a common enemy, the coronavirus, creates bonds in relationships. Everyone being in this together brings new levels of connection with colleagues and clients. You’re happy to see each other on screen during this period of physical isolation, and that feeling can be brought forward when things settle down. The bond strengthens with teammates also by having worked together to solve problems and be proactive during difficult times. That means better collaboration and more enthusiasm for teamwork and shared success.”

This crisis has challenged us in seemingly every way,” Crumpton says. “It’s been sudden, profound, and life-changing. Companies have been forced to make major changes, and in the process, they’re seeing the workplace and the world differently. It's a great opportunity for growth and positive, permanent change.”

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Keeping children safe as the country reopens

As the country begins to reopen, the question becomes, how do we keep our children safe, according to Linda Inmon, Extension associate-family and consumer sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The first thing to do is ensure your child is in the best health possible, Dr. Stephanie Hanson, a pediatrician at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, said. She recommends sticking with scheduled well-child visits and immunization schedules to keep healthy children healthy and to protect them from infections.

Dr. Keshia Pollack Porter, professor of health policy and management and associate dean for faculty development at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, believes children should have outdoor time because it is critical for their physical, mental and emotional health.

Considering COVID-19, Dr. Porter recommends embracing solo play such as jumping rope, riding a bike or scooter, playing hopscotch, painting or drawing on the sidewalk. If they are playing around other children, she said parents should monitor the distance between them.

Other things parents can do to ensure the safety of children is teach them about proper handwashing, how to wear face coverings and how to social distance when they are not at home, Inmon said.

“Remind children they are to wash their hands after touching high traffic areas such as doorknobs, light switches and electronic devices,” Inmon said. “Hands should be washed before and after using the bathroom to eliminate the spread of germs and virus to other parts of the body and surfaces.”

Inmon suggests that parents should practice with their child on how to wear a face covering properly. She says the masks should cover both the nose and mouth.

“It is highly recommended that children under 2 years of age not wear a mask because a lack of oxygen could result in death,” Inmon said. “If older children voice a concern of not being able to breath with the mask, try a cloth mask.”

Children should only wear masks when entering places where others are present, she said. Children should always practice social distancing when they are in public places.

“As businesses and industries follow the recommended guidelines for reopening, we should also slowly come out of our safety nets (homes),” Inmon said. “Try to find a time when it is less crowded when taking your children out.

“Remind them it is not safe to pick up or touch things that have not been sanitized,” she said. “Use antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer often when away from home. A vaccine has not been discovered, so we are not out of the woods yet.”

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July 4th Safety Tips: Leave fireworks to the professionals, avoid large crowds

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the Fourth of July approaching and communities across the country still battling COVID-19, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) urges everyone to stay safe and take precautions with large gatherings and firework celebrations, but not to hesitate to go to the ER if you have an emergency.

There are more than 9,000 firework-related emergencies annually and more than a third (36 percent) of those involve children under the age of 15. It’s no surprise that about two-thirds of firework injuries happen around this time of year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Each year, emergency physicians see an influx of people coming into the ER with avoidable fireworks injuries,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “When it comes to using fireworks to cap off your Independence Celebration, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.”

If you are using your own fireworks, ACEP encourages you to follow these firework safety tips to limit your risk of serious burn or injury:

Make sure you buy fireworks, sparklers or other flammable items from reputable, legal sellers.

Keep a fire extinguisher and large bucket of water or hose nearby.

Light one at a time and keep everything flammable away from children. This includes sparklers, which can burn hot enough to melt metal and cause serious burns or injuries.

Never try to re-light or handle fireworks that malfunction or don’t go off.

Do not ignite fireworks in containers, that could create dangerous shrapnel.

Avoid horseplay with or near fireworks, torches, candles or any flammable items; don’t point fireworks at people or launch them toward anyone.

When lighting a firework do not stand directly over it. Back up immediately after it is lit.

After use, spray fireworks with water until soaked. Placing dry fireworks in a trash can creates a fire hazard.

The ongoing pandemic adds another layer of concern to this year’s celebrations. Given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still urges people to social distance with six feet or more between people, it’s prudent to choose outdoor activities with small groups rather than indoor gatherings with larger crowds. You may want to rethink typical summer activities like potlucks and cookouts to limit the number of people handling or serving food. You should also continue to wear a mask when in public space, and wash your hands frequently throughout the day.

“The pandemic continues to create a ‘new normal’ for all of us,” said Dr. Jaquis. “Your Fourth of July festivities might look a little different this year, but we can’t ignore the very real threat that the virus still poses.”

Whether you are concerned you have COVID-19 or are having another medical emergency, emergency physicians stand ready—any day, any time—to provide emergency care and treatment when you need it.

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Teach your children to avoid the mistakes you made with money

Numerous surveys show that many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, have little saved for retirement, and lack fundamental financial knowledge.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that financial literacy has not been emphasized in American education; only 21 states require high school students to take a personal finance-related class. If parents want their children to learn the value of money and how to avoid financial problems as adults, the education has to start at home, says Steve Kruman (www.brycewealth.com), a financial planner and investment advisor at Bryce Wealth Management.

“When they understand their parents’ financial situation and gain an understanding of financial literacy,” Kruman says, “they are more likely to appreciate the gifts they are given, or aren’t to be given, and why."

Summer is the ideal time to teach financial literacy to children because they can get real hands-on experience. Teaching a child to be financially literate will help them understand that they have to take personal responsibility to be financially secure when mom and dad aren’t there to put the food on the table for them.”

Kruman offers the following at-home teaching methods to help children learn financial literacy:

● Gardening and investing. The parent purchases seeds and other starting materials at a garden supply store and has the children keep track of the

spending by item on a notepad. “As you work together in the garden, keep a time log of each family member working,” Kruman says. “When it’s harvest time, teach them to count up the cost of production. Help them determine the value of their produce by comparing store prices of the same product, minus the cost of production. They will learn that you can start small as an investor, but putting in more effort along the way makes things grow.”

● Working and budgeting. Kruman says parents can undercut their teaching of financial literacy by handing out spending money whenever their child wants something. “To learn good financial skills,” Kruman says, “work needs to be taught. They learn they are rewarded for effort, not just for showing up. With their finite amount of money, they can be taught what they’ll have to do as adults – divide it up for bills, spending money, and savings – and that it doesn’t grow on trees every month.”

● Saving and staying out of debt. “A good lesson for your children to learn about debt would be to show them how a loan would work by you being the lender,” Kruman says. “Have them think of something that they would like to buy (such as a new bicycle or laptop) but that they don’t have enough money saved already. You could offer to help them make the purchase much earlier than continuing to save for it, but only in exchange for a loan payment that would be made by reducing their chore money. That way, they would learn how debt eats up their earning power. You have to instill in them that savings isn’t an option, but rather a necessity, so people don’t become slaves to debt.”

● Apple slices and taxes. “Chances are your kids have already heard you bemoaning taxes,” Kruman says. “Get one of those vertical apple slicers, and cut

an apple up in sections to represent the approximate portion of your personal tax hit – federal, state, city/township, Social Security, etc. Put those slices next to the remaining part of the apple, and that difference will stick with them.”

● Toys and depreciation. “Teach them to look at their toys and clothes,” Kruman says. “Toys wear out. Children’s toys and adults’ expensive items, such as cars, need to be purchased to replace old ones, and teaching an understanding of that principle of depreciation is essential to teaching your kids why people need savings. Help them understand depreciation by asking them to compare prices of toys being sold at a yard sale versus a similar toy being sold at a new price online or in a store.”

“Children have a lot of years to grow up,” Kruman says, “and you can give them years of age-appropriate financial lessons in their own home that will last a lifetime. Start now if you haven’t already.”

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House Call

By Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Q: There are a lot of ticks this year. What should I look out for if I am bit?

A: While ticks are responsible for more human disease in Arkansas than any other insect, not all tick bites will make you sick. There are many different tick species in Arkansas and only a few can pass on illness to you.

In Arkansas, we have documented cases of the following tickborne diseases: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, southern tick associated rash illness, alpha-gal and other

less-well understood diseases.

The good news is that these diseases have common signs to watch out for. If you’ve had a tick bite, pay attention to the next few weeks, and talk to your health care provider if you develop any of these symptoms: fever/chills, aches and pains and rash.

Be sure to tell your health care provider about your symptoms and the geographic region where you received the bite. Your provider may conduct diagnostic tests based on this information.

It’s important to spot tickborne diseases early, when they can quickly be treated with antibiotics. Waiting longer can increase the risk of serious complications and even hospitalization.

Q: What is Legionnaires’ disease?

A: We sometimes hear about Legionnaires’ cases in the news linked to a particular hotel,

spa, resort or hospital. The common element is stagnant water, where the Legionella bacteria thrives.

Legionnaires’ disease spreads to people when they breathe in the bacteria from a mist or accidentally swallow infected water and it gets into the lungs.

There were about 10,000 cases of Legionnaires’ in the United States in 2018. About one

in 10 people sick with Legionnaires’

die of the disease.

Legionnaires’ symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches, and can sometimes include diarrhea, nausea and confusion. Symptoms begin two to 10 days after exposure. Tell your doctor if you’ve been to a place with cases of Legionnaires’, used a hot tub, or stayed away from home in a hospital or hotel.

The main way to prevent Legionnaires’ disease is to keep legionella from growing in the water systems of buildings. With many businesses closed for COVID-19, there is a risk that the stagnant water in buildings’ pipes may have become a breeding ground for Legionnaires’. Business owners should refer to the CDC website for tips on how to ensure safe water systems.

Q: I’m considering traveling this summer. What should I consider?

A: The guidelines for travel during the COVID-19pandemic change frequently. Research the latest info from the Arkansas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when planning trips. The “COVID-19 Guidance for Travelers” from the state Department of Health is a great place to start and links to national and international information from the CDC.

If you’re booking a trip well in advance, also know that the situation may change and be prepared to adjust your plans. Stay on top of the news and public health advisories.

When planning your trip, think about the health considerations for yourself and your family. Consider the infection rate where you plan to go and the relative risks of the mode of travel, be it by personal passenger car, plane or cruise ship.

As the pandemic continues, some returning travelers may be asked to practice voluntary self-quarantine at home or be requested to do so by the Department of Health. Depending on your job or other responsibilities, this might be burdensome, so it is wise to consider this possibility. If you do travel, the CDC has guidelines for a variety of locations and scenarios.

Q: I’m afraid of getting COVID-19. Should I put off primary care until the pandemic is over?

A: Taking care of your most basic health care needswith the help of your primary care physician is just as important as ever. Primary care is vital for managing ongoing issues or spotting problems before

they escalate. While the illness COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus, has created a lot of fear and uncertainty, it should not keep you from getting the help you need, especially if you have chronic medical

conditions. Call your primary care provider before your appointment and ask for advice about whether, given your personal medical history, an in-person visit or video conference would be best. If you are going

to the clinic, ask what special precautions the clinic is taking and be prepared to comply with any guidelines.

The clinic may ask that you wear a mask, come alone, practice social distancing in the clinic, and take other precautions. You might discover that your clinic is staggering visits or asking patients to wait in the car to prevent crowded waiting rooms. Being prepared will make the visit safer for you and others and may help ease any fears you might have.

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Why the new normal office culture can’t have the same old abrasive boss

The coronavirus pandemic has changed many workplaces temporarily and others permanently. Working remotely is more common, and for those returning to a physical office, the seating arrangements, meeting protocols, and other dynamics of the pre-pandemic work environment will be different.

But despite the new normal, some employees still will be confronted by the same old abrasive boss. With many workers feeling added stress because of the crisis, bosses who create more tension can make the work environment fragile and far less productive – an especially bad combination during an uncertain time in our economy, says Dr. Katrina Burrus, author of Managing Brilliant Jerks: How Organizations and Coaches Can Transform Difficult Leaders into Powerful Visionaries (www.ExcellentExecutiveCoaching.com).

“Abrasive leaders engage in a series of negative behaviors, from harsh criticism to intimidation and manipulation,” Dr. Burrus says. “They may get results but they usually run good employees off, and their effectiveness often has a short shelf-life.

“In these daunting times of major transition, company leaders need to consider the concerns and the value of their employees. Even the most approachable, well-liked leaders will need to make adjustments to best manage their people in a sensitive way while getting maximum performance. Whether leading in a fully virtual work environment, a reconfigured office or a combination of the two, leaders can’t rely solely on what used to work as effective leadership in face-to-face interactions.”

Dr. Burrus offers these tips for leaders of various types to keep in mind in the new work environment:

Be brilliant, not an abrasive jerk. “If a leader’s mindset is that his or her employees are inherently lazy and need to be flogged into action, that’s how he or she will treat them,” Dr. Burrus says. “That attitude will spread down the chain, poisoning the corporate culture. Organizations need to establish their management and leadership principles as a reference for desired behavior. If they are receptive, abrasive leaders should be offered the

support of a customized coaching program to help them change their destructive behaviors and leverage their strengths. Organization heads should communicate to their abrasive leaders that they are valued but that misbehavior has consequences, which will be applied.”

Reassure and refocus. “When leaders do not see what their employees are doing, as when they are working remotely, this creates anxiety and may trigger the abrasive leader to be even more authoritarian,” Dr. Burrus says. “However, leaders who have high emotional intelligence will likely adapt their leadership to reassure employees, which serves to refocus and motivate them in these uncertain times.”

Use a tracking system. A tracking system is recommended with more communication. “For example,” Dr. Burrus says, “have a good morning virtual check-in where employees communicate what they intend to achieve during the day/week and a good evening check-out, where they communicate what they have accomplished, what they struggled with and what resolutions they need to find.”

Prioritize adding value. “Remind employees to add value to clients and have more interactions with clients,” Dr. Burrus says. “Clients will remember which providers were present during these uncertain times to support them in getting over their struggles. Make sure employees have systems to stay in contact with their clients.”

Invite more feedback. “Employees and leaders are figuring out their virtual environments and altered office environments through trial and error,” Dr. Burrus says, “so learning what is working well for your employees and sharing that with others can help your organization to adapt more effectively. Likewise, finding out what isn't going well can help leaders adapt their expectations, leadership styles, and interactions with employees to promote effective working relationships and employee well-being.”

“New environments beg new leadership styles,” Dr. Burrus says, “and leaders who adapt to support their employees during these challenging times will experience enhanced employee productivity and well-being.”

A stylish solution

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. And, what can be more necessary than a haircut to make you feel well-groomed and presentable during times like the COVID lockdown. And, voila, from the inventive mind of barber Edwin Ramirez in Union City, New Jersey, comes what may be a pretty inventive solution to the dilemma of how to get your hair cut and styled at a socially safe distance. His contraption may just fit the bill. It’s a portable Plexiglas shield that lets stylists get up close and personal so they can safely coif away by putting their combs and scissors through generous portals. Ramirez has faith in his patent-pending invention; he’s putting together 30 of his shields a day so he can supply salons far and wide.

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Even a five-year-old can do it

Social distancing is easy enough to maintain on a golf course; hitting the ball can be hard. But, William Kelly can make it look easy. The young novice is five years old and still taking lessons, but it didn’t stop him from achieving the holy grail of golf, a hole-in-one. It happened at The Bridges at Springtree Golf Club in Sunrise, FL as his coach, Mike Freglette, looked on in amazement. As Freglette put during an interview with WPLG-TV: "It was an unbelievable moment. Some people play golf their whole lives and never get a hole-in-one ... He's got some natural talent."

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What you don’t know?

Rip Van Winkle slept through the American Revolution; Daniel Thorson lost himself in meditation at a remote Buddhist retreat in the hinterlands of Vermont and missed the onset of the COVID pandemic. As he emerged from his two-and-a-half months of self-imposed seclusion in May he mused via a Twitter message that he broadcast for all to see, the words: “I'm back from 75 days in silence. Did I miss anything?” As he put it to reporters: “while I was on retreat, there was a collective traumatic emotional experience that I was not a part of.”

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History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

What could be a bigger treat than a summertime, roller coaster ride? That fistful of fun debuted June 16, 1884 on Coney Island--home of the amusement park—and some say-- the hot dog, too.

Twenty-first century entertainment festivals boast of blood-curdling, high-speed rides that challenge the imagination, and one’s facility to hold down food. But, when it was decided to update Coney Island’s 1927 Cyclone, the wooden structure was kept intact, and the speed was capped at 60 mph.

Adventuresome or risk adverse, the roller coaster is an integral part of American history. The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Scott Rutherford’s The American Roller Coaster.

On July 17, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor. It was a gift from France, America’s staunch ally during the Revolutionary War. Even though more than a century had passed since the Colonies had become an independent nation, France still chose to honor the United States and its exemplary democracy.

Designed by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, and engineer Gustave Eiffel [Tower], the colossus arrived in “erector set” pieces--packed in 200 crates--that took more than a year to re-assemble. Lady Liberty was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886 at a ceremony on Bedloe’s Island, now known as Liberty Island, in New York Harbor.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Yasmin Sabina Khan’s Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty.

Sally Ride took the journey of her life when she boarded the Challenger on June 18, 1983 and became the first American woman in space.

How did she get the job? Ride answered a newspaper ad that had been placed by NASA, who was on the hunt for a mission specialist.

With her Bachelor of Science degree in physics, Bachelor of Arts degree in English, a Master of Science and doctorate in physics, the Agency determined she would make the ideal rocket scientist. Ride quickly mastered the maneuvers to man the robotic arm. During her historic six-day mission, she and the crew used it to place new satellites into orbit, and--retrieve one that had done its time.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Sally Ride and Susan Okie’s To Space and Back.

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3 powerful ways women can help other women in the post pandemic world

As COVID-19 forces changes to the economy and American lifestyles, businesses that hope to survive and thrive will need creative ways to deal with these new challenges.

And that could mean path-breaking opportunities for women, who often bring a different approach to business leadership than their male counterparts, says Andi Simon (www.andisimon.com), a corporate anthropologist, founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants, and author of the upcoming book Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business.

Before the pandemic and economic downturn, over 50% of the U.S. workforce was women and women-owned 40% of the businesses.

But as the pandemic disrupted the economy, eliminated jobs, and forced social isolation and remote work, women found themselves scrambling to sustain their jobs, their livelihoods, and their business operations.

As a result, women in business and business owners were pivoting, Simon says.

“The post-pandemic recovery is going to require clever, opportunistic innovations,” she says. “We will see a great deal of rethinking going on about who is caring for children, how to balance the work/life load, and what work is going to be like in the future.”

Add to this the mental health impact of the social disruptions taking place, and “we can only imagine the pressures facing women, and men, as they rebuild lifestyles and restore economic vitality and growth,” Simon says.

She says she is seeing women “rising to the challenge, quickly developing new ways to help each other stabilize and regenerate their businesses and their families.”

Simon says some of the resilience comes through:

Networking. Both men and women use networking to make business connections but building a network may be even more important for women as they come out of isolation and the recession. Women are making connections with other women who can be supportive of their challenges, who can mentor them, and help them restore their livelihoods and their personal lives. “Women are often criticized for not being decisive or controlling,” Simon says. “Instead, they lead through their ability to build consensus, manage their network, and engage with others.”

Collaboration. There are many types of leaders and their styles shift to be situationally adaptive. “For the post-pandemic period, we expect to watch a lot of collaboration as people try to figure out how to restore their ‘new normal,’ ” Simon says. “It is more difficult for a command and control style of leadership to build trust when there is limited certainty about the right thing to do.” She says the research is compelling that women lead better than men. “Indeed, women are said to have far better social skills building teams than men,” she says, “but when they use those skills, they don’t always achieve the respect of men.” That is why in this emerging vacuum, women are rising to the occasion and leading others into creating the new realities.

Changing how people think. Culture becomes a definer of what we value, believe, and do, Simon says. “There is a cultural movement underway that might be hidden from view unless the media begins to build the new story for how women can create better organizations and businesses in the post-pandemic economy,” she says. “How can we refocus our society to see that what women do is as good as, if not better than what men accomplish? There is momentum, but it is hard to sustain without strong role models, communities of women, and a media that articulates and embraces a new narrative.”

“We are watching women smash the myths that have kept them from achieving the leadership needed in our society today and into the future,” Simon says. “It is time to ‘rethink’ what women can do and how we should enable them to do it. Our society needs it more than ever as we recover from this pandemic and restore the vitality of our economy and our cultures.”

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How business leaders can bring stability and hope in a time of uncertainty

Many business leaders face extreme challenges during their career, but the coronavirus pandemic is uncharted waters for all.

Most offices and stores are closed across the U.S. to combat the spread of COVID-19. Companies still operating are mostly working remotely, and many are doing business differently to adjust to the new normal. As uncertainty continues to reign, how should leaders respond to new fiscal challenges and what guidelines should they follow?

“Companies around the world are reevaluating how they do business in order to overcome the challenge that we all face in this moment,” says Jadon Newman, CEO of Noble Capital (www.noblecapital.com), a private investment and private equity firm. “Times of crisis are when the best leaders step up, calm their workforce, believe in their capabilities, and go beyond the norm to influence changes that make a company stronger for the long haul.

“While the health and well-being of team members has to be leadership’s primary concern, it’s never been more important to find new and creative ways to meet revenue goals. Challenging times is when innovation is often born, and that starts with leaders who won’t be paralyzed by problems, but rather see them as opportunities to grow.”

Newman offers five tips to help business leaders navigate this unprecedented time:

Turn to your core values. A company’s core values act as a compass in stormy seas, Newman says, bringing some stability and helping maintain direction even while waves of uncertainty approach. “Your unchanging core values provide clarity amid the turbulence,” Newman says. “They serve as a framework to inform your decision-making process, especially during periods of uncertainty.”

Be strong and honest. “Leaders who are best prepared to get through a crisis have a good level of resiliency,” Newman says. “They have mental discipline, accept life’s insecurities and don’t panic when the storm hits. The next step is committing to transparency with employees. Share your thoughts, concerns, and encouragement, and reinforce the company values.”

Learn, invite new ideas, and adjust. A crisis causes leaders to re-evaluate processes and consider improvements tailored to a changing business climate. “It’s imperative to learn from the current crisis,” Newman says, “and from your data determine what your company can do differently in order to adjust. Embrace it as an exciting opportunity to innovate and be better. Solicit ideas from your most trusted people. Look at new services and products you could create. Everything from what you sell to how you deliver it might be on the table for change.”

Be extra resourceful. “One thing we learned during the last recession is how to be resourceful,” Newman says. “Now is the time to reorganize and refocus to achieve lean and efficient business operations. Develop a plan to reduce costs without interrupting critical business functions. Reach out to your network and external partners to leverage any resources you may have outside of the company. Empower all team members and leaders at your company to exercise a new level of responsibility.”

Increase, improve communication. “Communication with team members, clients and external partners is paramount,” Newman says. “And there’s no reason you can’t improve communication despite the current circumstances. Increase the use of the technology to stay in front of clients, including video conferencing, emails and even text messages when appropriate. Work with your business leadership to develop the appropriate communication plan for your business.”

“How a company overcomes major challenges determines what type of company they are,” Newman says. “As leaders step up and guide a company through, they develop deeper leadership capabilities that will last long beyond the current crisis. Likewise, their company will be stronger for it.”

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How business leaders can push for change before a crisis demands it

The financial challenges and social disruption imposed by the pandemic have forced

many companies to change—often drastically. As with any change, there are new

opportunities that if seized can be turned into gains.

Leaders of some organizations are acting now to reposition their organizations for growth. But how many thought their business needed transformative change well before the economy was shut down? And did their inaction then make their struggles more pronounced now?

“Companies need to transform before financial performance has started to decline,”

says Juan Riboldi (www.ascent-advisor.com), an international business advisor, author, and president of Ascent Advisor, a management consulting firm.

“The world is changing fast. To remain relevant, we must adapt to the new conditions, but merely reacting to change is insufficient for success. We are required to reinvent ourselves, reimagine what we do and reposition our organization. We need to strategically transform.”

Riboldi presents some ideas for leaders to consider about strategically

transforming their companies:

Strategic transformation is about value creation. “Strategic transformation is how leaders create value in today’s economy,” Riboldi says. “Strategic transformation follows predictable patterns that if correctly applied will lead to value creation. Those who are able to implement the new direction with speed, clarity and precision gain an edge. To fuel economic growth and attain success, leaders need to reinvent their organizations around creating value.”

Reframe change as opportunity. Many people balk at change and feel threatened by it. “Anything that happens to us can be immediately framed as a threat,” Riboldi says. “But it’s important not to stay stuck in that frame of mind, which can make us limited and vulnerable. As we reframe the situation as an opportunity, we take charge and shape the future. It’s no longer what’s happening to us, but what we are doing about it that matters. Whether a change becomes an opportunity or a threat is up to each of us. Transformational leaders reframe change as opportunity.”

Create a shared vision. “We all have a vision,” Riboldi says. “It may be simple or grand, but that is not what makes the difference between ultimate success and failure. The decisive factor is the intent. Is the vision self-centered or is it for the greater good? As we focus on others’ needs and address broader interests, we overcome low trust and instead build on common purpose. Most visions fail to inspire others simply because they are self-centered. A powerful vision inspires others with a cause greater than themselves.”

Focus on execution. Riboldi says that while a leader’s bold, innovative ideas can push an organization in the right direction, many such plans fall short because the leaders can’t execute the transformation. “Transformational leaders focus people on delivering what matters most,” Riboldi says.

Gain confidence by delivering results. “The challenge for leaders is to inspire confidence in uncertain times,” Riboldi says. “How can you tell if the direction your organization is pursuing will succeed or fail? Not all change is for the

better. Progress is made as you test and learn quickly. The key is to deliver regular wins that can be leveraged into large gains. The best predictor of ultimate success is continuous improvement.”

“Whether you are launching an innovative startup, repositioning a striving business for growth, leading a large corporation through industry disruption, or navigating social and economic change in the public sector, you need to deliver what matters most—to you, to your team, to your organization, and to society at large.” Riboldi says, “At your work and in your personal life, how you respond to change determines your chances for success.”

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Tips for women running businesses and households in the age of remote work

The question of where worklife ends and homelife begins took on new meaning when COVID-19 forced many women to work from home while simultaneously caring for children whose schools and daycare centers shut down.

But as women struggle to balance work and home, they may find there are more similarities between the two than they realized, says Marsha Friedman, an entrepreneur, wife, mother of four, and founder and president of News & Experts (www.newsandexperts.com), a national PR firm.

“I’ve always felt that running a business and running a household have a lot in common,” says Friedman, who is also the ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage.

“It’s become even more apparent now that we are running our businesses from our households. In both situations you have budgeting, planning, and one-on-one sessions to discuss challenges you are facing.”

Friedman says being willing to rethink roles is important for working couples raising families under the current situation where the home temporarily has become the office.

“Suddenly, women are managing both their work and their personal life in ways they did not have to before,” she says.

Friedman says one way for women to bring better balance to their lives is to apply some workplace strategies to the home, both during this crisis, and once it’s over. She suggests:

Consider your division of labor. In a business, people are assigned specific jobs and responsibilities based on the company’s needs. The same is true in the household, Friedman says. Jobs around the house need to be delegated, just as they are in a business. Prioritize what tasks must be done, she says, and decide who is most suited to take on each responsibility, whether it’s the mom, the dad or the children.

Be thoughtful about the way you delegate those jobs. “In business, my philosophy is matching up the interests and skills of the person to the needs of the company,” Friedman says. “You can do the same with household chores.” Consider whether one person is better skilled at a certain task or brings more passion to it.

Understand and appreciate each person’s role. In business, you interact with other employees and attend team meetings, which gives you insight into the scope of other people’s jobs and an appreciation for what they do. That can happen at home as well. “Even these days, in many families the spouse at work in an office doesn’t always see everything that’s involved in running a household,” Friedman says. “This stay-at-home period has allowed them to see what happens at home when they are away. This can add a lot to the quality of the relationship.”

Eventually, most women who suddenly became remote workers will ease back into some form of their old life, where once again there’s physical separation between work and home. When that happens, don’t forfeit the progress you made improving that worklife-homelife balance, Friedman says.

“If you made this work during the pandemic,” she says, “you don’t want to lose the ground you gained.”

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Safely manage insect pests in your gardens

By MELINDA MYERS

You plant and tend your garden hoping to enjoy a bountiful harvest and beautiful blooms. Despite proper planning and planting, insects can move in and wreak havoc on your garden. The good news is you can manage problem pests without harming the pollinators that are so important to your garden.

Start by reviewing the care your plants need to thrive. Make sure you are watering thoroughly and only when needed. Consider mulching the soil with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic material to conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature, suppress weeds and improve the soil as they decompose.

Only fertilize if needed. Over fertilization, especially with high nitrogen and fast release products, can stimulate lush, succulent growth that is more susceptible to insect damage. Let your plants, not the fertilizer label, be your guide. Pale plants and those not performing as expected may need a nutrient boost. Consider a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer that won’t stimulate lush, succulent growth or damage the plants when the weather is hot and dry.

Tolerate a bit of damage and wait for the songbirds and beneficial insects, like lady beetles and green lacewings, manage these pests for you. If the damage is more than you can tolerate, consider using an eco-friendly control product.

One you may not be familiar with is lightweight horticulture oil, like the OMRI-certified Summit Year-Round® Spray Oil (YRSO). This can be applied to garden plants during the growing season to manage insects such as aphids, mites, adelgids, scale, leafhoppers and whiteflies. Horticultural oils have been used for many years because they are low risk and effective against a variety of pests.

Horticulture oils kill insects by blocking the air holes through which they breathe. This makes them effective against all stages of the insect’s development from egg through adult.

The oil must contact the insect to be effective. If a beneficial insect lands on a treated plant, it will not be injured. Avoid treating plants when bees and other beneficial insects are present, so you do not accidentally spray them with the oil.

YRSO horticulture oil (SummitResponsibleSolutions.com) can also help reduce the incidence and spread of aphid-transmitted viruses. It interferes with insect feeding which helps reduce the transmission of the virus by the insect.

Lightweight horticulture oils have a minimal waiting period between the last application and harvest. Always check the label before using any product whether organic, natural or synthetic. You will find valuable information on the label, including application rates and directions to help you attain the best results.

You may also find some added benefits when reviewing the label. Horticulture oils can help in managing powdery mildew on plants like beebalm, phlox, peonies and cucumbers. Some can be applied when plants are dormant to smother and kill overwintering mites and aphids as well as egg masses of pests like the gypsy moth.

Monitor your garden throughout the summer. You will enjoy watching your plants grow, make timely harvests and discover insect pests when the populations are small and much easier to manage.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – SSDI Denied; Will Claiming Early Hurt Spouse or Survivor Benefits?

Dear Rusty: I applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and was denied. So, because I turn 62 this month, I plan to file for my early SS retirement benefits. Since I've not worked a lot due to health issues I won't get much and I realize my benefit will be reduced by about 30% from my full retirement age amount, but we need the extra income to help with my medical bills. My husband is 57 and still works. Social Security will be our only retirement so he will be working for as long as he can. My question is, how will my early retirement affect any spousal benefits I might qualify for in the future? Or my widow's benefits if he should die before I do? Signed: Worried Spouse

Dear Worried: Claiming your own SS benefit at age 62 will cause your spousal benefit to be less when your spouse benefit starts (when your husband claims). That’s because your spousal benefit will be in the form of a “spousal boost” which will be added to the reduced SS benefit you will get by filing at age 62. The amount of your spousal boost will depend upon how old you are when your husband claims (which is when your spousal benefit kicks in). If you’ve reached your full retirement age (FRA) of 66 years and 8 months, your spousal boost will be the difference between 1) your SS retirement benefit amount at your FRA (regardless of when you claimed) and 2) half (50%) of the benefit your husband is entitled to at his FRA (regardless of when he claims). At your FRA you get the full amount of the spousal boost; but taken before your FRA the spousal boost will be actuarially reduced according to the number of months prior to FRA it is taken. Since the spousal boost is added to the benefit you are already receiving, you claiming your reduced benefits at age 62 means your spousal benefit will also be reduced. But your spousal benefit (while your husband is living) is entirely different from your survivor benefit if your husband dies before you.

As your husband’s widow, provided you have reached your FRA you will get 100% of the amount he was receiving (or entitled to receive) at his death, instead of your smaller benefit from claiming at age 62. In other words, that you claimed your own benefit at 62 doesn’t affect your survivor benefit. But if the survivor benefit is claimed before you reach your full retirement age it will be reduced due to claiming it early (the reduction is about 4.75% for each year early). Note that you do not have to claim the survivor benefit immediately; you may wait to claim until it reaches maximum at your FRA.

One final point: Statistically, about 2/3rds of all initial SSDI disability applications are denied. If you believe strongly that you’ve been unfairly denied, you can appeal that denial, even if you go ahead and claim your own SS benefit at age 62. To appeal the SSDI denial you should submit form SSA-561 – Request for Reconsideration, which you can find at this link: www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-561.html.

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Will consumers be in a better place by the end of 2020?

The pandemic unleashed a staggering one-two punch on the economy – double-digit unemployment and drastically reduced revenues for many businesses. As states reopen with varying restrictions, what the future holds in the next six to 12 months is anybody’s guess.

But while the economic downturn will continue to impact consumers and businesses indefinitely, it could have been even worse, says Ron Oertell, Chief Financial Officer at LendingUSA, LLC.

“Given the high unemployment rate, there was very strong concern out there as to what short-term effect the pandemic would have on the consumer,” Oertell says. “The surprise has been that consumers have been relatively stable in paying their bills. That has been driven in part by public policy decisions such as the stimulus payment plans and the government stepping up in a strong way.

“In past crises, the government has walked solutions into the crisis. This time they have run to fix the problem from many different aspects. From a consumer finance side, deferments and defaults are lower than some of the initial estimates. However, there is a strong concern that we’re not out of the woods yet. We still have a very high unemployment rate. And nobody knows how long it’s going to take for the true economy to recover and for the marketplace to drive strong consumer performance.”

Oertell gives his outlook on key issues facing consumers as the nation tries to get back to work during the pandemic:

Tightening lending. With unemployment remaining high, many people seeking loans or credit may find both harder to secure. “I do believe it will be a challenge for many people to obtain credit,” Oertell says. “There will be an undersupply of credit and bank-backed funding for individuals who are unemployed. When the economy was strong, credit was relatively easy to obtain, but now lenders are cutting credit limits on some current customers and making new credit more difficult to get. The country went from its lowest unemployment rate in many decades to its highest in 90 years, and banks are showing they are nervous.”

Government support. If more consumers are denied credit or loans, where will they turn? “Much will depend on the actions of federal and state governments,” Oertell says. “If governments and lenders continue to provide unprecedented support to individuals through payments and/or expense relief measures, such as mortgage payment moratoriums or the halting of eviction proceedings, then I do not see personal bankruptcies rising significantly. The speed of the recovery will be critical in determining the effect of the high unemployment rate on the number of bankruptcies. "A theme many have recently expressed is the confidence in the government to continue forms of consumer support through the election period. However, such governmental actions cannot continue indefinitely. When consumers are denied traditional lower cost credit, many will turn to higher APR lenders or non-traditional forms such as title loans to cover unexpected or emergency life events.”

Consumer debt. Recent reports have indicated consumer debt is down as a result of the pandemic and people drastically reducing their shopping. What impact could that have on people getting credit? “A reduction in shopping could reduce an individual’s request for credit as well as reduce outstanding balances on credit cards,” Oertell says. “Traditionally, both factors would increase availability based upon standard underwriting metrics. However, many lenders have placed hard cut-off rules based on employment status and other factors, which would more than offset any benefit from the reduction in shopping. Over the next few months, lenders will continue to deal with the uncertainty of future credit-worthiness when traditional indicators of payment behavior are distorted and capacity to pay in is highly uncertain.”

“Consumers are facing very challenging economic times, but the long-term impact of the pandemic on the credit markets isn’t close to clear,” Oertell says. “How many businesses are fully functioning, and whether the unemployment rate is substantially lowered, will be the key things to watch in the next few months.

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Rebuilding your team? Why recruiting a diverse workforce is just the beginning

As businesses reopen after the COVID-19 shutdown, some managers may have trouble reassembling the same team of employees.

People who were temporarily laid off may have found other jobs in the interim rather than wait for the boss to call them back to work.

If that’s the case, this could be an opportune time to think in terms of diversity and inclusion as the business creates and trains a new team, says Dr. Cathy Hung (www.drcathyhung.com), author of Pulling Wisdom: Filling Gaps of Cross-Cultural Communication for Healthcare Providers.

“Having a diverse team can give you fresh perspectives and ideas, and also help you better serve your customers and clients who in so many cases are also going to be diverse,” says Dr. Hung, an oral surgeon and Taiwanese native who came to the U.S. when she was 18.

Although her book’s message is aimed at healthcare providers, Dr. Hung says the lessons about diversity and inclusion apply to all businesses.

But she also says that creating an inclusive atmosphere in the workplace doesn’t end with the hiring process.

“Hiring a team with a diverse background is only the beginning,” Dr. Hung says. “Hiring team members of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds does not automatically equate to cultural competency.”

To make it all work, and improve the overall operation of your business, she recommends:

Incorporate cultural competency into new employee training. Regardless of their personal racial, ethnic or geographic backgrounds, all people need to be sensitive to differences, especially now in what is a sensitive time, Dr. Hung says. “People may worry about offending each other and stepping on each others’ toes,” she says. “So, when you have new employee orientation, how we all get along should be part of the discussion. Doing so will make for a better workplace, and a better business overall.”

Have an open-door policy to discuss conflicts. Be prepared that cultural differences could lead to occasional conflicts, Dr. Hung says. For example, some cultures that communicate in a very direct manner can be interpreted as being “pushy” or “rude,” while other cultures communicate in an indirect manner, where “maybe” or “yes” can mean a no, she says. Also, some team members may feel dismissed or made fun of because of accents or language proficiency, she says, so those issues should be dealt with. “In situations where conflict resolution is needed,” Dr Hung says, “it may not be a bad idea to approach individuals and speak to them privately.” Make certain you hear both sides, but also ensure that the value of a diverse workplace is reinforced. For an offending person, more training may be in order.

Celebrate the differences. Different cultures and religions celebrate different holidays, so a great way to build camaraderie and a feeling of inclusiveness in the workplace is to in some way recognize those holidays. “Also, another great way to bridge cultural differences is to talk about food,” Hung says. “It’s a low common denominator and makes for good small talk within the team. During celebrations people can even bring in dishes from different cultures.”

“By using the right strategies, you can make your team more cohesive and that’s good for everyone involved,” Hung says. “The more inclusive and positive you can be, the more welcome your employees will feel. They will get along better, work together better, and be more productive for you.” When employees are happy and satisfied, that’s reflected in their interactions with customers, leading to greater customer satisfaction.

Life according to COVID

Life is returning to normal in a somewhat comic way as the COVID lockdown eases in some parts of the country. Take South Carolina, for example. The state is allowing restaurants to open as long as they adhere to safe-distancing guidelines. Customers at eateries must be seated at least six feet apart, notwithstanding the fact that it can make the restaurant look kind of empty. So the owners of the Open Hearth restaurant in Greenville, S.C., Paula Starr Melehes and her husband, came up with a “fun” way to stick to the rules. "Instead of using scary, yellow tape or roping off the empty tables,” they have employed blow up dolls to fill the gaps. They’ve dressed them up and seated them at what you might call safe-distancing tables so the paying customers don’t feel so isolated.

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Go clone yourself

Working from home has become the new norm as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. . Companies have initiated compliance procedures that can be boring, such as video staff meetings using computer based services that allow multiple remote users to attend. But, as the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way to have your meeting and your beer, too, using a “Clone Machine” app. It’s the brainchild of the makers of Coors Light and it is available for free at its Clone Machine Website: www.coorslight.com/clonemachine/. It lets you produce a 30-second video loop “of yourself nodding along politely, with the occasional smile, while your boss talks about the latest budget reports.” Of course, it’s real purpose is to give you “enough time to sneak in a trip to the fridge for a cold beer," the company admits.

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Isolation can have curious effects

Strange thoughts can infiltrate your brain when you are isolated as most of the nation is during the current COVID pandemic. For example, some people -- more than you might possibly imagine -- let their minds wonder and imagine they are members of an ant colony. Far-fetched, you might say. But the fact is that there is a group on Facebook whose members -- a massive 1.8 million of them, and counting -- actually do engage in role play as members of an ant colony. They diligently act out chores that serve the colony’s queen. As one aficionado of the game put it: "I think people are searching for something to do right now.” Ya think?

Irish, natives & COVID-19

Fundraisers for two Native American tribes heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic have received thousands of dollars from Irish donors, who cite tribal support during Ireland's Great Famine of the 19th century as the reason. “The Choctaw donating to Irish was not just philanthropic, but it was also a critique of imperialism in the United States,” Conor Donnan of the University of Pennsylvania said. “These were nations that were victims of the Anglo-Protestant imperial project.”

Educators & protests

Educators should not ignore the protests occurring across the country in their classrooms and instead treat the moment as a chance to further educate. “Ask students what they have heard about the protests, and where they heard it from,” said Sigal Ben-Porath of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. “If there are obvious factual errors, teachers should correct them, but this is about laying a foundation for the conversation."

Nursing facilities & Yelp

Research suggests that using Yelp reviews could help hospitals, patients, and payers assess the quality of individual skilled nursing facilities for post-acute care. “Comments often captured perceptions of experience with skilled nursing facilities that were not publicly reported in Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare or elsewhere, such as the quality of physical infrastructure and equipment, staff attitudes, and communication with caregivers,” said Janet Weiner of the University of Pennsylvania's Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics.

Tumor signals

Initial tumor spread is the reason most people with cancer die, so researchers have developed a therapy that successfully blocks metastasis and prolongs survival time in a mouse model. “In my opinion, this kind of therapy could be used in conjunction with surgery to remove the primary tumor or perhaps other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy,” Serge Fuchs of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine said.

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Social distancing for teens and young adults

Older adults are not the only ones experiencing stress from the COVID-19 pandemic. For teens and young adults practicing social distancing, stressors may be experienced because of the numerous disappointments they are facing, according to Linda Inmon, Extension associate-family and consumer sciences at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“They are missing such things as their high school and college graduations, weddings and other major milestones and life experiences,” Inmon said. “This has caused many of them to become disappointed, sad and even frustrated.”

It is important to not minimize their losses because many of them may not understand the importance of social distancing, she said.

“They do not have the ability to control their executive functions related to planning and future consequences, which causes them to act impulsively,” Inmon said. “The area of the brain that controls those functions is not fully developed until their mid to late 20s.”

According to Dr. Michelle Drouin, a professor of psychology at Purdue University Fort Wayne and senior research scientist at Parkview's Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, Gen Y and Zers defy the rules of social isolation and laugh at the older generations for being too cautious. Many teens and young adults believe COVID-19 will not affect them because they are invincible.

Parents can help them understand the need for social distancing by helping them find reliable sources of information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.cdc.gov), Inmon said. Sites such as this explain why it is important not only for them, but also for the protection of others.

“As parents, allow them to discuss their feelings about COVID-19, social distancing and the loss of special moments in their life,” she said. “Since teens and young adults are in the stage of finding out who they are and where they fit in the world, discuss how to give them private time while respecting the rights of others.”

Continue to help them establish routines, practice good nutrition, exercise and creatively connect with their peers, Inmon said.

“This is a time in their lives when they want you involved the least but need you the most,” she said. “Be there to listen and provide knowledge and wisdom when needed.”

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Early Social Security Disbursement: An FAQ

By Molly Bond, Advocacy & Public Policy Coordinator,

American Booksellers Association

As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the American Booksellers Association has heard from members all around the country who are struggling financially, including those who are near retirement age (between the ages of 62 and 70). If you are in this age group, you may be considering how early Social Security retirement benefits might play a role in easing your current financial uncertainty.

In response to member inquiries following a New York Times article on Social Security, ABA’s Advocacy team reached out to Russell Gloor at the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) Foundation, who has a wealth of knowledge in regards to Social Security. The following information pulls heavily from information provided by Gloor and the previously mentioned New York Times article.

Note: The decision to claim Social Security retirement benefits early is a personal decision. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Carefully review your financial situation and consider consulting with a financial advisor before making a decision, as a delay in claiming Social Security retirement benefits can substantially increase your retirement income.

When am I eligible for Social Security retirement benefits?

You become entitled to full (unreduced) Social Security retirement benefits at full retirement age. Your full retirement age varies depending on the year in which you were born. Find your full retirement age here. Regardless of your full retirement age, you may start receiving benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.

Will my benefits be reduced if I claim Social Security retirement benefits before my full retirement age?

Yes. If you start taking your Social Security retirement benefits before your full retirement age, your benefits are reduced for each month before your full retirement age. In other words, your annual benefit will be higher for every year you wait, until age 70. Filing before your full retirement age can decrease your benefits by as much as 6.7 percent annually. The maximum reduction at age 62 will be 25 percent for those who reached age 62 in 2013 and 30 percent for those born after 1959.

For example, if you were born 1957, your full retirement age is 66 and 6 months. An estimated monthly benefit of $1000 at full retirement age would be reduced to $725, by 27.50 percent. You can select your year of birth to find out how much your benefit will be reduced if you retire between age 62 and full retirement age.

Inversely, claiming Social Security retirement benefits after your full retirement age results in a larger benefit: an 8 percent increase for every 12 months of delay up to age 70.

If I choose to take Social Security retirement benefits before full retirement age, how can I maximize my lifetime benefits?

If you are considering claiming Social Security retirement benefits before full retirement age due to short-term COVID-19-induced financial hardship, you have the option to claim benefits now and then suspend them once you reach full retirement age. If you do this, you will accrue delayed retirement credits.

Keep in mind that claiming Social Security retirement benefits early, even if you then later suspend them, will still reduce your lifetime benefits. For example, if you claim early at age 62 with a full retirement age of 67, you will get a benefit 30 percent less than you would get at age 67; that reduction will stay in place even if you later suspend your benefits at full retirement age and subsequently earn delayed retirement credits until age 70. While your age 70 benefit will be more than your age 62 benefit, the increase will be considerably less than it would have been if you did not take your benefits early.

Additionally, if you are still working, you need to consider Social Security’s earnings test (see section below).

Are there other consequences to suspending Social Security retirement benefits?

Yes. Suspending Social Security retirement benefits at your full retirement age also means that the benefits anyone else (such as a spouse or dependent child) is collecting on that record would also be suspended. In other words, suspending your Social Security retirement benefit at full retirement age also suspends benefits for anyone else collecting benefits on your record. This could be the case if the Social Security retirement benefit taken early results in a spousal benefit being paid to a spouse, or a dependent child benefit to be paid, only to have those benefits cease when the Social Security retirement benefit is suspended.

Can I suspend spousal and survivor benefits as well as retirement benefits?

No. The option to suspend benefits applies only to Social Security retirement benefits that are based on your work record. It would not apply to either spousal or survivor benefits.

For example, a widow who is waiting until her full retirement age to claim 100 percent of her survivor benefit cannot, instead, claim a reduced survivor benefit earlier and then suspend benefits at her full retirement age and expect a larger survivor benefit later.

Can I claim Social Security retirement benefits before my full retirement age while I am still working?

Yes, but you will be subject to a Social Security earnings test. This earnings test sets a limit on how much you can earn before Social Security takes back some of your benefits.

If you are under full retirement age for the entire year, the Social Security Administration will deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit of $18,240 for 2020. If your benefits are withheld because you exceed the earnings limit, you will see a benefit increase when you reach full retirement age; however, it will take many years (up to 15) to recover any benefits withheld due to exceeding the earnings limit while collecting early benefits.

If you will reach full retirement age in 2020, the annual limit on your earnings for the months before full retirement age is $48,600 for 2020. In those months before you reach full retirement age, the Social Security Administration will deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $3 you earn above the annual limit of $48,600. Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, your earnings no longer reduce your benefits, regardless of how much you earn.

In summary, there are a number of complications you must consider when deciding to claim Social Security retirement benefits before full retirement age. The right choice is dependent upon your individual circumstances.

If you have Social Security-related questions, you can contact the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory Service at ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org, or 1-888-750-2622.

Reprinted with permission of the American Booksellers Association. Founded in 1900, the American Booksellers Association is a national not-for-profit trade organization that works to help independently owned bookstores grow and succeed.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – What will my wife’s survivor benefit be?

Dear Rusty: I am a 68-year-old retired male and had planned on waiting to collect Social Security benefits beginning at age 70. My wife is currently 53 years old. When I die, would my wife’s spousal benefit at her full retirement age be equal to what I would be receiving at age 70 or be reduced? Also, if I were to die before 70 and before collecting social security, what would be my wife’s survivor benefit at her full retirement age? Signed: Older Husband

Dear Older Husband: Your wife’s survivor benefit as your widow will depend upon two things – the amount you were receiving (or were eligible to receive) at your death, and the age at which she claims her survivor benefit as your widow.

If you were receiving an increased benefit because you waited until age 70, your wife’s benefit - if she has reached her full retirement age - will be 100% of the amount you were receiving at your death. If she hasn’t yet reached her full retirement age when she claims her survivor benefit (she could claim as early as age 60) the benefit will be actuarially reduced according to the number of months prior to her full retirement age (FRA) that she claims it. The amount of reduction for claiming her survivor benefit before her FRA is 0.396% for each full month earlier, which is 4.75% per year earlier than her FRA, to a maximum of 28.5%. And for clarity, your wife isn’t required to take the survivor benefit immediately upon your death; she can wait until the benefit reaches 100% at her full retirement age, if desired and if financially feasible.

If your wife is also eligible for a SS benefit on her own work record and you die before she reaches her FRA, she will have the choice to take either her own Social Security benefit or her survivor benefit from you. If her survivor benefit will be her highest possible benefit, she would have the option to take her own SS retirement benefit from her own work record first and delay taking the larger survivor benefit until it reaches maximum at her FRA. Or, if her own benefit at age 70 would be more than her survivor benefit from you, she could take the smaller survivor benefit first and delay taking her own SS benefit until it reaches maximum at age 70 and switch to her own benefit at that time. The goal is for her to get the highest possible benefit for the rest of her life.

Finally, if you were to die before you started collecting your increased Social Security benefit at age 70, your wife would still have the same options, but her survivor benefit amount would be based upon the amount you were eligible to receive at your death, even though you were not yet collecting. In other words, all those delayed retirement credits (DRCs) you are now earning (and will continue to earn until you are 70) will not be lost – the benefit you have earned up to the point you die will be what your wife’s survivor benefit is based upon.

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Ask Rusty – When should we claim our benefits?

Dear Rusty: We served overseas for several years, not earning many quarters for Social Security. However, we have made sure that we paid in over time so we can receive a benefit, but it will not amount to much. For the past several years now, we have been back in the US, earning some professional salaries. Now it looks like at full retirement age my husband will get $1147/month, and I will get $1026/ month. I was born in 1957 and my husband in 1956. Question #1: For the most financial benefit, when should we each start collecting SS (either now or at full retirement age)? And question #2: Will our amounts change because we are married and both collecting? Signed: Overseas Worker

Dear Overseas Worker: To answer your second question first, no, your benefit amounts will not change because you are married and both collecting. Based upon the numbers you provided, neither of you will be eligible for a “spousal boost” from the other because your benefit amounts at your FRA are too similar, so maximizing your individual benefits should be your goal.

As for your other question, when you should start collecting depends upon a number of factors, including your financial needs and, importantly, your expected longevity. Both of you can get the maximum benefit available to you by waiting until you are 70 years old to claim, but that only makes sense if you are in good health and expect at least average longevity (about 84 for a man and 87 for a woman).

If you claim benefits before you reach your full retirement age (66 ½ for you and 66 plus 4 months for your husband), those benefits will be cut. If you collect now, your benefit would be cut by about 27% and your husband’s by about 22% (based upon your respective years of birth). Further, if you claim before your full retirement ages and continue to work, you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings test, which limits the amount you can earn before they take back some of your benefits (the 2020 earnings limit is $18,240; if you exceed that they’ll take back half of anything you earn over the limit). The earnings limit changes annually but goes away at your FRA.

At your full retirement ages, you’ll be entitled to 100% of the benefits you’ve earned from your lifetime of working (approximately the amounts estimated now). If you can and do wait beyond your full retirement age (FRA), for each month you delay you’ll earn delayed retirement credits of 2/3 of 1% per month of delay (8% per year of delay), up to age 70 when your maximum benefit is reached. As a point of information, if you wait until your full retirement age to claim, you will have collected the same amount of money at age 78 as if you had claimed at age 62; and if you wait until age 70 to claim you’ll have collected the same amount of money at age 82 as if you had collected at your full retirement age. If you live at least until “average” longevity, you’ll collect more in cumulative Social Security benefits by waiting.

So, when should you claim? If you’re still working and earning “professional salaries”, then waiting at least until your full retirement age would be a wise choice. If you expect at least average longevity and don’t need the money right away, waiting until age 70 would be a prudent strategy. But if you don’t work and expect less than average longevity, then claiming at any time you need the money would be a reasonable decision. This is a choice only each of you can make.

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How brands can respond to a crisis with empathy

A public crisis often results in a call to action. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest and perhaps largest case in point, hitting every aspect of American society and prompting the need for aid, whether it comes from federal and state government agencies, or from a small restaurant owner serving free meals to the unemployed and homeless.

Some well-known U.S. brands are helping, too, illuminating different ways businesses can show social responsibility at a time of great social strife. The uplifting theme throughout is that empathy is not in short supply, says Ed Mitzen (www.edmitzen.com), founder of a health and wellness marketing agency and ForbesBook author of More Than a Number: The Power of Empathy and Philanthropy in Driving Ad Agency Performance.

“Empathy is the cornerstone of a sustainable and continually successful business – empathy for and between your employees, and by extension empathy for others, especially in times of need,” Mitzen says.

“This value is part of the foundation that makes your people want to perform and want to do good for others. Now more than ever, people want to work for companies they feel are making a positive impact in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic is showing that beyond how you look as a brand, it’s what you do that matters. Consumers want to see companies that through their actions show that they care.”

Mitzen suggests how brands can respond with empathy both to employees and consumers during a crisis.

Don’t slash philanthropy. Budgets often have to be trimmed in a crisis, but Mitzen says the giving category should remain a priority. “It’s very easy for someone making a budget to say, ‘We’re going to increase our margin by 3% by getting rid of philanthropy,’ ” Mitzen says. “But doing so further diminishes your culture, dehumanizes the company, and sends mixed signals about your values. Find a way to make that part of your budget work. If there’s an opportunity to shift your corporate giving strategy to focus less on finances and more on donated time or goods, try taking that route. It’s a great way to keep your philanthropy intact while still saving where you can.”

Manage layoffs with compassion. The difficult economic consequences of COVID-19 have forced many companies to release workers they would otherwise retain. A public health situation out of businesses’ control makes decisions about layoffs, and delivering the news to an employee, extra difficult compared to other situations. “Although the need to cut costs is understandable, a leader should think with empathy and creativity when deciding,” Mitzen says. “Consult your managerial team about how the company can save as many jobs as possible. What are the other options to reduce costs? If some layoffs are still necessary, take extra care to tell the employee with empathy and compassion and treat them with dignity and respect. Stress to them that it’s about a global pandemic and not about job performance. Offer to provide any support for them that you can and offer to serve as a reference.”

Be sensitive, don’t self-promote. Mitzen says the purest and most effective way to help during a crisis is to proactively provide solutions to help people cope with the emergency. While showing social responsibility can be good public relations for business, Mitzen emphasizes there’s a fine line at such a stressful time between a company being perceived as opportunistic or relevantly helpful. “Brands need to display sensitivity in tragedies and natural disasters,” Mitzen says. “You don’t want to appear that you’re trying to cash in. That will come back to bite you. This is the time for brands to show empathy and authenticity. That means, as a company, ask yourself questions about how you can help and be human in the process.”

“It’s inspiring to see the different ways brands are giving to those in need,” Mitzen says. “This pandemic will change some things about how companies do business, and I expect that social responsibility will rise on the priority list for many brands.”

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Protect your landscape from hungry critters

By MELINDA MYERS

While you’re busy filling your landscape with beautiful flowers and scrumptious vegetables, the deer, rabbits and other wildlife are watching and waiting to move in to dine. Don’t lose your beautiful investment to hungry animals. Be proactive in keeping wildlife at bay, so you can grow a beautiful landscape this season.

Protect plants as soon as they are set in the ground. It’s easier to prevent damage rather than break a habit. Once critters find delicious plants, they will be back for more and they’re likely to bring along a few additional family members.

A fence is an excellent defense against animals. A four-feet-high fence anchored tightly to the ground will keep out rabbits. Five-feet-high fences around small garden areas will usually keep out deer that tend to avoid smaller spaces.

Woodchucks are more difficult. They will dig under or climb over the fence. You must place the fence at least 12" below the soil surface with four to five feet above ground. Make sure gates are secured so animals can’t squeeze through or under these. The last thing you want is an animal happily living and dining inside your fenced in garden.

For gardeners who do not want to spend the money on fencing or view their flowers and other ornamental plantings through a fence, there are other options.

Scarecrows, rattling pans and other scare tactics have been widely used for decades. Unfortunately, urban animals are used to noise and human scent and not discouraged by these tactics. You must move and alternate the various scare tactics to increase your chance of success.

Repellents may be your best and most practical option. Always check the label for details on use, application rates and timing. Research has proven that odor-based repellents are more effective than other types of repellents. Wildlife will avoid plants rather than taking a bite before they discover they don’t like the taste.

Look for organic repellents labeled for use on food plants when treating edibles. Plantskydd (plantskydd.com) is the only OMRI certified organic repellent and is effective against rabbits, deer, voles, elk, moose, chipmunks and squirrels. It is rain resistant and each application lasts three to four months during the growing season.

Maximize results by treating new growth according to label directions. Most liquid repellents need time to dry while granule repellents may need to be watered to activate the smell. Always check the label for the product you are applying.

Protect new tree whips by dipping them in a long-lasting liquid repellent. Mature trees will benefit as well. Treat them prior to bud break or two to three weeks after leaves have developed.

Continue to monitor plantings throughout your landscape all season long. Watch for animal tracks, droppings and other signs wildlife have moved into your area. Protect new plantings and those favored by wildlife before they start dining on your plants. Always be as persistent as the hungry animals.

If you’re ever feeling discouraged, remember that gardeners have been battling animals in the garden long before us and there are lots of options to help protect your flowers and harvest.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Tree World Plant Care Products for her expertise to write this article. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

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2 alternatives for struggling retirees who don’t want to drain their savings

By CHRIS ORESTIS

Financial professionals often have this word of advice when the market takes a tumble and your 401(k) and other retirement accounts lose value:

Ride it out. If you make a move now, you are locking in your losses. The market will come back – if you’re patient.

That’s great advice for younger investors who have time on their side. It’s less so for retirees who need that money for weekly living expenses right now. With every withdrawal they make, they are lowering the account’s balance, which means when the recovery does happen, they won’t enjoy its full power.

Unfortunately, many older Americans may feel financially trapped in this scenario and assume they have no alternative other than to keep drawing money from those retirement accounts. But here are two options that don't require you to dip into your retirement savings and are immediately available. One is a reverse mortgage; the other involves cashing in on your life insurance through a life settlement.

Let’s explore how each works:

Reverse mortgage. A reverse mortgage is a mortgage loan or line of credit, usually secured by a residential property, that enables the borrower to access the unencumbered value of the property. The loans are designed for older homeowners and do not require monthly payments for as long as the homeowner is living in the home. Borrowers are still responsible for paying property taxes and homeowner's insurance. Reverse mortgages allow homeowners who are 62 or older to borrow against the home equity they have built up in their homes now, and defer payment of the loan until they die, sell, or move out of the home.

One downside, though, is that because there are no required mortgage payments on a reverse mortgage, the interest is added to the loan balance each month. The rising loan balance can eventually grow to exceed the value of the home, particularly in times of declining home values or if the borrower continues to live in the home for many years. However, the borrower (or the borrower's estate) is generally not required to repay any additional loan balance in excess of the value of the home at the time it is sold.

One example of a reverse mortgage is an FHA-insured HECM (home equity conversion mortgage), non-recourse loan. The cost of the FHA mortgage insurance is a one-time fee of 2% of the appraised value of the home, and then an annual fee of 0.5% of the outstanding loan balance.

Life settlements. Many people don’t know this, but life insurance policy owners have the legal right to sell off an unneeded or unwanted life insurance policy through what’s known as a “life settlement.”

For struggling seniors, this is an immediate financial solution they can access in times like these if they are having difficulties paying their bills. After all, the settlement is for a policy a senior already owns and has made premium payments on for years. There are no fees to do a life settlement and no out of pocket costs When a person settles their policy, the policy owner receives cash which can often be tax-free and they are no longer responsible for premium payments. The process can be completed from start to finish in 90 days or less. Another bonus in these social distancing times is that the entire life-settlement process is conducted remotely and there is no need for in person meetings at any time.

During the coronavirus pandemic, struggling seniors who own a life insurance policy, or who have paid off or nearly paid off their mortgages, should review these other options before they make any moves toward depleting their retirement savings.

The opportunity could be there to put yourself on much firmer financial footing.

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Going to great lengths

It turns out that necessity is not the mother of invention; it’s self-distancing in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. An automobile engineer in India, for example, wanted to make sure he and his daughter would be safe while riding on his electric motorcycle. But the seating arrangement on a standard cycle just would not do if he was to adhere to distancing requirements. So, he took matters into his own hands and turned his electric bike into a proper vehicle for the task by building an extra-long COVID bike that would ensure proper distancing. His new vehicle keeps the pair a safe five feet apart while on the road. He really wanted that car. He was dead set on buying a Lamborghini and so he took the family car and drove off, determined to make his big buy. But he didn’t get very far. A Highway Patrol trooper spotted him as he was making his way through Weber County, Utah to the interstate and pulled him over, thinking he might be “an impaired driver.” Turns out it was a five year old boy behind the wheel who explained that he had gotten into an argument with his mother who insisted that she was not going to buy him a Lamborghini. So, he took matters into his own hands, determined to drive to California to purchase the car himself. The trooper got him home safely, noting that the three dollars the boy had on him would hardly be enough for a down payment on the luxury auto, which can cost as much as $200,000.

For all the nation to see

Self-isolation during the COVID crisis can have the side effect of making you lazy when working from home. For example, you realize you don’t have to get dressed to go to work when you are working from home. But, be careful; embarrassing mistakes can happen. Take what happened to ABC-TV news reporter Will Reeve, son of the late film star Christopher Reeve. There was Will, delivering a live report from his home for Good Morning America neatly dressed from the waist up. He was operating the camera, himself, so he didn’t realize that viewers were seeing more of him than he thought. He claims that he was wearing work-out shorts, but what the heck. As he put it in a tweet after the show, "Hope everyone got a much needed laugh."

Working from home

As working from home becomes the new norm for many people during the pandemic, managers are now learning how to navigate thorny issues around productivity, according to Nancy Rothbard of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Those managers have a perennial concern that out-of-sight employees are also out of mind, taking a nap or doing laundry or watching TV during work-from-home hours because nobody is watching them. One solution, she said, is for managers to be crystal clear about expectations of employees who work remotely. What are the daily or weekly goals? What are the deadlines? How often should they check in via video, email or phone?

Tweets & substance abuse

When youths tweet about drugs, they rarely mention the negative consequences or effects of substance use, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. The researchers looked at 23 million drug-related tweets and found that youths are more likely to express pride, confidence or boastfulness about drugs. “Youths’ tweets about using drugs to cope with stress, grief and trauma may contribute to distorted perceptions of normative behavior and may encourage other youths to adopt similar coping strategies in real life,” said Robin Stevens, director of Penn Nursing’s Health Equity and Media Lab.

Nursing homes in the news

Nursing homes are getting a bad rap from some news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ashley Ritter, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and an associate fellow of Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute. "I think one of the biggest things we could do is stop calling nursing homes 'death pits,'" Ritter said. "Behind every sobering story are five other stories of frontline workers facing considerable personal risk as they treat very vulnerable individuals with dignity and skill. We must tell these stories."

Long-term care

The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting the fact that the long-term care system in the U.S. is fundamentally broken, according to Rachel Warner, an economist, physician and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute. “We have undervalued it and underpaid for it for decades." Werner also said, “If we want to save lives, we need to do widespread testing and contact tracing for people in nursing homes, the workforce and the community at large. A year from now we're going to look back and say, 'I'm really glad we did that,' because that is going to save lives."

Integrators & segmentors 

Many people who work from home fall into one of two categories: integrators and segmentors. According to management professor Nancy Rothbard of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, integrators don’t mind blurring the boundary between work and home. They are OK if someone else in the house walks into the room while they are working. But segmentors have a strong desire to separate business from personal life. They like to work in a dedicated space, preferably with a door.

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History Matters: A feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize, Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in 1927 to be the film industry’s official trade organization; two years later--on May 16, 1929—the first Academy Awards were presented, but it wasn’t until 1939 that the golden statuettes became known as the Oscars. According to Hollywood lore, Margaret Herrick, executive director of the Academy, apparently said they looked like her Uncle Oscar. The moniker stuck, and today, the annual event lures viewers from all over the world, who set aside an evening to observe televised glamor -- American style.The movie industry has told -- and re-told -- the story of America in films of adventure, comedy, and history, which have nabbed millions of imaginations, and transformed the country into a powerful, worldwide messenger of culture.For more information about Hollywood, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Gregory Paul William’s The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs Board of Education that racial segregation in the nation’s schools was unconstitutional. Civil Rights attorney, Thurgood Marshall, who would become the first African-American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court 13 years later, led the team that argued the case for Linda Brown, who was denied entry into a local Topeka, Kansas school because of the color of her skin. A year later, the Court issued new rules, ordering all public schools to integrate.For a better understanding of the case, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests Susan Goldman Rubin’s Brown vs Board of Education: A Fight for Simple Justice

On May 28, 1958 baseball fans in New York learned that their beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Giants, were leaving town. There was no joy in Mudville that day. “Dem bums,” as the Dodgers were affectionately nicknamed, were headed to a new hometown -- Los Angeles-- and Big Blue or “the jints” were about to become the San Francisco Giants.According to the New York Daily News, the Dodgers had played baseball in Brooklyn since 1871, and the Giants—originally known as “The Gothams” had formed their team in 1883 but were renamed in 1885. Legend has it that their manager, Jim Mutrie, entered the locker room after a particularly satisfying win over the Philadelphia Phillies, shouting to the players: “My big fellows! My giants!” The rest is history.

For more information about the intricate relationship between baseball and America, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Lawrence S. Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played it.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About the “Earnings Test” and “Registering” with Social SecurityDear Rusty: Does tax filing status matter when calculating how much you can earn without a reduction in your monthly SS payout? My wife and I have filed a joint income tax return for years. My wife is working and I'm 62 and wondering - if I start drawing SS, does the earnings limit only relate to what I earn, or does it include what my wife earns as well? Is the earnings limit tied to our IRS filing status? I need to know if I should file my taxes as a single to be sure my wife's earnings are not combined with mine to affect my Social Security payment. Also, I've read that it's recommended to register online with SS if you're 62. As I understand it, this should be done even if one's not intending to start benefits yet. Is this true? What are the benefits for doing this? Does it make for a quicker start of payments once the election to start benefits is made? Would it help my wife should I die prior to starting my benefits? Signed: WonderingDear Wondering: Income tax filing status doesn’t matter when it comes to determining if your earnings from work exceed Social Security “earnings limit.” If you collect SS before you reach your full retirement age (FRA), your wife’s earnings from working will not be counted toward your personal SS earnings limit. The earnings test looks only at your personal earnings and, if you exceed the limit, SS will take back some of your benefits. But only your personal earnings – as reported on your W-2 or Self-Employment tax return – count. If you’re not working, then your Social Security benefits will not be affected by the earnings test, even if you file a joint return which has an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) which is more than the annual earnings limit because your wife works. As for your second question: it is not necessary, nor would it gain you any advantage, to “register” with Social Security before you are ready to claim your benefits. Indeed, Social Security does not even provide you with a way to do that. What they do provide is a way for you to create your own personal “My Social Security” online account, which gives you access to all of the online features provided by the Social Security Administration, including allowing you to apply for your benefits online (the fastest way to claim) whenever you’re ready to do that. Having an online SS account doesn’t provide you with any benefit advantage, but it allows you to monitor your lifetime earnings record, get a replacement SS card if needed, and get estimates of your current and future Social Security benefits to help you decide when to claim. You can create your personal “My Social Security” account by going to www.ssa.gov/myaccount. They use a “two-factor” security process, which means you’ll not only need to set up a password but also a second way to confirm your identity (usually via a code sent to a text-enabled cell phone or your email account). But, even if you have this online account pre-established, your wife will still need to contact Social Security directly to claim her survivor benefit if you predeceased her. Survivor benefits must be applied for by the surviving spouse directly contacting Social Security. 

Virus-sniffing dogs

A new research program is seeking to train dogs to detect the novel coronavirus in people. In the pilot program led by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs will be exposed to COVID-19-positive saliva and urine samples in a laboratory setting. Once the dogs learn the odor, the investigators will assess whether the dogs can discriminate between COVID-19-positive and -negative samples. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center will be providing expertise as well.

Teens & social distancing

Teens have a deep-seated need for their friends, and coronavirus stay-at-home directives can get in the way. “Inherently, adolescents want to be together,” said Catherine McDonald of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. “They’re at a developmental stage when peer relationships are really important. That’s why some of this is really hard for them. They can’t physically be with their peers and friends.” Parents can help by engaging in explicit conversations with teens about how strange the coronavirus situation is for everyone, said McDonald and Sara Jaffee, a Penn psychologist. Jaffee recommends facilitating as much access as possible to the peer group that doesn’t involve in-person get-togethers. “Maybe that means unrestricted screen time so that kids can be on FaceTime, texting or messaging with friends,” she said. “Parents should consider letting up on screen-time restrictions during this particular period.”

Elections and pandemics

Could the coronavirus pandemic interfere with the November presidential election? Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution says that Congress could set a different election day if it so chooses, said Rogers Smith, a constitutional scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. And, if Congress postpones the election so that there is no new president to take office when the current president’s term expires, Congress has authority to choose a president. “So, the power lies with Congress to choose the dates for a postponed election, or even to act itself if no election is held before next January,” Smith said. “The Constitution is very clear, both in Article 2 and in the 20th Amendment, that Congress has the responsibility for choosing the time of election and for establishing what should be done if any election could not be held.”

Politics & coronavirus information

People who relied on conservative or social media in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak were more likely to be misinformed about how to prevent the virus and to believe conspiracy theories about it, according to a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review. Usage of conservative media correlated with higher levels of misinformation and belief in conspiracies about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, including the belief that the Chinese government created the virus as a bioweapon and the belief that some people in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were exaggerating the danger in order to damage Donald Trump’s presidency.

Childhood Hunger

Three hundred million children around the world rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition. As the COVID-19 pandemic has limited access to many of these programs, new research suggests that hunger poses developmental risks for young children. Sharon Wolf from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and a team of researchers found that hunger slowed development of cognitive skills like short-term memory, literacy, and numeracy. Surprisingly, children who only went through brief periods of hunger--the type of conditions the pandemic could be creating for millions—had even more negative effects than children who were persistently hungry.

Here comes Spiderman

Fear not the coronavirus pandemic; your favorite superheroes -- and a few lovable villains -- may be able to come to your rescue. At least, that seems to be the thinking in Southeast Asia and its environs. Actors dressed as Spiderman and Superman showed up recently at the request of Indonesian authorities to urge residents and their kids to wash your hands, wear your masks and stay at home. Meanwhile, in the Philippines Darth Vader, himself, and a few of his Stormtroopers recently visited communities on the outskirts of Manila delivering similar instructive messages as well as supplies. As Spiderman was wont to say: “With great power, comes great responsibility.

A fry by another other name?

Did you know that Belgium is the world’s largest exporter of potato products -- including its famous Belgian Fries. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has caused havoc for the industry in that country as potato exports have plummeted by as much as 40%. And with the precautionary closures of eateries throughout the country, local consumption of spuds is down by 80%. As a result, the Belgian potato industry’s trade group is now asking the nation’s citizenry to come to the rescue and start eating more Belgian Fries. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting footnote to this story. It seems that it was, indeed, the Belgians who came up with what is arguably the most popular side dish in the world -- especially when served with a hamburger. But, it seems that American soldiers stationed in Belgium during World War I took a liking to the tasty side dish cooked up by Belgian soldiers and because French was the official language of the Belgian army they came up with the moniker, French Fries.

W’eel meet again

It appears that humans aren’t the only ones who feel isolated during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Apparently the spotted garden eels in the Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo have become restless for the lack of human visitors. And so, the folks who run the aquarium are asking people to take the time to engage in video chats with the slithery sea creatures. A notice on the aquarium’s Website explains: "It seems like the spotted garden eels are getting used to a non-human environment and have forgotten about people. When the staff pass in front of them, they start hiding in the sand."

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Medal of Honor: Army 1st Lt. Francis Burke

By KATIE LANGE

DOD News

Extreme bouts of courage can take over a soldier thrust into the front lines of war. Army 1st Lt. Francis Burke is a shining example of one of those cases. In the waning days of World War II, he single-handedly took out a third of the German troops his unit faced in Nuremberg, Germany. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor.

Burke was born in New York City on Sept. 29, 1918. His family lived in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. Gangs were prevalent in the area at that time, so his parents moved the family across the Hudson River to Jersey City, New Jersey.

By the time Burke was 18, his interest in the military had peaked, so he joined the New Jersey Army National Guard. In 1941, he was called for active-duty as the U.S. entered World War II.

Burke was part of the Army's 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, which served in North Africa and fought in the Battle of Anzio, Italy, before pushing through France into Germany. He fought gallantly for years, but it was at the war's end that his most heroic moments unfolded.

On April 17, 1945, Burke's regiment had fought its way into Nuremburg, where Adolph Hitler often held Nazi party conventions in the early days of the war. Now, the Allies were working to root out the few defenders the dwindling party had left.

As his battalion's transportation officer, Burke had been in charge of selecting a motor pool site. But he wanted to help in the fight, so he moved in front of his unit's riflemen on the front line. In doing so, he found a group of about 10 Germans preparing to counterattack.

In response, Burke ran to a nearby American company, grabbed a light machine gun and ammunition, and then returned to open fire on those Germans, who blasted him back with machine pistols, rifles and rocket launchers.

An enemy machine gun from a different location tried to take Burke out, too, but they were unsuccessful. Instead, the lieutenant killed them and then drove off the survivors of the enemy unit he had originally attacked.

Next, Burke grabbed a rifle and ran more than 100 yards through intense fire to engage some Germans hiding behind an abandoned tank. On his way, a sniper tried to pick him off from a cellar about 20 yards away. Burke ran straight for the cellar's window, fired a full clip into it, and then jumped through the window to make sure he'd taken out the enemy.

Burke stopped for a minute after that to replace his jammed rifle and gather a few grenades before jumping right back into the fray.

When the shots he was firing weren't hitting his newest targets, Burke pulled the pins from two grenades and, holding one in each hand, rushed the building in which they were hiding. Burke threw his grenades just as the Germans launched one at him.

All three exploded.

As the smoke cleared, the Germans lay dead where they had fallen. Burke, however, emerged relatively unscathed. He picked up his rifle and moved forward to take down four more Germans.

A bit dazed from the grenade explosions, Burke retired to the American lines, but he didn't stop the fight. He jumped into a raging battle for another half-hour with a platoon that managed to fend off one group of Germans. Burke then joined another group of Allied soldiers, whose fierce firefighting skills took out a German unit armed with a .20 mm gun.

In four hours of action, Burke had taken the lead in the battle, single-handedly killing 11 enemy soldiers and wounded three more. He was responsible for 14 of the battle's 43 casualties.

Burke's extraordinary bravery inspired the men around him, and his actions helped hasten the fall of Nuremberg. Less than a month later, the Germans surrendered, and the war on the Western Front was over.

On Jan. 9, 1946, months after the war on both fronts ended, President Harry S. Truman presented Burke with the Medal of Honor. He remained in the National Guard for several more years, earning the rank of major before finally retiring from service.

While Burke marched in parades and occasionally spoke with high school students and on radio shows about what earned him the nation's highest honor, his family said he was a humble man who never sought the spotlight.

Burke and his wife, Catherine, had four children and ran their own insurance agency for decades. He was still involved in the business when he died on Sept. 6, 1988, at age 69.

Burke was buried at Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown, New Jersey, where his legacy lives on. An administrative building at the cemetery was dedicated in honor of Burke, who is the only Medal of Honor recipient buried there.

A housing complex for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, on Kelley Hill at Fort Benning, Georgia, was also named Burke Barracks in his honor.

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Husband Confused About Spouse Benefits

Dear Rusty: I am 65 and still working and plan to work for some time to come. My birthdate is February 1955. My wife is 64 and not working. Her birthdate is January 1956. Half of my benefit is more than half of hers. I am confused on the spousal benefit rules. If she were to take her Social Security early before she reaches her full retirement age, what are the rules that affect her? Signed: Confused Husband

Dear Confused: First I must clarify that spousal benefits do not work as you have suggested, that “half of my benefit is more than half of hers.” Spousal benefits are always based upon the amount the individuals are due at their full retirement age, regardless of the age at which they claim. If half of your benefit at your full retirement age (FRA) is more than your wife’s full benefit at her full retirement age, then the difference between those two numbers is a “spousal boost” which is added to your wife’s own payment amount when her spouse benefit starts. If she has reached her FRA when you claim and her spouse benefit starts, your wife will get the entire spousal boost; if she has not, the spousal boost will be reduced. Your wife cannot collect a spousal benefit until you start collecting your Social Security, so if she claims benefits before you claim she will initially get only what she is entitled to on her own work record. Then when you claim, the “spousal boost” will be added to her benefit. If you claim at your FRA, your wife will not yet have reached her full retirement age, so her spousal boost amount will be reduced and added to her own reduced benefit amount, making her total benefit as your spouse less than 50% of your FRA benefit amount.

Your full retirement age is 66 years and 2 months, and you won’t be entitled to full benefits until you reach that age. For your awareness, you can wait beyond your FRA and earn delayed retirement credits, up to age 70 when your benefit would be about 31% more than it would be at your FRA, but your wife cannot get her spousal boost until you claim. And also for your awareness, if you claim benefits before you reach your FRA and continue to work, you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit ($18,240 for 2020) which, if exceeded, will cause SS to take back some of your benefits. The earnings limit goes up by about 2.5 times in the year you reach your FRA and goes away when you reach your full retirement age.

Your wife’s full retirement age is 66 years and 4 months and any benefits she claims on her own record prior to reaching that age will be reduced. At 64 she could claim her own benefit from her own work record (assuming she has at least 40 SS credits), but that benefit would be reduced to about 85% of what she would get at her FRA. And claiming at age 64 would also affect the amount of her spousal benefit when that starts. The only way your wife can get 100% of the amount she is due as your spouse is to wait until her FRA to claim any benefit. If she claims her own benefit at age 64 or any time before her FRA, not only will her own benefit be reduced, but her eventual benefit as your spouse will be less than 50% of your FRA benefit amount, even if you wait to claim until your wife reaches her FRA. That’s because her spousal boost, when it occurs, will be added to the reduced SS retirement amount she is getting because she claimed before her full retirement age.

You are certainly not alone to be confused about spousal benefits as this is one of the most confusing areas of Social Security’s rules. But I hope the above provides what you and your wife need to make an informed claiming decision.

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‘Remember the Ladies’... [we] ‘will not hold ourselves bound

by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

…Abigail Adams, 1776

By DAVID BRUCE SMITH

co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize

Universal suffrage came during a time of widespread heartache. The movement to win the vote for women, already in its vigor, was nearly toppled by a deadly Spanish Flu pandemic that walloped the country. It killed 675,000 Americans between January 1918 and December of 1920, according to historical accounts.

Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, said “This new affliction is bringing sorrow into many suffrage homes and is presenting a serious new obstacle in our referendum campaigns and in the Congressional and Senatorial campaigns.”

Despite the unexpectedly fierce foe, a brave and resolute cadre of women secured the right to vote for their sisterhood. Congress passed the 19th amendment on March 27, 1920, ratified it five months later and ended “…almost a century of protest.”

Under ordinary circumstances the centennial of a major historical event is celebrated throughout the nation, but now--just as then--a pandemic—has put a pause on partying with pomp.

Meanwhile, it is important to remember that bickering over equal rights began during the Revolutionary War. While many colonists concentrated on relief from British subjugation in the 1770s and 1780s, future First Lady, Abigail Adams, was also pondering another goal: how to include women in the political life of a brand-new country.

In a letter dated March 31, 1776 to her husband, John Adams, the prospective second President of the United States, she wrote:

“In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

The Grateful American Book Prize is an award offered for excellence in writing for adolescent historical fiction, and non-fiction, based on the events and persons that have shaped the United States since the country’s founding. Judges for the 2020 Prize are now reviewing submissions. Works published between August 1, 2019 through July 31, 2020 are eligible.

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BBB tips for safe online Mother’s Day shopping during COVID-19 crisis

Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, online shopping for Mother’s Day is likely to increase. As Mother’s Day is coming up fast, Better Business Bureau (BBB) has some tips to help consumers avoid disappointments, especially when ordering flowers online.

According to a National Retail Federation survey, consumers spent more than $2.6 billion last year on blooms for the mothers in their lives. Unfortunately, scammers may attempt to take advantage of consumers during the busy buying season. Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO, says not every online florist is reputable.

“Consumers need to be vigilant when ordering merchandise from online vendors,” Corey said. “While some people are happy with their online floral arrangements, others are disappointed when flowers don’t arrive on time, are dead or wilted on arrival, are not as advertised or don’t arrive at all.”

Last year, more than 150,000 consumers searched for trustworthy florists at bbb.org. Many major floral delivery services are BBB Accredited Businesses, as are about 415 local florists across the United States and Canada.

When shopping online, BBB recommends adhering to the following:

Allow time for shipping and delivery. Check with the retailer or website to be sure you have allowed enough time for delivery. Make sure that your preferred delivery date is specified clearly and guaranteed when you order. If you order ahead of time, delivery and other charges will be less than last-minute or overnight shipping. Some florists offer discounts for deliveries a couple of days before a major holiday, since that helps them deal with the rush.

Have a back-up plan. Make sure you understand a store's guarantee and other policies. Find out how customer complaints are handled and what options you have if the arrangement is not satisfactory. It’s best to use a credit card when ordering online, because you can dispute charges if the vendor doesn’t satisfy you. Charges made on a debit card are the same as cash, and you have no recourse through your bank if there is a problem.

Don’t click online coupons. If you see a post on social media or receive an email with an offer, don't click unless you're sure the source is real. The offer could take you to a malicious website. If you see an offer online, search for it independently. Go to the company's website and look for the offer there to verify the offer.

Make sure the business has your information. When it comes to flower delivery, there are times when delivery instructions need to be confirmed or a delivery driver needs additional directions. Make sure the florist has a way to contact you.

For assistance, go to bbb.org or calling 888-996-3887.

Dress for success

The coronavirus is causing all kinds of mischief due to lockdown provisions, including an outbreak of laziness among those who are working while sheltering in place. For example, a Florida judge recently had to reprimand improperly dressed attorneys who were attending video court hearings. It got to the point where Judge Dennis Bailey posted this message on a Bar Association Website regarding the need to, at least, get dressed while attending teleconference hearings: “these Zoom hearings are just that: hearings ... It is remarkable how many ATTORNEYS appear inappropriately on camera. We've seen many lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background, etc. One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers. And putting on a beach cover-up won't cover up you're poolside in a bathing suit. So, please, if you don't mind, let's treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not.”

En guarde

The Bluewater Recycling Association wants its users to be more picky when it comes to getting rid of unwanted, potentially lethal stuff. No, it had nothing to do with the coronavirus epidemic. It was all about swords. Specifically, the South Huron, Ontario, company, was complaining about a deadly-looking old sword that could have been used by a crusader of old. It seems one resident wanted to get rid of it and, instead of having it appraised to see if it was a valuable antique or taking it to a scrap metal dealer to find out its monetary value, he or she put it in a recycling bin. Luckily it was found before it could be put through the recycling machinery. That really could have gummed up the works. The company posted a warning message on its Facebook page noting that “it could have caused expensive damage to our machines and SERIOUS Health and Safety issues for our employees.”

Reporters in danger

With new coronavirus reports being written and distributed daily, journalists are risking their health and their lives to cover the pandemic from the front lines. “The primacy of physical and mental health risks is not going to get better and is not going to go away. So I think that we’re going to see lots more modification of conventions that are putting journalists at risk,” Barbie Zelizer of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication said.

'Chinese virus'

Repeated use of the phrase “Chinese virus” to describe COVID-19 has sparked discourse around the resurgence of racism against Asian-American. Josephine Park of the University of Pennsylvania attributed this surge to the tolerance of Asian-American racism, even among the educated classes. “You’ll find it’s very well-tolerated, in part because of this relative privilege of Asians in relation to other minorities in the U.S., so that’s always a kind of tricky thing to manage,” she said.

Impact on homelessness

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting countless people nationwide, researchers found that people experiencing homelessness are especially vulnerable to the disease, as many of them are already in poor health. “Given that the public health recommendations emphasize isolation of suspected and confirmed cases, and social distancing for everyone else, a deliberate effort is urgently required to create a range of housing options to meet those needs,” Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice said.

Threat to supply chain

The supply chain to get consumer products on shelves is a complex process involving imports and exports, long-haul truckers and last-mile drivers, all threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. “When this is over, people might say, ‘I miss going to a physical location to get all my stuff,’" said Steve Viscelli of the University of Pennsylvania, who has been studying the trucking industry for a decade. "Or they could say, ‘Why have I been wasting my time and gas driving to the store when I could get a good price and better selection of items delivered right to my door? The consumer changes could be huge.​"

Unemployment claims

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a record number of unemployment claims to be filed in the U.S., with some sectors of the economy more affected than others. But, according to professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, even though the numbers will go much higher than during the Great Recession, the recovery from that should be faster. “In this case, as soon as the health crisis is over or at a low level, where the government tells people they can resume normal activity, then we will quickly see a rise in people going back to work and a reduction in the unemployment rate,” Diane Lim said.

Different responses

From stocking up on household products to ignoring the warning signs, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have differed depending on the individual. While it might be easy to panic, experts Jeremy Tyler and Thea Gallagher from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine suggest planning what you are able to and leaning into the uncertainty. “Try to settle in,” Tyler said. “If you catch yourself worrying too much about the future, try to bring it back to the present moment.”

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COVID-19 will change job recruiting; here’s how companies need to adapt

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the business world and put tens of millions out of work in the U.S. At the same time, it’s caused a seismic shift in the way many companies operate, the biggest change being that more business functions are done while working remotely.

But along with the work-from-home aspect, the fallout from the coronavirus will fundamentally change recruiting and hiring practices long after the pandemic has passed, says Jack Whatley (www.humancodeofhiring.com), a recruiting strategist who specializes in creating employer branding campaigns.

“Social distancing, shelter-in-place orders and the forced closing of businesses will change the way we look at employment,” Whatley says. “No longer will the promises of changing the world attract the modern workforce. Safety and job stability are at the top of the mind for the modern job seeker – and that changed what they want in a job.

“Businesses will have to become employee-centric as well as customer-centric. The companies that have the ability to capture that part of the employee message, put it into their employer branding, and reinforce it throughout recruitment marketing campaigns are going to be the companies moving ahead in a much different world.”

As states begin different stages of reopening for business, Whatley breaks down what companies should do when recruiting, hiring, and re-hiring:

Create a communication campaign. “If you’re a company that laid off employees with the hope of bringing them back, you have to reach out with genuine communication that goes the extra mile,” Whatley says. “It should let them know in detail what steps the company is taking. Those people who were let go unexpectedly and lived paycheck to paycheck, they’ll be emotionally drained and stressed. A company bringing them back needs to make them feel valued so the company doesn’t lose that relationship.”

Be careful in rehiring. Rehires won’t be a straightforward process for some companies. Circumstances won’t allow them to rehire or bring back from furlough all of their former employees. “Employers must be cautious in determining who to bring back to the workplace; they need to mitigate the risk of potential discrimination claims, which could be based on the decision not to bring back certain employees,” Whatley says. “Employers will need to have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for choosing which employees to rehire. Those reasons include seniority, operational needs or documented past performance issues. Employers should document their decision-making process now, before deciding who will be invited back.”

Focus on expanded employee rights. Whatley thinks a new appreciation for workers may be emerging as state and local governments mandate paid sick leave and family leave during the outbreak. Some companies are shifting their focus to hourly workers as well for those perks. “This change could become permanent,” Whatley says, “as organizations work hard to hire new staff and increase retention rates.”

Streamline the process. “If the recruiting process gets backlogged,” Whatley says, “it causes problems for your current employees and an under-staffed company. It becomes frustrating for them, because they’re forced to work overtime, and the big workload kills morale and increases turnover.”

“Most companies look at hiring people as a transaction – they need to fill a seat,” Whatley says. “They place a job posting and fill the job. In the new world, that will no longer be the case. To get the best talent, companies will have to engage people sooner, more thoughtfully, and put a higher priority on what employees value most in a job.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Can My Husband Get A Spouse Benefit from Me?

Dear Rusty: I'm wondering if my husband can submit a "restricted application for spousal benefits only." He is 76 years old, has been receiving his benefit since 2005. His present benefit is $263.50. I am 74 years old, receiving my benefit since 2007. My present benefit is $931. Am I to understand that he could be receiving half of my amount rather than his smaller amount? Signed: Inquiring Wife

Dear Inquiring Wife: Your husband isn't eligible to file a "restricted application for spousal benefits only" because he is already collecting his own Social Security benefits and because he is past 70 years of age. But he should probably be receiving a spousal benefit from you because his benefit is so much lower than yours. From what you've written, you both claimed your Social Security benefits when you were 62 years of age. That means you both took a 25% cut in benefits from what you would have gotten at your full retirement age (FRA) of 66.

Spousal benefits are based upon FRA benefit amounts, even if you claimed benefits earlier. So, since your FRA benefit amount would have been about $1164 and your husband's FRA benefit would have been about $330, by my calculations he should now be receiving a spousal benefit of about $516 instead of his benefit of $263.50. The computation for that is: Take half of your FRA benefit amount ($582) minus your husband's FRA benefit amount ($330); the difference ($252) is added to his own current benefit ($264) to get $516 as his possible spousal benefit (note the actual numbers from SS may vary somewhat). This probably means that when you claimed your benefit two years after your husband claimed his, your husband didn't apply for his spousal benefit (and it wasn't awarded automatically by SS).

I suggest your husband contact Social Security as soon as possible and make an appointment to apply for his spousal benefits. Since he has been entitled to that benefit for some time now, he can also request 6 months of retroactive spousal benefits which they will pay in a lump-sum and adjust his monthly benefit to what he is entitled to as your spouse. There is also a possibility that, when you filed, SS failed to notify your husband he was eligible for a spouse benefit, in which case he may be able to collect his spouse benefit back to the date he became eligible. Your husband should contact Social Security directly at either 1.800.772-1213, or at your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator) to make an appointment to apply for his spousal benefit from you. And, usually, this application can be accomplished over the phone.

Please note that all of the above assumes that your husband’s current benefit isn’t being reduced due to a non-covered pension which causes the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) to lower his benefit amount, and which would cause the Government Pension Offset (GPO) to severely alter, or even eliminate, his spousal benefit.

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Mother’s Day gifts sure to please

By MELINDA MYERS

Each year we set aside one day to honor mothers. And each year we struggle to find the perfect gift to show them we care.

Cut flowers are one of the most popular gifts. No dusting and maintenance required, and they are sure to generate a smile. Behavioral research at Rutgers University found the gift of flowers had immediate and long-term benefits no matter the age of the study participants.

Participants demonstrated true or excited smiles as well as delight and gratitude when they received flowers. They also reported feeling less depressed, anxious and agitated long after receiving the gift of flowers. Floral gifts also helped create connections between family and friends.

A hanging basket or container garden is another way to give mom a season of flowers and more. Gardening helps improve health and well-being by reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, strengthening muscles and increasing flexibility.

If mom likes to cook, a potted tomato, container of greens or window box of herbs may be the perfect gift with increased benefits. Mom can grow and further boost her health with fresh nutrient-rich vegetables.

A gift certificate to her favorite garden center, hobby store or retail location allows mom the freedom to select her own gift. She can enjoy time shopping for something special she wouldn’t normally buy for herself.

The gift of time is appreciated by many mothers. Helping mom in her garden, working around her home or assisting her with another hobby is a great way to spend time together doing something mom loves.

Update her garden tools if she is an avid gardener. Consider a tool caddy and fill it with her favorite hand tools such as a weed knife, hand pruner, sunscreen, and gloves.

Add elegance and function to your mother’s daily activities with durable and fashionable gloves. Their practical and fashionable nature makes them a popular add-on or stand-alone gift item.

Elbow length garden gloves, like Foxgloves (foxglovesinc.com), protect forearms and hands from sun, scratches, and plant oils. The ‘cottony soft’ feel of Supplex® nylon makes them comfortable but extremely durable and tough. They can be washed and dried quickly, so mom always has a pair of gloves ready to use. Add some fun to this functional gift by choosing one of the bright colors.

Add a hat to further protect mom from the heat and sun when working outdoors. If it’s comfortable and looks good, she is more likely to wear it.

Take the pressure off and make mom’s day extra special with one of these Mother’s Day gifts that provide immediate and long-term benefits. She’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness when she opens the package, unwraps the flowers or puts the tools and gloves to use all season long.

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Feathered dinosaur

Researchers have discovered the fossils of a feathered dinosaur in New Mexico, thought to be one of the last surviving raptors at the end of the age of dinosaurs. The dinosaur, Dineobellator notohesperus, is estimated to have been 3.5 feet tall and 6-7 feet long. “We hope that the more we search, the better chance we have of finding more of Dineobellator or the other dinosaurs it lived alongside,” Steven Jasinski of the University of Pennsylvania said.

Human rights & the pandemic

With emergency pandemic procedures being implemented around the world, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, suggests remaining vigilant on how governments could be violating human rights. “The U.N. needs to be right in the middle of this, coordinating the response and not fearful of the major powers, which is what it seems to be suffering from at the moment, and I wish it were not the case,” said Hussein.

Primaries & the pandemic

With an upcoming presidential election looming, the COVID-19 pandemic could have serious effects on primaries, traditional campaigning and canvassing activities and voter turnout. “Digital campaigning will be more important as people consume more Facebook, Twitter, and Hulu during this time of social distancing,” Marc Meredith, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

Disasters & politics

With the COVID-19 pandemic potentially causing an economic crisis, historian Brent Cebul of the University of Pennsylvania suggests revisiting policies implemented during the Great Depression. “When you have conservatives readily agreeing to a $2 trillion bailout package, now is not the time for anybody to be negotiating against themselves,” he said. “There is a window of opportunity here where politicians can make big asks.”

HIV study

While effective methods of treating HIV’s negative effects on the body have been developed, medical advances haven’t progressed as far in reducing the cognitive impacts. To move things forward, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have created a laboratory model system using three of the types of brain cells thought to be involved. “The power of this system is it allows us to look at the interaction between different cell types of human origin in a way that is more relevant to patients than other models,” Kelly Jordan-Sciutto of Penn's dental school said. (Additional information for news editors)

A sudsy plea

The coronavirus crisis has most of the nation housebound causing hardships as many of us as we begin to run out of necessities such as toilet paper. But Olive Veronesi wasn’t seeking toilet tissue when she went to a front window of her home and held up a sign for all to see that read: "I need more beer." The 93-year-old Seminole, PA nonagenarian was seeking the aid of her neighbors to help her replenish her dwindling stash of the beverage. A photo of her displaying her sign went viral on social media and more than 2.5 million people who viewed it. So, it looks like she’ll be well supplied as she shelters in place for the duration.

How sweet it is

And then there is the tale of the bakery in Finland that nearly had to shut down due to the pandemic. But, owner, Sanna Lampinen, saved the day when she baked a cake in the shape of a roll of toilet paper. The media found out about her clever spoof and published stories about it, resulting in so many orders for her naughty confection that she was able to not only keep all of her employees on the payroll but to create two new jobs as well.

The funny bunny

Celebrating a holiday such as Easter during the coronavirus pandemic can be a bummer, especially for kids. And so, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, during a news briefing on the shutdown caused by COVID-19 she took a moment to spread a little cheer for the country’s youngsters. She declared that the Easter Bunnies had been classified as an essential workers. As she put it: "But as you can imagine at this time they're going to be potentially quite busy at home with their family as well and their own bunnies, and so I say to the children of New Zealand: If the Easter Bunny doesn't make it to your household, we have to understand it's a bit difficult at the moment for the bunny to get everywhere."

Staying sane at home

With many families being forced to stay home during the pandemic, tensions can start to rise and mental health might become a struggle. To help, Kehan "Anna" Bao, a student in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, put together a list of tips for managing relationships at home during this time. Bao recommends giving everyone personal space to be alone and explore hobbies, scheduling intentional time together, maintaining household norms and personal schedules, dividing labor equitably, being open about feelings, showing appreciation, sharing memories and stories and including children in decision-making.

Ibuprofen & coronavirus

Ever since French health minister Olivier Véran tweeted that taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen “could be a factor in worsening” COVID-19, popular social media platforms have been circulating the claim. However, FactCheck.org, reports there is no solid evidence that ibuprofen exacerbates the disease and, instead, that that idea remains an untested hypothesis.

Telemedicine

To keep minor or chronic health concerns from escalating, health care staff in the University of Pennsylvania Health System are utilizing telemedicine tactics such as pre-screening calls and virtual visits to care for patients. “Tools that were being adopted much more slowly six months ago are now progressing much more rapidly,” William Hanson, chief medical information officer, said. Everything from checking on postpartum women to monitoring the glucose levels of patients with diabetes is being done through telemedicine.

Male infertility

The recent identification of an enzyme that plays an important role in maintaining chromosomal pairing in sperm could be key in overcoming challenges related to male infertility. “Reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization have made a huge difference for infertile patients, but the male needs to have at least some sperm,” biologist P. Jeremy Wang of the University of Pennsylvania said. “But if you can find these spermatogonia, the pre-meiotic germ cells, they could be induced to go through meiosis and make sperm.”

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How to prepare for your horse’s care in case you’re quarantined

Horse owners are ever aware of the potential for disease outbreaks in their herd and the possibility sick horses might need to be quarantined. But COVID-19 has flipped the equation in the equine world.

What happens when a horse owner has to self-quarantine? How can they make sure their horses are properly cared for?

“Everybody who owns horses should have a contingency plan in place,” says David Anderson (www.horsedrinker.com), president and CEO of Bar-Bar-A, a company that produces automatic livestock drinkers. “If owners have to self-quarantine or are sick from the virus and aren’t prepared for this scenario, it may be a scramble to make sure their horses are getting everything they need.

“To prepare, ask yourself what essentials your horses will need in the event of your extended absence. Assume you’re going to be unavailable for a while and your horses won’t miss you – because you made sure they were fully cared for.”

Anderson offers tips if you can't care for your horse due to being self-quarantined:

Have a friend in mind. It’s a good idea in that contingency plan to prepare a trusted friend who can be ready to care for your horse. “Write a comprehensive, up-to-date care plan for your horse, which should include the exercise schedule, turnout, feed chart, blanketing instructions, etc.,” Anderson says.

Remember: Clean water is always a must. If the owner is not feeling up to filling drinking troughs, keeping them topped off – and making sure the water is clean – is a key responsibility of the enlisted caretaker. “Stagnant drinking water in troughs attract mosquitoes, which carry viruses,” Anderson says. “Automatic waterers are convenient but those with standing water will need to be cleaned regularly. Don’t let the convenience of the waterer lead to negligence in checking the water regularly. Some horses have a habit of dirtying the water. Make sure whoever’s watching the horses checks the waterers daily and sees that the horses are drinking.”

Pack an emergency kit. If an owner can’t get a horse to the veterinarian, or the veterinarian is sick, having a fully-stocked emergency kit in advance is vital. “It should include essential prescription medications that can be administered at the vet’s direction,” Anderson says. “Make sure if there’s a person caring for the horse that they know what to do in case the horse has a health emergency and the owner isn’t reachable.”

Stock up. Most self-quarantines for COVID-19 last 14 days, but recovery times differ. So stocking up for a few weeks for your horses’ needs is important – horse feed, hay, and any other pertinent supplies. “Also remember,” Anderson says, “that horses can survive on quality hay in a paddock or pasture along with clean water. Money might be tight at this time for some, and if so, spend more on hay than feed. They’ll do fine with less feed as long as your designated helper gives them proper turnout and hay.”

“One thing we’re learning from COVID-19 is not to think it can’t happen to you,” Anderson said. “Horse owners need to plan in advance to ensure their horses stay healthy while the owner is not.”

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5 ways pitchers can stay sharp and in shape during the long interruption

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused either the indefinite suspension or cancellation of baseball seasons. Meanwhile, social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have prevented players from working out in public facilities or participating in outdoor team activities like they normally would.

Considering those obstacles and the uncertainty of when, or if, Major League Baseball and other age levels in summer leagues will resume, how do pitchers keep their arms in shape? And if they don’t, are they more susceptible to injuries?

Ron Wolforth (www.TexasBaseballRanch.com), a long-time pitching trainer who is founder of Texas Baseball Ranch and author of Pitching with Confidence: A Parent’s Guide To Giving Your Elite Pitcher An Edge, says too much inactivity during the prolonged disruption can have physical consequences for pitchers when competition resumes – and there are plenty of ways to keep up their conditioning even when in isolation.

“A new threat to throwing athletes will emerge amidst the COVID-19 outbreak,” Wolforth says. “Soft tissue needs preparation for the stresses of high-intensity throwing, and now the normal ramp-up time has been interrupted, so the risk to soft tissue could increase.

“Pitchers need to take a work-while-you-wait approach. The old saying, ‘If you don’t use it, you will lose it’ is 100 percent true. To minimize the risk of injuries, purposeful throwing must be maintained, and a consistent overall conditioning program should be adhered to.”

Wolforth offers tips for pitchers to stay in shape and stay sharp during the wait:

Don’t take extended periods off. “Just playing catch on a regular basis is far better than a shutdown,” Wolforth says. “You can maintain social distance in a yard with one other person and keep your arm loose. Too much inactivity puts you in catchup mode. If you take a week off it will take you two weeks to get back to the conditioning level you were at before the time off. Take off a month and it will take you six weeks.”

Cycle workouts of varying intensity. “The pitching athlete cycles when he is in season, and he should in fact be cycling right now,” Wolforth says. “Have two intense days in a seven-day period, separated by a minimum of 48 hours between intense pitching sessions. Have two light days and three medium days within that seven-day frame.”

Use pitching tools. “Wrist weights, a throwing sock, or a hand-speed trainer can be used inside the home as a bridge to keeping your arm and shoulder healthy and durable,” Wolforth says. “Throwing to a training screen or pitchback in fairly closed quarters can help improve control.”

Use the extra time to focus on weak areas. “This time is a great opportunity to get better at certain things that you otherwise wouldn’t have the time to invest,” Wolforth says. “Mobility and flexibility, strength, balance, and stability, structural alignment, mechanical efficiency, and different pitches. Some of these are things you can work on in your house; others you can work on outside at a safe distance with a throwing partner.

Watch videos. “Studying replays or tutorials of elite pitchers in action will build you a library of knowledge,” Wolforth says. “Spending a lot of time inside currently gives you a great opportunity to learn from the best, then simulate it.”

“This is not a time to over-rest the arm and let the soft tissue atrophy,” Wolforth says. “The longer and more gradual the ramp-up to pitching competitively, all things being equal, is the safest approach to health and durability of the arm.”

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How staying safe by telehealth also means keeping cyber-secure

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted social distancing as a safety measure across the country. How this new normal affects general health care can be seen in the rise of telehealth services, as people are encouraged to use them to limit in-person interactions with medical staff and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But like any online activity, there are security risks involved for patients’ personal data and companies’ private information. How can patients and doctors ensure each parties’ information is protected?

“Telehealth was trending upward before the pandemic, and there were already privacy and security concerns,” says Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of Aver (www.goaver.com), an identity-verification service. “ But those are heightened now as people want the immediacy of care and are ready to accept the exchange of privacy to receive that.

“Medical data is some of the most sensitive information out there. HIPAA and other regulations have long been in place, well before more general privacy laws were instituted. Now, needing to share more of your medical history with the telehealth doctors makes the entire communication more vulnerable in a variety of ways. The application could get hacked. Also, IT infrastructure and cybersecurity often aren’t up to speed at hospitals.”

Hyduchak suggests using these security practices when using telehealth services:

Double-check before downloading the app. “Your healthcare provider may have a preferred app that you can download from its website,” Hyduchak says. “That’s the safest route. Your company may offer this service, and if so, check with human resources to make sure the information is correct before downloading. Otherwise, use a reputable online store to download the app.”

Consider online app reviews and recommendations from your network. “Reputable review sites can give you an objective look at apps and telemed services out there, but many reviews focus on capability, speed and convenience, so you may have to dig a little deeper regarding security,” Hyduchak says. “That’s where your personal network comes in. Query people you know who are using the app you’re considering. And if the app is relatively unknown, you don’t want to be one of the first to use it.”

Beware of phishing, social engineering of telemedicine. “The basic rule for most cybersecurity measures very much applies: Always verify a link or attachment before opening it,” Hyduchak says. “There are coronavirus-based phishing campaigns by hackers. Their aim is to get you to click onto a malicious telehealth link.”

Learn how the service uses your data. “Look for telemedicine providers that explain their use of data that you share, usually doing this in writing with a code of conduct,” Hyduchak says. “You have to make sure the telehealth service is reputable and that it’s following all HIPPA rules. Also, only disclose relevant information that is absolutely essential.”

“With telehealth services, a patient can see a doctor in isolation from their smart devices, so it’s a close to ideal platform during an outbreak like this,” Hyduchak says. “But having awareness of and using security measures is essential because the stakes are higher.”

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How COVID-19 is reshaping corporate culture

The outbreak of COVID-19 is radically changing how many U.S. companies operate.

Public safety measures have closed physical offices and made remote working the norm. Travel restrictions have heightened the importance of efficient technology, communication and collaboration. Executives have had to pivot quickly, reorganizing and rallying their workforce to push forward in an unprecedented time.

Some business leaders think COVID-19 marks a permanent turning point. And at the center of the seismic change is the reshaping of corporate culture – the beliefs and behaviors that influence how a company’s employees and management interact, says Chuck Crumpton (www.chuckcrumpton.com), author of The Jagged Journey: A Raw & Real Memoir about the Non-Perfect Path of Life & Business.

“The pandemic unquestionably will have lasting effects on corporate cultures,” Crumpton says. “There’s a growing sense it’s a fundamental shift, a new normal.

“It starts with empathy. Company leaders are seeing they need to listen more to their employees’ concerns, which are really everybody’s concerns right now. Many people have fear and uncertainty. It’s an opportunity to be more understanding and build relationships with the people you work with, and from there as a company, being better able to work in new and more collaborative ways.”

Crumpton explains the ways corporate culture will be reshaped in the wake of COVID-19 and how leaders can influence those positive changes:

Providing emotional support along with technical support. While technology is the key to keeping a remote workforce functioning at a high level, Crumpton says how leaders create a culture of mutual support will be a big factor in company culture and the employee experience. “You want to get people helping and looking out for each other,” Crumpton says. “Not every Google Chat, call or email has to be business-related.”

More, and better, communication. Working remotely, with managers and employees at different locations, places an emphasis on focused and more precise communication – even over-communication if necessary – to keep operations flowing, Crumpton says. “The use of video conferencing is very effective, keeping everyone connected and agendas targeted,” he says. “It increases responsiveness, attention span, and strengthens collaboration.”

More of a family feeling. “Working from home personalizes the workplace, partly because you are working from your personal space, and the imaginary line between family and work is basically gone,” Crumpton says. “People are out of their shell now, more relatable. Colleagues and clients are happy to share a screen with their kids or pets in the background. There’s a blending of the personal and professional, and it’s liberating.”

Better collaboration. “Your relationship with your teammates will improve,” Crumpton says. “Fighting a common enemy, the coronavirus, creates bonds in relationships. Everyone being in this together brings new levels of connection with colleagues and clients. You’re happy to see each other on screen during this period of physical isolation, and that feeling can be brought forward when things settle down. The bond strengthens with teammates also by having worked together to solve problems and be proactive during difficult times. That means better collaboration and more enthusiasm for teamwork and shared success.”

“This crisis has challenged us in seemingly every way,” Crumpton says. “It’s been sudden, profound, and life-changing. Companies have been forced to make major changes, and in the process, they’re seeing the workplace and the world differently. It's a great opportunity for growth and positive, permanent change.”

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Arousing admiration: The charm of hummingbirds

Well, actually, it’s both… the charm of hummingbirds is most certainly apropos and “a charm” of hummingbirds is actually factual! Yep, that’s right, the collective noun for these unique creatures – just like a gaggle of geese – or a flock of birds, is a charm of hummingbirds. Since the definition of the noun ‘charm’ is “the power of giving delight or arousing admiration” one doesn’t need to be a wordsmith to see how right that is.

Hummingbirds are charming. And there are over 330 varieties of the species, Trochilidae, is their biological family name and they’re found in the Western Hemisphere. When one sees a hummingbird it’s a stunning, stop-in-your-tracks sight. Their brilliant throat color is actually a result of the iridescence in the arrangement of their feathers, not color pigment. Light level, moisture, angle of viewing and other factors all influences just how bright and colorful their throats may appear. Perhaps you've heard them, too — the name hummingbird comes from the buzzing sound of their fast-flapping wings.

Hummers are migrant birds, so although many stay close to the Equator, lots of varieties travel this time of year, so there may be a ‘charm’ coming to your backyard soon. If you have the desire to see one up close or are curious about how to attract them to your yard, the folks at Cole’s Wild Bird Feed, Co have got you covered. First, they figured out the engineering of an elegant, deceptively simple, easy-to-use (and easy-to-clean!) feeder. The patented Hummer High Rise has a clever design that offers a stress-free position for your charming guests to get their fill, a fantastic 360 degree vista, all the while keeping other unwanted creatures at bay.

For example, there’s an ant moat, that stops the armies of industrious workers who’d love to get some sweet nectar, from beating a path to the liquid food. The genius is, it’s an actual moat, with nothing but H2O keeping the ants at bay, so while it does its job, it doesn’t do harm. Nice!

The second definition for the noun ‘charm’ is a small ornament worn on a necklace or bracelet. Hummingbirds weigh on average the same as a nickel, so while you’ll want to wear a replica from the jewelers, Hummers can be your own garden’s jewelry all season long.

And in return for their arousing your admiration, they’ll feed on those annoying garden insects and pests. For their small size, hummers eat a lot. They are voracious eaters, feeding on mosquitos, gnats, spiders, aphids and other six-legged creepy crawlers. But, besides pests for protein, their primary ‘food group’ is nectar, which they get in by flitting from flower to flower and using their long beaks and equally long tongues to get their fill. All that flitting is exhausting!

Since hummingbirds drink up to half their body weight a day of nectar, you can help them out by keeping your High Rise fully stocked, for a one-stop fill of their favorite nectar treat.

Let’s not leave out the definition of the verb, “charm”, which is to “delight greatly.” If you want these Disney-esque caricatures to delight you on a regular basis with their wonder – and bring their distinctive song to your yard - there is something you can buy: the crème-de la crème of what these charmers crave: Nature’s Garden from Cole’s.

By identifying and harnessing the nutrients of the hummer’s favorite wildflowers, and tapping their vast store of wild bird knowhow, Cole’s has created the next-best-thing to actual flower nectar – a proprietary formula that’s far and away a cut above your ‘garden-variety’ sugar water. Nature’s Garden is a healthy, all-natural alternative to homemade syrup, no mixing and no boiling required. It comes in an eco-friendly soft pouch; just shake and pour. You’ll be delighted with how easy it is to keep your hummer feeder filled and overjoyed at seeing hummers frequent your yard. Your neighborhood hummingbirds will love it, so they’ll keep coming back.

A brief postscript – a natural predator to the hummingbird is the praying mantis. Despite their equally small size, and saintly appearance, they feed on our fascinating feathered friends and are a real threat, (and a protected species), so if you find a mantis hanging around your High Rise, take care to evict it gently, to a lower piece of real estate and keep hummers safe.

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Tax time during coronavirus: What retirees need to know

By CHRIS ORESTIS

Retirement and the effects of aging come with a lot of changes, but at least one thing remains constant.

Every year, Uncle Sam wants to make sure you’re paying any taxes you might owe him, and that’s true whether you are retired or not. That said, though, there are tax rules that are specific to older Americans, so it’s important to be aware of the different ways you might be able to reduce your tax bill that weren’t available to you when you were younger.

Normally, of course, April 15 is the deadline to file your tax returns. But this year, because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus, the deadline has been extended to July 15. Remember also, if you currently receive Social Security and don’t file taxes anymore, you will receive a government stimulus check (or auto-deposit) of $1,200 automatically without filing any additional paperwork.

Meanwhile, that tax deadline extension means you’ve got extra time to explore some of those rules that seniors can take advantage of. A few to be mindful of include::

You may qualify for a larger standard deduction. For many Americans, including many seniors, there’s no reason to itemize your deductions anymore because the standard deduction is so high – $12,200 for a single person and $24,400 for a married couple filing jointly. But you can get an even higher standard deduction if either you or your spouse is 65 or older, and a still higher deduction if either of you is blind. If you aren’t itemizing, then you want to make sure you’re getting the maximum standard deduction that you are allowed because that’s going to impact how much of your income is taxed.

Yes, your Social Security benefit may be taxed. The rules for how much – if any – of your Social Security benefit is taxed can be tricky, so you want to be extra careful with that. According to the Social Security Administration, if you’re filing as an individual, and your Social Security benefit plus any other taxable income you have is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may be taxed up to 50 percent of your benefit. If your combined income is more than $34,000 then up to 85 percent of the benefit may be taxable. For married couples filing jointly, if the combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits. If your income is more than $44,000 then up to 85 percent of your benefits may be taxable.

You may be able to deduct long-term care insurance premiums. Owners of long-term care insurance policies can take tax deductions on premiums they pay for qualified plans – as well as other reimbursed medical expenses such as Medicare premiums – as long as the premiums are greater than 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.

Selling your life insurance policy has advantages. There can be significant tax benefits for people who sell their life insurance policy through what is called a “life settlement.” Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the proceeds from a life settlement are fully exempt from federal taxes if the policy owner is terminally or chronically ill. Those who are not terminally or chronically ill do pay capital-gain taxes on the proceeds from the sale, minus the amount in premiums the policyholder paid over the life of the policy.

You may want to increase contributions to your retirement accounts. Of course, many seniors aren’t adding anything to their IRAs or 401(k)s. Instead, they are regularly withdrawing money to pay for monthly living expenses. But if you’re still working, you can increase your contributions, which can both reduce your tax bill now and give you an even larger nest egg when you do retire. The IRS limits how much you can contribute each year, but that limit increases once you turn 50.

The important thing to remember is that you may have options at tax time that you hadn’t thought about. Knowing the tax rules and how they apply to your personal situation, and seeking professional advice, can make a huge difference.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize

Who doesn’t love a story about the Old West? Particularly, a good, historical depiction about what it was like to domesticate the wild American frontier. Take buffalo hunter, army scout, gunfighter and lawman, Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson. His last shoot out was on the streets of Dodge City, Kansas, on April 16, 1881. Masterson was in Tombstone, Arizona, when he received word that his brother, Jim, who also lived in Dodge, was in trouble. Jim had had a falling out with a business partner; gunfire was exchanged, and although Jim was not hurt, he feared for his life, and sent for Bat. Masterson made the 900-mile trip, came to the aid of his brother, and confronted his assailants in a gunfight — that turned out to be his last.

Masterson wasn’t killed, nor were any of the other participants in the skirmish, but when it was over, he decided to give up his “wild bunch” existence and spend the rest of his life practicing less dangerous pursuits.

As the History Channel put it: “the Dodge City shootout and his other exploits ensured Masterson’s lasting fame as an icon of the Old West. He spent the next four decades of his life working as sheriff, operating saloons, and eventually trying his hand as a newspaperman in New York City. The old gunfighter finally died of a heart attack in October 1921 at his desk in New York City.”

The Patriots’ anger was blazing, and by April 19, 1775, the British knew it. The colonists wanted to be free and independent of them; at dawn, a detail of 700 British troops set out to capture--and detain--the leaders of the upstart American rebels in Lexington, Massachusetts. Awaiting them were 77 armed minutemen under the command of Captain John Parker.

The American Revolution was begun.

The Founding Fathers understood the importance of learning and understanding; education was critical to the success of the new nation. And so, on April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed a bill to provide $5,000 (the equivalent of $102,650 in 2020 dollars) to establish the Library of Congress, an institution which has experienced truly difficult times over the centuries. During the War of 1812, the British burned it — along with its 3,000 volumes, but three years later, Thomas Jefferson, owner of the largest book collection in the country, came to the rescue; for $23,950 he sold 6,487 of his books to the Library, and the institution was re-invigorated.

Another fire in 1851 caused the Library to lose two-thirds of its books; today, it is comprised of three large buildings in Washington, DC, and 110,000,000 books, documents, works of art, and electronic media.

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How a transformation mindset positions companies to succeed after the crisis

Many businesses are reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, and while some may return to business as usual once the crisis is over, others may need to alter the way they think and operate in order to survive.

Many global leaders think the pandemic will transform the world in significant ways, and companies with leaders who already have a transformation mindset will be better equipped to adapt and succeed at a high level, says Edwin Bosso, founder and CEO of Myrtle Consulting Group (www.myrtlegroup.com) and ForbesBooks author of 6,000 Dreams: The Leader’s Guide To A Successful Business Transformation Journey.

Bosso notes there are two types of companies who entered the crisis. “The first type are those who went through a level of transformation prior to the crisis and had the plans and structure in place to keep moving. For them, it will be a lot easier to see where the gaps exist and also where the opportunities are for growth,” Bosso says. “They’ll have better tools to react and analyze what happened and make decisions on what to change.

“The second type of companies are those who, before the pandemic, were contemplating changes that were necessary, but they didn’t follow through. Those companies will come out of this wounded and feeling the environment is more chaotic. Transformation management in this environment is vital. It’s about creating momentum to see results and growth, and the process must be geared at successfully moving hearts and minds toward the end that we seek.”

Bosso suggests three phases – prepare, initiate and implement – for managing transformation in these challenging times:

Prepare

Understand your soul as a company. “Understanding an organization’s soul becomes important because it is the only true representation of the impact that the organization has on the world,” Bosso says. “Knowing the company’s true north puts it in a position to build a higher purpose into the transformation program, and ensures the transformation is rooted in the essence that will make the company successful going forward. It really comes down to answering one question: ‘When people think about our company, whether we are still in business or whether we are gone, what will we want them to say?’ The answer to that legacy question should be a set of descriptors of your identity and capabilities.”

Conduct a post-crisis assessment. “Companies should take this opportunity to examine what they were dealing with before the crisis, how they handled the crisis, and to create plans for how to emerge stronger than before,” Bosso says. “This event gives leaders carte blanche, in many respects, to implement bigger plans and changes than before. At the end of this, there will be opportunity for those who seize it.”

Initiate

Program the team structure. Bosso organizes a transformation team into these departments: program managers, the leaders of the workstreams, the team members for the workstreams, and administrative support. “This team will be in charge of the implementation phase and be accountable to the company leadership team,” Bosso says. “Communication must constitute a key part of every transformation program and must be organized to reach various audiences at different stages of the program.”

Implement

Manage results: “The implement phase is the riskiest,” Bosso says, “because it includes the organization’s transition through the emotional cycle of change. Programs must deliver the intended results, and along the way failure will happen. Measuring short-term as well as long-term results allows the opportunity to deliver on a specific goal and to celebrate specific successes. However small they are, they add stamina and motivation to the effort.”

Manage people: “A significant challenge that organizations often face when it comes to implementation is people’s resistance to change,” Bosso says. “Implementation is much about building people and building performance. It involves teaching, convincing, coaching, rewarding, sometimes disciplining, but always expressing to people that they are at the center of the organization’s destiny.”

“All companies that come through this pandemic have a huge opportunity to learn from what they’ve done and from what they haven’t done,” Bosso says. “For many, it will be a time for transformation.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Social Security for Children and Younger Wife

Dear Rusty: I am 59. My wife is 48 and has been a stay at home mom for 15 years. We have children aged 13, 10, and 5. I know it makes sense to delay the start of benefits, but I understand that it’s more complicated when small children are involved. Does it make sense for me to begin receiving benefits at 62 so I can also collect more for the children? Signed: Older Father

Dear Older Father: Yes, the issue is more complicated when children are involved. Here’s why: If you claim your own Social Security (SS) at age 62, your minor children would be able to receive child benefits, and your wife would also be able to receive “child-in-care” benefits, even though she is not yet age-eligible for regular spouse benefits. Usually, a minor child is entitled to 50% of the parent’s full retirement age (FRA) SS amount, and a younger care-giving wife is entitled to the same. But when there are multiple dependents collecting on the same worker’s record the Family Maximum applies.

The Family Maximum limits the amount of total benefits which can be received by the family to 150% to 188% of the worker’s FRA benefit amount. Social Security determines the Family Maximum for each individual case with a complex formula that uses your “primary insurance amount” (or “PIA,” the amount you get at your FRA). Your PIA is broken into 4 parts and a different percentage of each part is taken and summed up to arrive at your Family Maximum. Then your PIA is subtracted from the Family Maximum amount and the remainder is equally divided among your minor children and wife. Once a minor child turns 18 (or 19 if still in high school) that child no longer receives benefits and the Family Maximum is recomputed, with the new amount equally divided among the remaining dependents. When your youngest child turns 16, your wife will no longer be eligible for child-in-care benefits. But there’s more to consider.

By taking your benefit at age 62, it will be cut by 30% from what it would be if you waited until your full retirement age to claim, and that reduction is permanent. Plus that reduced benefit will mean your wife’s benefit as your widow, should you pre-decease her, would be less than it might otherwise be if you waited until later to claim.

Until you reach your full retirement age, you will also be subject to Social Security’s “earnings test” which limits the amount of money you can earn before Social Security takes back some of your benefits. The limit for 2020 is $18,240 and if you exceed that amount, SS will take back benefits equal to half of the excess over the limit. They take back those benefits by withholding your SS until they recover what you owe because you exceeded the limit. And, if your benefits are withheld because you exceed the earnings limit, your children and wife will not get their benefits for any month(s) that your benefits are withheld. FYI, the earnings limit increases by about 2.6 times in the year you reach your FRA and no longer applies once you reach your FRA, but any dependent benefits not paid because you exceeded the earnings limit are lost and cannot be recovered.

So, as you can see, there are many things you should consider. If you will be retired from working at age 62 and don’t need to worry about the earnings limit, then claiming then, along with the dependent benefits, could be a prudent choice. But if you will continue to work and earn a significant salary, you might very well find that the benefits you and your dependents lose due to the earnings limit will overshadow any advantage you might gain by filing at that time. And, you might also find that the permanent cut in your own benefit because you claimed early, along with the reduction to your wife’s future survivor benefit amount, will make claiming at age 62 less attractive.

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Lush peonies add beauty and fragrance to early summer gardens

By MELINDA MEYERS

Set aside a sunny spot in your garden or landscape for a few easy-care, herbaceous peonies. These traditional favorites are treasured for their bountiful early summer flowers, vigorous, shrub-like habit and amazing longevity. Peonies blend nicely with other perennials and are a good addition to both formal and informal garden designs.

The peony’s sumptuous flowers and captivating fragrance have been admired by generations of gardeners. While many other plants come and go, peonies have staying power. The variety ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ was introduced in 1906 and has been popular ever since. Its plush, pale pink flowers have silvery tips and open late in the peony season.

To maximize your enjoyment, extend the peony season by growing an assortment of early, mid and late-blooming varieties. Choose wisely and it’s possible to have peonies in bloom for a month or more. If you live in an area with relatively warm weather, plant more of the early and midseason varieties so the plants have plenty of time to display their blossoms before the weather gets hot.

Add variety to your peony display by including plants with different flower styles. Options include single, anemone, semi-double, double and bomb types. Herbaceous peonies also come in many beautiful colors, including white, cream, coral, pink, rose and dark red.

Start the season off with a few of the earlier bloomers such as Coral Charm, Buckeye Belle, Festiva Maxima, Bowl of Beauty, Black Beauty, Purple Spider and Red Charm (longfield-gardens.com). Coral Charm’s lightly fragrant flowers are a unique blend of coral and cream. This semi double peony is the recipient of the American Peony Society Gold Medal.

The large double ruby red flowers of Buckeye Belle are displayed on compact plants that are the perfect size for perennial gardens. Pairing this peony with the snowy-white flowers of Festiva Maxima is a striking combination.

Transition into mid-season with the heirloom variety Red Charm. Its long stems have few side buds, which makes it great for cutting. And the rose-like fragrance perfumes gardens and bouquets. For a completely different look, consider the fragrant, double bomb flowers of Lady Liberty. Its frilly inner petals are cream and apricot, and form a tight ball resting on a double row of flamingo pink petals.

Anemone-style peonies have frilly centers surrounded by a single or double row of larger petals. The variety Sorbet features layers of candy pink and cream petals. It is deliciously fragrant, with sturdy stems that are excellent for cutting. Don’t overlook other classic, mid-season bloomers like Duchess de Nemours, Celebrity and Red Supreme.

Close out the peony season with the large, raspberry-red blossoms of the classic French double peony Felix Crousse, and other time-tested favorites such as Lady Alexandria Duff and the beloved Sarah Bernhardt.

Peonies are known for their extravagant flowers, but the plants themselves are almost as impressive. Leaves emerge in spring with a tinge of red and reach a height of 3 feet within less than a month. By the time the flower buds appear, the plants are the size of a small shrub. After the flowers fade, the peony’s lush, deep green leaves remain all season, providing a nice backdrop for nearby blooms. As temperatures cool in fall, the foliage often displays a nice reddish fall color.

Bare root peonies may be planted in spring or fall. After planting, they will take some time to settle in. Young plants need 3 years or more to reach full size, but after that, they will flower every year for decades to come.

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How businesses can weather COVID-19: Start with empathy to employees

Major U.S. businesses are adjusting operations, laying off employees or reducing hours in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

It’s uncharted territory for the nation, and companies from large brands to small businesses, like everyone else, are operating without a playbook to deal with an unprecedented public health threat that will also have economic implications. How businesses adjust to the pandemic and respond to this “new normal” is critical to the future of their business.

“The most important part is showing empathy to employees – now more than ever in these uncertain times,” says Ed Mitzen (www.edmitzen.com), founder of a health and wellness marketing agency and ForbesBook author of More Than a Number: The Power of Empathy and Philanthropy in Driving Ad Agency Performance.

“While every company is dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to keep in mind that your employees are being affected in more ways than one. Added challenges to daily life now include your partner working next to you, your children being home from school, and having to keep an extra close eye on elderly relatives. In these unusual circumstances, people will notice which companies are treating their employees with empathy and compassion and which are not.”

A business leader’s response during a time like this defines who they are as a leader.

Mitzen thinks this challenging time could be used by business owners to assess their company culture and consider that how they treat employees is central to that culture and vital for business results. He explains how leaders can show empathy to employees, strengthen company culture and drive performance:

Lead with support, not force. “Culture starts at the top, and the best results come when leaders support their people and help them get the most out of life, rather than trying to squeeze them to work harder and harder,” Mitzen says. “People can sacrifice for the job for only so long before they burn out. It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes prioritizing life over work actually improves the work product. Once you hire good people, you don’t have to push them with crazy deadlines to squeeze productivity out of them.”

Build a team of caring people. “Business is a team sport,” Mitzen says. “To have an empathetic culture, you need people who care for each other and work well together. Build teams by looking for people who lead with empathy. Don’t hire jerks. People who are super-talented but can’t get along with others tend to destroy the team dynamics, and the work product suffers.”

Define a positive culture – and the work. Showing empathy to employees can be an engine generating creativity and productivity. “The internal culture at a company defines the work the company produces,” Mitzen says. “Culture influences who chooses to work for you, how long they stay, and the quality of work they do. And the core of the culture is empathy, starting with employees and extending to customers and the communities that you live in. There’s a strong connection between a healthy work culture, which inspires people, and the work customers are receiving. That kind of company makes sure customers are treated the same way they are being treated.”

“Now more than ever, empathy, kindness and compassion are important values to keep at the forefront of your organization,” Mitzen says. “Business leaders can take the lead in doing the right thing, starting with their employees.”

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Navy hospital ships have history of answering nation's call

BY ANDRÉ B. SOBOCINSKI

Bureau Of Medicine And Surgery

The Navy hospital ships USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are deploying to New York and Los Angeles to serve as referral centers for non-COVID-19 patients during the global pandemic.

As the longest-serving hospital ships in continuous operation in U.S. history, the Mercy and the Comfort have long captured the public's imagination due to their vast medical capabilities as floating hospitals.

But in the storied history of the Navy's hospital ships, stateside deployments during global pandemics remain uncharted waters.

Hospital ships have played pivotal roles in naval operations since the early days of the republic. During the Barbary Wars, Commodore Edward Preble ordered that the USS Intrepid be used as a hospital ship. The reconfiguration of this former bomb-ketch — a type of wooden ship that carried mortars as its primary armament — in 1803 marks the standard for almost all hospital ships used thereafter. To date, only the USS Relief was built from the keel up to serve as a hospital ship. All other ships — including the Mercy and the Comfort — were converted from other uses, whether as super tankers, troop transports or passenger liners.

Whether it was the USS Red Rover transporting patients up the Mississippi to Mound Island, Missouri, during the Civil War or the USS Solace taking wounded Marines from Iwo Jima to a Guam hospital, ships have long served in the capacity of ambulance ships.

During the great influenza pandemic of 1918, the Comfort and the Mercy were each briefly stationed in New York, where they took care of overflow patients from the 3rd Naval District before returning to the fleet and sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Along with the USS Solace, these ships ferried thousands of wounded and sick — including some with virulent cases of the flu — back to stateside facilities.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, a host of Navy ships was sent around the country to serve as "station hospitals" for burgeoning naval bases.

From the 1850s until the early 1860s, the supply ships USS Warren and USS Independence operated at Mare Island, California, until shore facilities were constructed. Decades later, the Navy employed the former gunboat USS Nipsic at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, to serve as a predecessor to Naval Hospital Bremerton (Puget Sound). And from 1953 until 1957, the hospital ship USS Haven served as a station hospital at Long Beach, California, supporting medical activities in the 11th Naval District.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations have long been the clarion call for hospital ships. In March 1933 — following the devastating earthquake that hit Long Beach — the USS Relief sent teams of physicians and hospital corpsmen ashore to help treat casualties. Following the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989, the USNS Mercy — then moored in Oakland, California — provided food and shelter for hundreds of disaster victims.

Since 2001, USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy have taken part in some 19 humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions — such as U.S. Southern Command's Continuing Promise medical exercise series and Operation Unified Assistance, the military response to a 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean — and treated more than 550,000 patients. But of these missions, only two were stateside deployments.

The Comfort was sent to New York City following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it deployed to the Gulf Coast, where it treated 1,258 patients at Pascagoula, Mississippi and New Orleans.

Originally envisioned as a floating trauma hospital for the victims of the twin towers' collapse after the 9/11 attacks, the ship's mission changed when it became clear there were not the large numbers of injured expected. Vice Adm. (Dr.) Michael Cowan, Navy surgeon general in 2001, recalled that New York's Emergency Management Office stated the city was being overwhelmed by the needs of the displaced and relief workers.

"The island didn't have facilities to support the firemen and rescuers and police digging through the rubble and sleeping on the hood of their engines," Cowan said. "They were becoming dirty, going without water as they worked in harsh environments." The city requested that the Comfort provide humanitarian services while docked close to the site.

From Sept. 14 to Oct. 1, the Comfort provided hot meals, showers, beds and clean clothes to about 1,000 relief workers a day from its temporary home at Pier 92 in Manhattan.

When commissioned on Dec. 28, 1920, the USS Relief could boast the same amenities as the most modern hospitals at the time: large corridors and elevators for transporting patients and fully equipped surgical operating rooms, wards, galleys, pantries, wash rooms, laboratories and dispensaries, as well as a sterilizing/disinfecting room, all with tiled flooring.

The Mercy and the Comfort are no different in this regard and are comparable to some of the largest trauma hospitals in the United States. Each ship has 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a bed capacity of 1,000, and digital radiological services, medical laboratories, full-serve pharmacies, blood banks, medical equipment repair shops, prosthetics and physical therapy.

Each emblazoned with nine red crosses and stretching 894 feet in length — the size of three football fields — the Mercy and Comfort remain powerful symbols of medical care and hope during the darkest times.

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He kept his distance

The hardships endured during the coronavirus crisis has put the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” to the test in many ways. Take Charley Adams of Youngstown, Ohio. His mother, 80 year old Julie Adams, resides in the Windsor Estates Assisted Living facility and her doting son was anxious to visit her. But, alas, the pandemic had caused the residence to “lock down” due to the threat of contagion. So, Charley -- used his ingenuity -- and received an okay to use a bucket truck to lift himself up to her third-floor window for a visit with Julie. Talk about social distancing.

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Tragic loss

It’s been difficult for people to find toilet paper during the coronavirus catastrophe. Hoarders empty shelves in minutes after stores stock them. And so you can say it was a “tragic loss” when a tractor-trailer with a load of thousands of rolls of toilet paper went up in flames after a crash in Dallas County, Texas. No one was hurt. But it was certainly a disheartening blow for shoppers in San Antonio, where the truck was headed. Like many of us, many of them have been desperately seeking toilet tissue over the past few weeks.

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Man’s best friend comes to the rescue

A Maryland winery has found a unique way of adhering to social distancing protocols during the coronavirus outbreak. The Stone House Urban Winery, located in Hagerstown, MD, is providing curbside delivery of wine using a delivery dog. It allows patrons and Stone House employees to avoid getting dangerously close. The boxer’s name is Soda Pup and the canine not only helps ensure safety, he’s attracting new customers, as well. Lori Yata, co-owner of the winery, told WJLA-TV: "We've had people call in just specifically to have Soda Pup bring wine out to them-- people who have never even been here before." And, in case you worry that Soda Pup is being exposed to infection, fear not-- the American Kennel Association says that “COVID-19, is believed to not be a health threat to dogs.”

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How Struggling Businesses Still Find Ways

To Help Others During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with small and family businesses across the country, yet even as those businesses struggle with their new economic reality, many of them still find ways to help others in their communities.

A furniture store in Austin, Texas, halted furniture production to make masks and gowns for first responders and people with compromised immune systems. Restaurants in Sacramento, Calif., teamed up to feed hundreds of seniors and low-income families.

And in Charleston, SC, Apple Spice Box Lunch Catering launched a program called “Box of Thanks” where companies, organizations and individuals could support hospital workers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders by providing them with box lunches and words of gratitude.

6 people, living room and indoor 2 people, people standing and meme

“It’s a way for us to give back, and to help others in the community to give back during a time when those first responders are doing so much for all of us,” says Stephen Graves, owner and president of the Apple Spice franchise in Charleston.

Since the program began, Apple Spice has delivered hundreds of lunches to fire departments, police departments and hospitals, along with messages such as “Please enjoy this lunch as a small gesture for your bravery, dedication and service” and “Thank you for the sacrifice you are making to protect others.”

Coca-Cola pitched in by donating 750 drinks to give away with the lunches.

“It’s been great to see how the community has stepped up and how so many people recognize the important role these first responders are playing in the pandemic,” Graves says.

Anyone who wants to participate in the “Box of Thanks” program can visit the Apple Spice website at www.applespice.com or call (843) 564-1597. They can also email owner Stephn Graves at Stepheng@applespice.com or general manager Gunnar Cash at Gunnar@applespice.com.

Graves and his son Travis opened the Apple Spice franchise location in Charleston in 2017 with the goal of building a family business together. Like so many other businesses these days, their franchise has experienced its share of difficulties during the pandemic, but Graves is determined to persevere through the hard times.

“We are family-owned and committed to staying open to support those who need us to bring great food to them – especially our first responders,” Graves says. “This is just a small gesture of thanks to let these professionals know how much we appreciate their extraordinary efforts during this time.”

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Worried about your immune system? Try these 5 natural remedies

Body aches, fever, chills and nasal congestion, common symptoms of the flu, can stop you in your tracks, leaving you bedridden for days.

“Complications arising from these illnesses can become serious,” says Dr. Suhyun An (www.drsuhyunan.com), an expert on regenerative medicine and co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine.

Dr. An says there are ways to prevent the symptoms from reaching that serious point. To feel better and get back on your feet, she recommends numerous natural cold and flu remedies to alleviate your symptoms:

Vitamin C. Some studies indicate that Vitamin C can shorten the lifespan of a cold and boost your immune system. “The best way to get it is through your diet; the fresher the food, the better,” Dr. An says. “Oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, leafy greens, and bell peppers are all good sources of vitamin C. Be careful with supplements because they can lead to upset stomach and kidney stones.”

Honey. Honey has natural antiviral and antimicrobial properties. “Drinking honey in tea with lemon can ease sore throat pain,” Dr. An says. “Research suggests that honey is an effective cough suppressant, too. Honey often contains Clostridium bacteria, so never give honey to a child younger than 1-year-old because infants’ immune systems aren’t able to fight them off.”

Chicken soup. This popular cold and flu remedy helps because hot liquids reduce mucus buildup and keep you hydrated. “Chicken soup, in particular, has anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce a cold’s unpleasant side effects,” Dr. An says. “Keep some in the freezer or even canned for flu season. It’s quick to prepare that way and soothing to eat.”

Aromas. “When you have congestion from the flu, applying camphor or menthol salve around your nose can help break up mucus,” Dr. An says. “Aromatherapy oils, such as peppermint and eucalyptus, can have a similar effect. Also, vapor rub can reduce cold symptoms, especially in children older than 2 years. It helps open air passages to combat congestion, reduce coughing, and improve sleep. It’s a good alternative to over-the-counter cold medicines in young children because of unwanted side effects.”

Probiotics. These are friendly bacteria and yeast found in the body, some foods, and supplements. “They can help keep your gut and immune system healthy, and they may reduce your chance of getting sick with an upper respiratory infection,” Dr. An says. “For a delicious and nutritious source of helpful bacteria, include probiotic yogurt in your diet.”

“Colds and the flu are threats to us every year, but they don’t have to get us down for long,” Dr. An says. “Natural home remedies can reduce symptoms so you can be more comfortable and get the rest you need to get better faster.”

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How businesses can pivot while slowed or closed during difficult times

With businesses across the U.S. having closed temporarily or reduced services due to the coronavirus pandemic, company leaders are trying to find ways to stay afloat until the crisis passes – and figure out how to move forward into an uncertain future.

Dr. Kyle Bogan (www.drkylebogan.com), a business consultant and speaker on workplace culture, says this unprecedented event has caused companies to learn how to pivot on the fly and consider changes that will not only allow them to survive the crisis, but thrive later on.

“Business owners are attempting to balance decreased demand with caring for and providing for their team, and protecting the future of the business they built,” Bogan says. “While there is a negative impact on revenue, many businesses will come out on the other side of this pandemic stronger as a business and stronger as a team.”

Bogan suggests ways businesses can pivot during the pandemic that could help them short- and long-term:

Offer online services. “The critical element is to be creative and innovative to find new ways to deliver special services and products to your customers, and discounts where possible,” Bogan says. “They won’t forget that. Going as far as you can for them during an unprecedented time will make it likely they stay with you long after this is over.”

Expand how you inform and update customers. “Let your customers and audience know how and what the company is doing, how it’s adapting,” Bogan says. “Moreover, show you care how they’re doing. Offer links of advice on your website to help them deal with the many aspects of this crisis. If you’re authentic and honest, social media is a way to connect in a kind and helpful way, and that will add more substance to your brand’s image.”

Tighten connections with employees. Many companies are set up to work from home, and they aren’t as hobbled as others that are not. Bogan says consistent communication, enhanced by video conferencing, is vital to stay on top of business processes and to boost morale. “The entire team needs to be better informed and felt cared for and valued, and email alone isn’t sufficient,” Bogan says. “Owners and CEOs need to be transparent with teams about company situations. That builds trust. Send your team resources for anything that could help them during this difficult time. Encourage professional learning during downtime and get creative input from the team, giving them a stake in the future.”

Consider ways to make your culture stronger. Building stronger relationships can help build a better work culture, but that’s only one piece. Bogan says this is a good time for leaders to objectively look at their business culture and find ways to improve it. “The question is, do you want to be intentional about creating a team-first culture that represents you and your business, or do you want it to create itself without a clear vision?” Bogan says. “If you want to experience accelerated growth when this is over, creating a team-first culture is the path you must take. Financial success will follow. People are more willing to spend time and money with your brand if they can feel your team is happy.”

“Truly, we are all in this together – customers, business leaders, employees,” Bogan says. “That’s how a business should think and communicate now during the crisis and going forward.”

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How to take fear out of the workplace

By Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker

Fear. Uncertainty. A growing sense of panic every time the president delivers a national address about the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus.

Chatter around the workplace these days is filled with questions like: Will I get sick? Will I have a job tomorrow? Can I afford to pay my rent?

What can you do when you’re facing fear in the workplace? The good news is that you can turn to four key principles: transparency, financial discipline, trust and respect for people, and a forward-focused approach. If you want to take fear out of the workplace, consider the following steps:

Embrace transparency. “Open-book management” is the idea that everyone inside your organization will be taught to understand the numbers that drive its success. Many growing business owners can be reluctant to share the truth about the financials inside their business. But they don’t realize the kind of risks they take on by doing so. They take on the burden of keeping the business alive — solo. In many cases, CEOs and owners are forced to shut the doors of the business to the shock of their associates, who are then left to wonder if they could have done something to contribute to a different outcome.

That’s why it’s amazing what happens when you have the courage to share the news — good and bad — with your people. Treat them like adults. Get their attention directed toward what they can do to help — versus panicking. Plus, the more eyes you have on a problem, the more ideas you’ll have to solve it. It’s an automatic check-and-balance on the security of your business.

Discuss your cash position. It’s been frustrating over the past few years as we’ve watched startup companies under the guidance of universities, incubators, and even investors embrace the idea that the only way they could grow was to take on debt. Some of you may find yourselves in an over-leveraged position, but that can also be an opportunity to engage your workforce and tell them the truth about the situation. If you do find yourself in trouble, ask your associates for ideas about how they can contribute to cutting costs — and increasing cash flow to the point where you can actually cover your debt obligations. You’ll be amazed at what can happen when you teach your people the rules of the game.

Protect jobs. Attracting talent and retaining it can be tough. We don’t have a future without people. In the not-too-distant past, executives sometimes became idols when downsizing jobs became the new mantra, laying off people at a time they needed those jobs the most. Something similar could happen today. Difficult times can convince companies to resort to layoffs to survive. But it is wise to think differently. Whoever has the most talented workforce will dominate their markets as soon as 2021. The time to get your organization ready for the next upturn is today — not when it’s already arrived. By then, it may be too late.

Get ready for the upturn. As bad and as uncertain as things look today, here’s a secret: it’s actually harder to get a company ready to take advantage of an upturn than it is to prepare for a downturn. Downturns can actually be opportunities to fix things inside your business that you can’t afford to invest the time and resources in when the economy is booming. While it might seem counter-intuitive, the current down market comes as a kind of short-term relief.

It’s giving us a chance to catch up — to make investments in our people and facilities — and to prepare ourselves to capitalize on the economic uptick that we expect to hit in late-2020, early-2021. By then, our workforce should be more stable and productive — and ready to take full advantage of the available opportunities. They have every incentive to do so, because, as owners of the business, they have a true stake in the outcome.

We know how painful things are today. But there’s no reason you can’t also dare to be successful. And learning how to build a culture based on transparency, financial discipline, trust and respect for people, and a forward-focused outlook, is a great place to start removing the fear that’s pervading your workplace.

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As the coronavirus spreads, farmers still fight other livestock viruses

The coronavirus has impacted enormous numbers of people, but the disease is suspected to have started in animals.

While the specific animal source hasn’t been identified, the virus originated at a wet market – where both dead and live animals are sold – in Wuhan, China. Such outdoor markets with insufficient hygiene practices increase the risk of viruses being transmitted from animals to humans.

Unsanitary settings also have been the origin of other viruses, such as Zika and West Nile, that have long been infecting livestock across America – and, like the coronavirus, can be transmitted to humans. David Anderson (www.horsedrinker.com), President and CEO of Bar-Bar-A, a company that produces automatic livestock drinkers, says stagnant water – which collects bacteria and where mosquitoes gather and become virus carriers – is a big source of the problem.

“When you have standing water out in the fields from rain or irrigation, stagnant drinking troughs in the heat, or any places livestock such as horses or cattle drink, it attracts mosquitoes,” Anderson says. “Algae-infested ponds are another. The more mosquitoes, the more risk of contracting a virus.

“What we don’t ever want to see in regard to these livestock viruses is the hysteria we’re seeing about the coronavirus because of a general lack of knowledge about it. With Zika and West Nile, we need to educate the public on how horses and other livestock attract the viruses, which people can get, too, and what the preventive measures are that we can take.”

Anderson suggests the following ways to reduce the risks of people, pets and livestock getting viruses such as the West Nile and Zika:

Reduce the amount of standing water. This is where mosquitoes breed, but there are many places they gather besides ponds, puddles, and drinking troughs. “Many homes and yards are sitting ducks for mosquitoes and the disease they carry,” Anderson says. “Dispose of cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots, or similar water-holding containers. Empty standing water from discarded tires. Clean clogged roof gutters, particularly if the leaves tend to pile up and plug up the drains. Turn over plastic wading pools when not in use. Don’t allow water to stagnate in birdbaths or wading pools. Clean and chlorinate swimming pools that are not being used. Be aware that mosquitoes may even breed in the water that collects on swimming pool covers.”

Avoid sharing equipment. “Animals often gather in packs to drink and eat, but to decrease exposure or chances of a virus spreading, avoid letting them share feed tubs and water troughs or buckets in herds,” Anderson says. “This also includes being careful not to share things like pitchforks, halters, and brushes.”

Practice good landscaping. “Very weedy and shallow waterways that receive a good amount of excess runoff from fertilizers or manure can be havens for mosquitoes,” Anderson says. “Prevent such runoff through proper drainage, minimal fertilizer use, and buffer zones between open fields and wetlands. Control the weeds and keep old leaves from piling up.”

“It’s impossible for agriculture to occur without water, and the same is true of mosquitoes,” Anderson says. “Any standing body of water represents the perfect spawning ground for mosquitoes, so you have to know how to reduce them to reduce your animals’ risk – and your risk – of a serious virus.”

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Preventive COVID-19 safety and cleaning tips

There has been much panic, confusion, isolation, hoarding and anxiety recently as a result of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). Consumers have raided stores buying out bleach, alcohol, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, according to Marilyn Burch, Extension associate-foods and nutrition for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. This is all in an effort to keep families safe, virus-free and well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is mostly spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently, they have no documentation of whether the disease can be transmitted from surfaces to persons. However, the virus may linger for hours even days on various items.

Frequently touched surfaces include tables, handles, light switches, doorknobs, sinks, faucets, toilets and electronics (phones, keyboards, touch screens, tablets and remote controls). These surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

“Cleaning removes germs and dirt from surfaces,” Burch said, “but disinfecting kills germs on surfaces by using chemicals.”

The CDC recommends the best household preventive cleaning practice is removing visible dirt followed by disinfection. This routine further lowers the risk of spreading infection and viral respiratory illnesses.

Apply caution to using do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an independent agency of the federal government designed for protecting the environment, warns that the use of some products may result in adverse respiratory effects. If you have a concern or question regarding whether a product is an effective disinfectant go to the following link: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2.

“All disinfectants should be EPA-registered,” Burch said. “All labels should contain instructions for safe and actual use and precautions such as having proper ventilation or wearing gloves.”

The best way to clean electronics is by following the manufacturer’s instructions, she said. If there are no directions, the best way to clean them is by using alcohol-based wipes or spray made of at least 70 percent alcohol.

“Make sure to dry the surface carefully to prevent pools of liquid,” she said. “Researchers say that cleaning with chlorine bleach diluted with water is one of the top ways of maintaining a safe surrounding.”

Individuals may encounter cleaning and disinfectant challenges such as how to clean porous and non-porous surfaces, Burch said. Below are tips from the CDC to use when in doubt.

Non-Porous (absorbent) Surfaces

• Wear gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. If using disposable gloves, discard immediately after use. Non-disposable gloves should be purposed for cleaning “only” and not used for other tasks. Make sure to properly wash your hands after removing reusable gloves.

• Clean dirty surfaces with detergent or soap and water before disinfecting.

• Household bleach diluted with water can be used on suitable surfaces. The solution mixture is 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per one gallon of water or 4 teaspoons (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) bleach per quart of water. Allow at least one minute of contact time. Additionally, make sure the area is well aired. Unexpired diluted household bleach is effective against coronaviruses. Warning: NEVER mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.

• Large surfaces (floors and walls) have not been related with the spread of COVID-19. Nor has the use of foggers and sprayers as evidence of being preventive. Continue using the suggested approaches for removing and killing germs.

Porous (absorbent) Soft Surfaces:

• Soft surfaces (carpets, rugs, drapes) may be cleaned by removing any visible impurities with cleaners that are suitable for use. Read the label instructions.

• Laundered items (clothes and linen) should be washed using the warmest water setting and dried completely. If caring for an ill person, wear disposable gloves and an apron when handling laundry and throw away after each use. If no gloves are used, be sure to wash your hands quickly after handling them. Try not to shake dirty laundry. Doing so will increase the release of viruses through the air.

• Dirty laundry from an ill person may be washed with other people’s laundry.

• Clean and disinfect clothes hampers according to the guide above for the surface. Use disposable or washable bag liners in hampers as an extra safeguard.

“Proper hand hygiene should be practiced at home and work by avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands,” Burch said. According to the CDC, additional significant times to clean hands include:

• After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

• After using the bathroom.

• Before eating or preparing food.

• After pet or animal contact.

• Before and after providing routine care for another person (child or elderly).

“These precautions and tips are necessary, especially during this time of crisis,” Burch said. “Stay safe, alert and be careful.”

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Take the hassle out of watering container gardens

By MELINDA MYERS

Growing flowers and vegetables in containers will allow you to expand planting space, grow plants right outside your door and elevate them for easier access and maintenance. Unlike growing in the ground, the smaller volume of soil in containers is exposed to heat and wind, so requires frequent, often daily, watering.

Don’t let this watering schedule discourage you from growing in pots. Enlist one or more of these strategies to eliminate the daily burden of watering while still maintaining beautiful and productive gardens.

Grow plants in large plastic, glazed or other less breathable material to extend the time between watering. The larger the pot and less breathable the container material, the longer the soil stays moist. Small pots made of breathable materials, like unglazed terra cotta, dry out more quickly.

No matter the size and type container used, monitor and adjust your watering schedule based on weather, number of plants in the pot and size of the plants. The more plants used and the larger the plants grow the more water needed; so, frequency will increase over time.

Use self-watering pots to extend the time between watering. Fill the reservoir in these containers as needed. The water moves from the reservoir to the soil where it is needed. This extends the time between watering. As your new plantings grow, you will need to fill the reservoir more frequently.

Use a quality potting mix that holds moisture and is well draining to avoid waterlogged soils that can lead to root rot. Most potting mixes contain peat moss, compost or bark to hold moisture. Vermiculite, perlite or rice hulls are used to provide drainage.

Add a long-lasting sustainable, water saving product, like wool pellets (wildvalleyfarms.com), to your potting mix. This organic product is made from belly wool and tags that cannot be used for clothing. The pellets promote healthier growth, increase soil aeration and reduce watering frequency by as much as 25%.

Mulch the soil surface in newly planted container gardens. This common garden practice is often overlooked when growing in containers. Cover the soil surface with shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic material. This helps conserve moisture until plants grow and shade the soil.

Automate watering with one of the many commercial or DIY container irrigation systems. These are designed to provide water to each individual pot with the turn of the faucet. Attach the irrigation system to the faucet, attach a timer and watering becomes a breeze. Regularly check the system to make sure the lines that deliver water to the pot are intact and the watering frequency is adjusted throughout the growing season as needed.

Enlist one or more of these strategies to make container gardening a manageable growing system. Once you eliminate the inconvenience of daily watering you may just find yourself planting more container gardens each season.

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KNOW YOUR MILITARY

First peacetime draft enacted just before World War II

By DAVID VERGUN

DOD News

In 1940, Americans closely followed the news of Germany's armed forces overrunning most of Europe, while Japan was using its military aggressively in East Asia. Public opinion in the United States was changing sharply from isolationism to the possibility of military action against the Axis powers of Italy, Japan and Germany.

On Sept. 16, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Selective Training and Service Act, which was another name for the draft. It required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft.

While there were wartime drafts during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War I, this draft was different. It was the nation’s first peacetime draft.

Following Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, Congress amended the act to require all able-bodied men ages 18 to 64 to register with their local draft board for military service for the duration of World War II plus six months after. In practice, however, only men 18 to 45 were drafted.

During the course of the war, more than 10 million men were inducted into the Army, Navy and Marines through the draft. However, most men who served, as well as a lot of women, volunteered for the military.

Many men who were too old or disabled often served on the home front, doing vital work on farms and in factories. Women also filled in at factories for men who were sent overseas to fight.

The draft remained in place until 1973. That period included the time when millions of men were drafted during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Among the notables drafted after World War II were singer/actor Elvis Presley and baseball star Willie Mays.

On July 1, 1973, the draft officially ended and the all-volunteer force was established and continues to today. Now, only men and women who volunteered are serving in the nation's armed forces. There's been a consensus among Defense Department leaders that the all-volunteer force is working and is attracting America’s talented, physically fit and motivated youth.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Why Are our Medicare Premiums Different?

Dear Rusty: What is the Medicare monthly payment based on? I pay $139.60, my husband pays $144.60, a friend pays $136.60. I receive $388 per month in Social Security, my husband receives $1200, and my friend receives $1000 per month. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the amount we pay. Signed: Curious to Know

Dear Curious: It may not seem so, but there is actually “rhyme or reason” to the amount of everyone’s Medicare premium. I’ll try to explain.

Each year Medicare determines a standard premium amount for Part B – coverage for doctors and other outpatient services. For 2020, the standard premium is $144.60; last year it was $135.50. Higher earners may even pay more, as a supplemental amount is added to the base Part B premium if someone’s income exceeds certain high clip levels set by Medicare. In short, those with high income pay a higher (than standard) Medicare premium. The rest of us pay the base $144.60 amount, unless the “hold harmless” provision is in play.

The “hold harmless” provision is a law passed by Congress to prevent Social Security benefit payments from decreasing as a result of an increase in the Medicare premium (most Medicare premiums are deducted from Social Security benefit payments). The disparity in premiums you refer to results from the hold harmless provision, which also permits all or part of a Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) to be applied to your Medicare premium increase, instead of going to you. Here’s what can happen:

If the Medicare premium goes up in any year, some (or all) of your annual Social Security COLA increase can be used to pay for your monthly Medicare premium increase. But, if the COLA increase to your SS benefit isn’t big enough to cover the entire Medicare premium increase, your net SS benefit stays the same and your Medicare premium amount becomes whatever level your COLA increase brings it to (up to the base premium for that year). That means that your Medicare premium could be lower than the standard Medicare Part B premium for the year.

Since the dollar value of a COLA increase varies according to the size of your Social Security benefit, those with a higher benefit may receive a COLA increase which more than covers the Medicare premium increase and the remainder is given as additional SS benefit. But those with a lower SS benefit will get a smaller COLA, which may not be enough to cover the increase in the Medicare premium. In that event, the Social Security benefit stays the same and the COLA is used to bring the Medicare premium up to, or closer to, the base premium amount. If the COLA doesn’t cover the entire Medicare premium increase, the premium stays at a lower-than-base number. And this recurs every year, which results in many people, especially those with a smaller SS benefit amount, paying a different (smaller than base) Medicare premium amount.

Here’s an example: If your husband’s SS benefit is $1200/month, he got a $19.20 COLA increase for 2020 (1.6%). The Medicare premium for 2020 went up by $9.10, which was taken from his COLA increase. The remaining $10.10 of his COLA increase was added to his SS benefit amount.

If your benefit is $388 your COLA increase was $6.20 (1.6%). That $6.20 COLA wasn’t enough to cover the $9.10 Medicare premium increase, but it was applied to your previous Medicare premium amount to bring you to a Medicare premium of $139.60. Your net SS payment stayed the same because your current SS benefit cannot be used to pay for the rest of the premium increase. But $5 of any COLA increase you get next year will go toward bringing you up to the base Medicare premium amount. While this may not fit your idea of “rhyme or reason” it is, nevertheless, based upon a well-intentioned “hold harmless” rule which protects your Social Security benefit from decreasing.

Undress for success?

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many of us to work from home using such 21st century technologies as video conferencing. It turns out that quite a few make sure their video cameras are turned off during these online meetings. Why? A survey shows that 12% of those polled admitted it is because they don’t want to get dressed up for those sessions, Some say they take the calls in their pajamas and even in the nude. The survey was conducted by Mentimeter, a company that offers platforms for interactive presentations.

Determination is what a marathoner is made of

What is a marathoner to do when he is home bound by the CLOVID crisis? Frenchman Elisha Nochomovitz, was distraught when the pandemic caused the cancellation of the Barcelona Marathon. So he decided to run his own marathon while sheltering in place in his apartment located in the southwestern French town of Balma. It took him six hours and forty-eight minutes of running back and forth on the apartment’s 23-foot long terrace but he made sure his run was the equivalent of a standard 42.195 kilometer [26 mile] marathon.

Giving thanks

Hoarders have come out in droves across the country due to the COVID-19 outbreak and it appears they particularly seek to load up on toilet paper. This has caused empty shelves in drug stores and supermarkets and dismay for all of us who are home bound for the duration. There have also been reports of public bathrooms being raided for toilet paper. But Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hoping that a kind reminder might just be the trick that can help keep their public conveniences at Boyd Lake State Park well stocked. An electronic sign at the entrance to the park reads: "Thank you for not stealing our toilet paper!!!” In addition, they’ve tweeted the message: "To those that haven't stolen toilet paper at our #ColoradoStateParks, thank you,"

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Are coronavirus worries keeping you awake? Stretches in bed will calm you

Anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus is leading to sleepless nights for some people – and that can result in even more health problems.

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep weakens the immune system, the last thing anyone needs when a potentially deadly virus is making the rounds.

The question many bleary-eyed people face is how they can remedy their insomnia without resorting to medication, anything else that they have to take orally, or a significant lifestyle change. One answer: stretches done on the bed that relax the body and mind, allowing them to drift into slumber and be better prepared for the next day – and keep that immune system humming as well, says Larry Piller (www.larrypiller.com), a Certified Massage Practitioner and author of Stretching Your Way: A Unique & Leisurely Muscle Stretching System.

“I consider these the crown jewels of stretches for sleep because everyone who tries them falls asleep,” Piller says. “Just by knowing that these stretches are waiting for you anytime you want them, day or night, it will give you a feeling of tranquility as opposed to a night of anxiousness. Stretching has many benefits, and one of those is that it can help you wind down and ease the tension at the end of the day.”

So, for those struggling to rid themselves of their coronavirus worries, Piller offers a few examples of what he calls “superstar stretches for sleeping”:

Stretch 1. While lying on your back, extend your shoulder out as is comfortable and lift your hand up as though you are trying to stop traffic. Then turn your arm and your hand backward, letting your little finger be your guide. Let your little finger land where roughly the No. 7 would be on a clock. Just extend your shoulder out as is comfortable and bring your fingers back as is comfortable.

Stretch 2. While lying on your back on the bed, put your arm in a position as if showing your muscle to someone. Just extend your elbow out to the side as is comfortable for a tricep stretch. From that position, open your hand up all the way, extend your elbow to the side as is comfortable while bringing your thumb down toward you as is comfortable.

Stretch 3. While you lie on your back, just extend your shoulder and arm out as is comfortable, Piller says.

Stretch 4. While you lie on your back, bring your toes and the inner side of your foot inward to get a stretch on the side of the foot. These stretches for the side of your feet can be done lying on your side as well, as long as you have room to bring your foot or feet down or inward. You also can use a pillow between your legs to raise your foot so you can bring your foot or feet down, or hang your feet over the edge. “This by itself, or in combination with other stretches, has a high chance to put you to sleep like a little baby,” Piller says.

A recent article in Psychology Today explored how a good night’s sleep is necessary for a person’s immune system to run as efficiently as possible. A good, healthy immune system is one of the major things that may reduce the risk of the coronavirus. That makes it extremely important that people find simple and easy ways to relax at night, rather than lie staring at the ceiling as brooding fears about the coronavirus swirl around in their minds, Piller says.

“Life can be a job in itself, especially right now with all the concerns about the coronavirus,” Piller says. “Most people do not want all the difficulties that every insomnia treatment is riddled with. They don’t want to do all kinds of lifestyle changes that don’t offer solutions or guarantees, and that have minimal results at best. These superstar stretches for sleeping are the world’s easiest and safest. For me, muscle stretching is magic. You get total relief just knowing this effortless system is waiting for you at bedtime.”

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For Your Health: Watch your well-being during coronavirus distancing

By DR. GRAHAM A. COLDITZ

Siteman Cancer Center

Daily life has changed to an amazing degree in the last few weeks. As individuals and communities work to contain the spread of COVID-19, one major adjustment for most of us personally is that we now spend much more time at home. This form of physical distancing, or sheltering in place, limits contact between people, which can help curb the infection’s spread.

As necessary as this distancing is, it is a change that can also be stressful, tedious and isolating, among many other things. So, as we all work to get used to our new and, ultimately, temporary reality, here are eight ways to look after your health, your well-being and yourself during these unique times.

Be kind to yourself. The great thing about physical distancing is that by doing nothing — just staying inside — we’re doing something really important. Despite what you may see on social media, you don’t need to be writing a novel, conducting your children in a symphony or even reorganizing your sock drawer — unless you really want to. Be kind to yourself, and just take time to figure out what works best for you and your family.

Take a break from the news. Even in normal times, the sheer volume of news can feel overwhelming. These days, it’s even worse. So, be sure to carve out chunks of the day when you take a rest and shut off the news and pandemic-related social media feeds. Pick up a book. Stream a TV show. Play a board game. The news will still be there when you get back to it.

Keep up healthy food choices. When our regular routines are upended, our food choices can be, too — and often not for the better. A healthy diet can be a good way to maintain some normalcy, help keep the immune system working well and keep calories in check during these times when we’re less active and may feel urges to eat because of stress or boredom. When stocking up at the grocery store, focus on nourishing and filling foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, brown rice, fruits and vegetables (frozen, canned or fresh) and beans. And if you buy sweets and less-healthy foods, store them out of sight so they’re less tempting. With the economy hard hit, food insecurity can also be an issue for many. For food assistance, or to donate, contact food banks in your area, or visit feedingamerica.org.

Keep moving. Although gyms are closed and exercise classes canceled, it’s still important to stay physically active. It can take a little extra creativity and more planning than before, but the payoff in energy, mood and overall well-being make it well worth it. YouTube is a great source for free yoga, dance and cardio videos. Exercise apps are another option. And, for most people, getting outside for a walk or bike ride is still allowed (while keeping a safe distance from others). Don’t worry about hitting specific goals, just try to fit something in on most days. You’ll be happy you did.

Stand more. This can sound a bit odd. But, on top of staying active, try to make an effort to stand more than you normally would when you’re at home. In our normal days before COVID-19, it’d be rare to sit for most of the day. Going to class, walking to meetings, doing errands or spending time with the kids, we were on our feet a good amount. Now, while most of us are spending much more time at home, we’re probably also spending much more time sitting. Long term, sitting too much is bad for health, and short term, it can sap some of our energy and just make the long days at home feel even longer. So, try to work some standing breaks into your schedule. Set a timer that chimes every half hour to remind you to get up for a short leg stretch. Or try standing when watching TV shows, working on your computer or playing with your pet.

Stay connected — virtually. While we may no longer be able to meet up with friends and colleagues in the real world, we can still stay connected through technology. Host a trivia game over group video chat, share recipes via text message or email, or just pick up the phone and have a long talk with your best friend. The options are wide open for making connections.

Check in with your health-care provider if you have an existing medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. See if there are any changes you should make during this time, such as rescheduling appointments, extending prescriptions or connecting remotely by telehealth rather than in person. Because COVID-19 can be more serious in some people with pre-existing diseases, it’s also especially important to follow recommendations for keeping safe, such as staying at home, avoiding groups and close contact with others, keeping surfaces clean and washing hands frequently.

Look after your mental wellness. This can be a time of stress, anxiety and loneliness for many people. So, as you’re looking after your physical health, it’s extremely important to also look after your mental and emotional health. Try to keep up with those things that can help with mood: physical activity, mindfulness and meditation, and connecting with friends using technology. Many people also need professional help. So, don’t be shy about calling a health-care provider or visiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org) for resources. If you ever feel you’re in crisis, call 911 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) immediately.

We’ll get through this together, even as we’re safely distancing ourselves for now.

It’s our health. Let’s take control.

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The ‘Hello Girls’ of WWI and their sixty-year battle for recognition

Bells rang throughout France on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918, signifying the end of World War I. In Paris, people filled the streets in a bittersweet celebration: The war was finally over.

But while those celebrations took place, an American woman drew her last breaths in a foreign city. Inez Crittenden had been stationed in France for a year serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a telephone operator. In the final days of the war, she became bed ridden with pneumonia. She died in Paris on the day the war ended.

Crittenden was one of 233 women who served as telephone operators for the Army’s Signal Corps during the war. They were more commonly known as “Hello Girls.”

After the US entered the war in 1917, the Army desperately looked for ways to improve communications during military operations. Commanders discovered major problems with the use of two languages in exchanges between the American and French armies. At first, American men and French women were used in telephone exchanges, but both groups proved to be unsatisfactory. The Army had trouble finding qualified men for the job and looked elsewhere.

General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, requested a recruitment of women telephone operators that spoke both English and French. In America, women primarily made up the workforce of civilian telephone operators. Nearly 10,000 women applied to fill Pershing’s request. Those that were accepted into the program underwent a tough selection process and had to agree to serve for the duration of the war. The women were evaluated on tests similar to those given to Army officer candidates. Then they were individually investigated by the Secret Service. Because the nature of the work required them to handle highly confidential information, their loyalty and motivations for serving were investigated more thoroughly than the average soldier.

Their training included daily military drill. They were taught about the Army, its traditions, and military terms. They wore a uniform, were given ranks, and were subject to inspections. In every way they appeared to be soldiers. And their abilities overseas proved invaluable: They were far more effective than men in operating the military telephone and had a proficiency that was unmatched in their British counterparts. It was said that without the Hello Girls, “It would be impossible to brigade American troops.”

After she died, Inez Crittenden was given a military burial in Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial. Her grave lies alongside over a thousand other American service members who died overseas. But after the war ended, the Army decided that the Hello Girls had served as civilians, not soldiers.

While the Navy had opened enlistment to women during World War I, the Army did not. As a result, the Army did not consider the Hello Girls as servicewomen and did not issue honorable discharges to them. Therefore, the 233 Hello Girls were not considered to be Veterans of the war that they had served in. This began a sixty-year battle for them to be recognized for their military service.

It wasn’t until Congress passed the 1977 G.I. Improvement Bill that the Hello Girls finally received recognition from the government for their service. When President Carter signed it into law, the Hello Girls were given discharges from the military and granted Veteran benefits. Only 18 of them were still alive at the time.

Olive Shaw was one of those surviving Hello Girls. She had returned home to Massachusetts after the war and began working for Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers as her personal secretary. Shaw was one of the Hello Girls that led the sixty-year battle for Veteran status. When she died in 1980, one year after being granted Veteran benefits, she wished to be buried in the soon-to-be-opened Massachusetts National Cemetery. When the cemetery opened in October, she became the first burial there. The recognition of her military service, which had been denied to her for almost the entirety of her life, is now forever remembered at her grave.

But none of the other Hello Girls who died before 1977 ever had the chance to use their Veteran benefits. None of them were ever eligible to be buried in a national cemetery as a Veteran.

Marguerite Lovera died in 1959, 20 years before being granted Veteran benefits. However, it was discovered that she was interred in Golden Gate National Cemetery as an eligible spouse to Felix Lovera, an Army Veteran who had also served in World War I. Marguerite’s grave marker only read “Wife of SGT F A Lovera,” with no recognition to her own service during the war. But in 2018, a relative of Marguerite contacted the National Cemetery Administration with information that she served as a Hello Girl. Though she wasn’t considered a Veteran when she was interred in the cemetery, she was now. Not long after NCA was notified, historians verified the information and the cemetery director had a new grave marker placed for Marguerite that gives proper recognition to her military service.

Even a 100 years after the war they served in ended, these women are still slowly receiving the recognition that they deserve. These trailblazers were some of the first women to serve in the Army. In recognizing the Hello Girls, we honor their service and sacrifices to their country, their contribution to Women’s History, and their lasting legacies.

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How unconventional parents raise next gen's enlightened leaders

The American family structure has shifted dramatically in the past 50-plus years. Less than half of U.S. children are raised in a traditional setting – nearly a 30% drop since the early 1960s.

What that means in terms of quality of life for children from non-traditional families – chances of a stable upbringing, career success, etc. – isn’t always clear. But a non-traditional family structure can provide parents a great opportunity: To teach values, such as gender equality, that their children can someday apply in the workplace and with their own families.

“Growing up in a non-traditional family can help children gain sensitivity and compassion for other cultures and lifestyles, and it helps them break free of the gender stereotypes that pervade our society,” says Andreas Wilderer (www.andreaswilderer.com), a stay-at-home father and author of Lean On: The Five Pillars Of Support For Women In Leadership.

“They will not distinguish between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s duties.’ Such biases have held back countless people from reaching their potential. In a non-traditional family, parents have a prime opportunity to teach their children by example that they need not fit into anybody’s mold. They can help their children to feel more comfortable while coping with a lifestyle much different from that of some of their friends.”

Non-traditional families come in many forms – a single-parent home, a blended family led by second-marriage parents, a same-sex marriage with children, or parents like Wilderer and his wife taking on non-traditional roles. (There are an estimated 2 million stay-at-home dads in the U.S.) Wilderer offers three ways parents in non-traditional homes can help their children’s confidence as well as their understanding of gender equality:

Take them on a business trip. “The mystery of why mom goes away on business is removed,” Wilderer says. “Your son or daughter should feel your enthusiasm and dedication for what you do. It’s a great opportunity to instill a healthy work ethic and attitude, while also demonstrating that any job includes routine moments that aren’t exciting.”

Involve them in planning family activities. This could mean vacations, meals during the week, summer camps, etc. “When you give children that opportunity, you strengthen your bond with them,” Wilderer says. “When the children feel they are active participants in the family’s planning and know that someone cares enough to listen to them, their confidence will deepen, and they’ll better understand their family model and their place in it.”

Hold open, honest family meetings. Problems come up, as with any family. How they are addressed in a non-traditional family can be tricky. Wilderer says communication, in the form of regular family meetings where both the good and the bad are aired, is essential. “Give your children a voice more and more as they grow,” he says. “Meet as a family at least once a month, go over the good things that happened and the most challenging things. Of key importance is expressing feelings and finding solutions. Through it all, remain respectful and open to one another.”

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5 ways to make failure the best thing that ever happened to you

Steve Jobs once said that getting fired from Apple – the global tech giant he co-founded – was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to him.

In Jobs’ case, starting anew removed the burdens of success that he felt at Apple and freed him to enter a new and productive creative period. Jobs’ reflection on his career path illuminates the adage, “When one door closes, another door opens” – but with a twist that applies to many people trying to move on from a major setback, says Chuck Crumpton (www.chuckcrumpton.com), author of The Jagged Journey: A Raw & Real Memoir about the Non-Perfect Path of Life & Business.

“The key,” Crumpton says, “is not getting stuck in the long hallway between the closed door and new door opening. That can happen due to the piled-up mental clutter of your failures.

“Don’t let that happen. Instead, learn from those failures and let that knowledge free you to be your best. Ask yourself, ‘Have you had enough failure in your life to understand what success really is?’ ”

Crumpton offers five ways to learn from past failures and find lasting success:

Do a deeper dive than you did last time. “Too many people take big jobs with good salaries while not thoroughly researching the company and the extent of the challenge they’re getting themselves into,” Crumpton says. “You might like the thought of overcoming and making it work, but you have to do the homework and honestly assess if there are too many headaches involved.”

Know who you are. What have your failures told you about yourself? Crumpton says be honest with yourself. Was the position a poor fit, did you overreach, or did the experience shed light on your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to be productive, happy and successful? “Sometimes failure is a matter of simply falling short, and from that realizing where our real strengths lie for the next and better opportunity,” Crumpton says. “One of the best things about failure is it can give us a clearer sense of who we are and what we want. And that realization can be energizing and inspiring.”

Know who your friends are – and aren’t. Crumpton says your first rule should be to treat everyone the way you want to be treated. But that’s not always reciprocal. “You can’t forget who treated you poorly, who you couldn’t trust, and what you learned from that,” Crumpton says. “The friends you make and the work relationships that worked help us learn more about the type of people we want to be associated with. Who challenged you in a good way? Who made you think and grow as a result? And just as important are knowing the toxic types you don’t want to be around and drag down the culture.”

Remember your survival instincts. “Even in an experience that ended up in failure, we can draw strength and confidence from memories of making the best of a tough situation,” Crumpton says. “And if people blamed things on you but you gave your best effort at the time, you can build on that focus toward success in your next opportunity.”

Don’t share your secret. “Many people have been burned by telling someone near the top of a company their innermost desires for personal growth, future plans, etc.,” Crumpton says. “Keep it to yourself until you’re ready to go. Otherwise, as I was, you may get kicked out the door before you really have a plan for what’s next. I had an itch to go out on my own, but the scratch wasn’t of my own making.”

“As a society, we put so much focus on success,” Crumpton says. “Yet failure often unlocks the door to success, and for many who learn from failure, the best is yet to come.”

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Celebrating Earth Day early during an earth crisis

Earth Day may not be until April 22, but spring has arrived early in many parts of the United States, and the TurfMutt Foundation is encouraging everyone to get outside to celebrate and receive the benefits of our green space now—but right in their own backyards.

“It’s a stressful time as our country seeks to ‘shelter in place’ as much as possible,” says Kris Kiser, President of the TurfMutt Foundation. “We’d like to remind everyone that getting outside—in your own backyard—is an important activity, now more than ever, for you, your family and pets. De-stress and enjoy the healing aspects of nature in your own corner of the earth.”

Science has proven that simply spending time in our family yards is good for human health and well-being, which is important today as everyone seeks creative ways to stay well while being confined to their homes. The backyard is “safe space,” adds Kiser. “So, mow your lawn, trim bushes, throw a ball with the kids, plant a butterfly bush together, and get your hands in the dirt. Do get off the Internet and take a break from being cooped up inside.”

A Stanford University study found that walking in nature resulted in decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and produced cognitive benefits, such as increased working memory performance. Multiple studies have discovered that plants in hospital recovery rooms or views of aesthetically pleasing gardens help patients heal up to one day faster than those who are in more sterile or austere environments.

Explore these six ways to tap into the health and well-being your family yard can provide.

Keep kids learning. With kids dismissed from school, the TurfMutt Foundation offers free, online, do-at-home lesson plans and activities where kids in grades K-8 can continue to learn science and nature lessons right in their own backyards. The TurfMutt environmental education program resources are based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) principles, and teach kids about the benefits of taking care of and spending time in nature.

Clean up your yard. The family yard is an outdoor living room, so prepare it for use. Mow the lawn, trim bushes, and tend to flower gardens. Garden supplies can be ordered online or you often can have them delivered from your local nursery. Take care of your yard, and it will provide the space to relax and recreate.

Plant something. Getting your hands dirty is good for you, says science. Soil is the new Prozac, according to Dr. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening, doing yard work, and having direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier.

Play a family game. If you have a small patch of grass, you have a badminton court, a croquet field, or a soccer field. Throw a ball to your kids -- or your dog. Run through the sprinkler if your area isn’t in a drought condition.

Play with pets or foster a rescue animal. No one appreciates the yard more than a pet. Science also has shown pets have a stress-reducing effect on people and kids. So, get outside with your furry family member and let them remind you of the joys of the outdoors.

Dine outdoors. Have a family picnic right in your backyard or set up a table and chairs to have family meals in the sun or under a shade tree.

Just be. De-stress by observing the birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife that use your yard as habitat and food. Get your toes in the grass. Watch the trees. Use outdoor time as meditation time.

“Your yard offers much during these challenging times. It has purpose,” says Kiser. “And that purpose is more important than ever. Get outdoors with your family, get your feet in the grass and your hands in the soil. Just do get outside.”

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House Call

With Dr. Daniel Knight

UAMS, chairman,

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

Q. I'm confused about whether eggs are good for my health

A. The debate regarding whether eggs increase the risk of heart disease has lingered for decades. Eggs are an inexpensive source of high-quality protein — found in their whites and essential vitamins, minerals and healthy fats — offered in their yolks. However, some nutritional guidelines advise limiting intake to three or fewer a week because of their high cholesterol levels.

A new Canadian study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that moderate intake of eggs, about one per day, does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality, even in those with a history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Previous studies, which were smaller in numbers and regional scope, resulted in conflicting findings.

The most recent study, which received no funding from the egg industry, included data from more than 177,000 people who participated in three long-term international studies. Those involved came from various income levels and most of them consumed one or fewer eggs daily. In the study, no association was found between egg intake and blood cholesterol, its components or other risk factors in both healthy people and those with vascular disease.

Q. What possible health issues may arise after the age of 50?

A. A big concern beginning at this age is having a heart attack. A 50-year-old man has a 50% chance of eventually developing heart disease. Those who maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke and exercise regularly are at lower risk. Other major health concerns include having a stroke or aneurysm. Many of the lifestyle changes to lower the risk of heart disease, including keeping blood pressure under control, eating a low-cholesterol diet and managing stress, can also lower the risk of having a stroke or aneurysm.

Other midlife health concerns include gallstones, which are more likely in those who are obese, do not regularly exercise, are diabetic, or have Crohn’s disease. Sometimes, gallstones can lead to an inflammation of the pancreas known as acute pancreatitis, which can be life threatening. Those with symptoms — severe stomach pain, vomiting, nausea and a fever — should seek help immediately.

Those over 45 should have colonoscopies and an increase in broken bones is another issue, especially for older women. Calcium and vitamin D can help slow bone loss or prevent it from getting worse, while certain drugs can assist in keeping or rebuilding bone.

Q. My husband struggles with sleeping at night because his mind keeps racing. What can he do to calm it?

A. Being more conscious about his breathing can help. While we breathe all the time, focusing on and controlling it, adjusting from short, quick breaths to slower deeper ones, can help. About six breaths a minute is optimal. Regular exercise can also help calm his mind. Just five minutes of aerobic exercise — such as a brisk walk — releases endorphins, chemicals that can improve focus, mood and sleep, while high-intensity interval training (20- to 30-second bursts of pushing harder), offers a big dose of endorphins quickly.

Listening to music, not in the background but with full attention, literally calms the activity in the brain and is especially helpful for those distracted by pain.

Taking melatonin and avoiding watching stimulating material before going to bed, reading in bed, and consuming caffeine after noon also may help with sleep.

Other ways to calm a racing mind include helping someone else, which releases endorphins, reducing stress.

Spending time outdoors has been shown in studies to lower blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones and muscle tension and improve concentration. Spending time with a pet may also help.

Q. How do I know when I need to call 911 or go to the emergency room?

A. Trust your instinct. Some symptoms that could signal a serious problem include chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a few minutes or subsides but returns. Sudden shortness of breath that prevents everyday activities could also signal a heart attack or blood clot in a lung. If it is severe or accompanied by nausea, chest pain or fainting, call 911.

Trouble seeing, along with a bad headache, vomiting, nausea, weakness, numbness, dizziness, confusion or difficulty speaking may be signs of a stroke.

A head injury accompanied by passing out, a seizure, or other symptoms requires emergency care. Sudden, intense stomach pain lasting more than 30 minutes or occurring with vomiting may signal an inflamed appendix. Serious burns and broken bones that pierce the skin or make the injured area look bluish, deformed or turn numb also require immediate medical attention.

Also seek emergency care for children age 5 and younger whose vomiting lasts more than a few hours or includes signs of dehydration and for older children and adults whose vomiting lasts more than a day or includes a high fever.

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Garden your way to better health

By MELINDA MYERS

Break out the tools and garden your way to a healthier mind, body and spirit. Gardeners know and research proves that getting outdoors, digging in the soil and gardening help strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, reduce stress and elevate our mood.

Include gardening as a major component of your workout schedule. You’ll stretch and strengthen muscles while promoting cardiovascular health and maintaining bone mass. A University of Arkansas study found that yard work as well as weight training significantly maintained bone density in women over 50.

And for those trying to lose weight, add 30 minutes of gardening to your daily or weekly routine to help shed some extra pounds. A half hour of raking burns 162 calories, weeding 182, and turning the compost pile a whopping 250. Gardening several times per week will help keep you and your landscape looking top notch.

Don’t let a lack of time, space or painful joints stop you from growing nutritious vegetables, beautiful flowers or an attractive landscape. Staying active through gardening not only increases flexibility and strengthens muscles, it helps fight anxiety and depression that arthritis sufferers and others often experience.

Those struggling with limited time, space or mobility may want to try container and elevated gardening. Both can be placed on patios, decks or balconies. Select a size and style you can easily reach and one that matches your garden design. Those on a tight budget can add drainage holes and paint 5-gallon food grade containers or nursery pots to create attractive planters.

Protect and support your hands with gloves that fit and provide support like Foxgloves’ Works gloves (foxglovesinc.com). Padding and reinforced fingertips protect your hands and knuckles from scrapes and bruises. Gloves with long cuffs or those that extend to the elbow provide added protection when working in the garden.

Select gloves that are machine washable, so you always have a clean pair ready when you venture out to the garden. Keep a pair of gloves, pruner and your favorite weeding tool in a bucket near the front or back door. You won’t waste time looking for your favorite tools plus you can take advantage of those small blocks of time to weed, deadhead or pick a bouquet of flowers to enjoy.

Enlist the help of ergonomic tools that allow you to garden longer with less pain and fatigue. Look for designs that keep your back and wrist straight when digging, pruning and raking. Select tools with soft wide grips to further reduce hand fatigue. Wrap the handles of existing tools with foam pipe insulation for added padding.

Protect your joints and muscles while gardening. Warm up, just as you would for any workout, with a few simple stretches. Protect your knees by using a stool, kneeling pad or one-legged kneel instead of squatting.

Take regular breaks. Gardening in twenty-minute intervals and resting in between to enjoy your handiwork and hydrate will pay off with less muscle strain and fatigue. You’ll then be ready for your next workout session in the garden that will invigorate your mind, body and spirit.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On April 2, 1513, Ponce de Leon arrived in the New World, focused on finding the elusive Fountain of Youth. He landed near what is now of St. Augustine, FL, and claimed it on behalf of the Spanish monarchy. Because his arrival coincided with Easter he named--what he thought was an island--La Florida, or “Land of Flowers”.

He returned eight years later to establish a Spanish colony, but the Native Americans wouldn’t have it, and de Leon immediately set sail for home. It wasn’t until 1565 that Spain was able to create the settlement of St. Augustine and, begin to colonize it.

By 1819, the entire territory was ceded to the U.S. under the terms of the Florida Purchase Treaty between Spain and America.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends the exciting, 1513: Ponce de Leon Discovers Florida by E. H. Haines.

In the 1850s, it took nearly a month for a letter to reach California; the Pony Express was created to hasten postal service.

On April 3, 1860 the inaugural relay team of horsemen--Pony Express riders—was assigned the task of delivering packets of mail: a bundle from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA—and another—traveling the same route, but in the opposite direction. It took the group headed for California ten days to make their delivery; the eastbound riders required twelve.

America in its “adolescence” was a particularly important period, says the Grateful American Book Prize; the panel suggests Pony Express: The Great Gamble by Roy S. Bloss.

John Rolfe was a tobacco planter who married a Native American princess named Matoaka, on April 5, 1614.

She is better known by her nickname: Pocahontas. And, their story was full of love, adventure and excitement.

The first English settlement in America was Jamestown, founded in May of 1607 along the shores of the James River in Virginia. The 100 colonists who settled there, survived famine, disease, and attacks by the Powhatan confederacy of 30 local Native American tribes under the leadership of Chief Powhatan, but the swashbuckling John Smith, came to the rescue, before he was taken prisoner--and then released-- when Powhatan’s young daughter, Pocahontas, took a liking to him.

But the hardships continued for the English settlers, and Smith, ailing from injuries suffered in a fire, eventually returned to England, while Pocahontas developed friendships among the settlers, and often provided them with gifts of food.

In 1610, John Rolfe arrived in Jamestown, to build a tobacco plantation. Three years later he met Pocahontas, who had been taken hostage by the British as a bargaining chip with the Native Americans. They fell in love and married. It was a union that brought peace between the tribes and the British colonists.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Camilla Townsend’s page turner, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma.

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How small changes can make a big impact on your retirement planning

By ALBERT LALONDE

Statistics related to retirement can be downright discouraging.

About 45 percent of Americans say they worry every day or almost every day about saving enough money to retire, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, 28% of Americans in their 60s and 37 percent in their 50s have less than $50,000 in retirement savings, according to a TD Ameritrade survey.

It can all seem overwhelming, especially these days with the impact coronavirus has had on the economy and on many people’s retirement savings. But in the midst of the gloom there remains hope because there are always small changes you can make with your financial planning that will have a big impact down the line when it comes to retirement.

So, instead of throwing up your hands in despair, it’s important to stay positive and make continual financial improvements that will allow you to stay the course on your planning, and in the process ease any concerns and doubts you may harbor.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to do that:

Start growing your money – now. Lottery winners are the rare exception, but most everyone else needs to count on a slow and steady savings and investing plan to achieve their financial goals. The sooner you start contributing to a 401(k), an IRA, or other investments, the more time you will have to grow that money into a tidy retirement nest egg. Ideally, if your employer offers a 401(k) match, then you should contribute enough to earn the full amount of that match. But if you don’t feel you can afford to do that right now, make sure you at least contribute something. Every little bit will help, and each year you can re-evaluate whether you are able to increase the percentage of your contribution. Once again, it’s the little things now that can make a big difference later.

Preserve what you saved. Young people can take investment risks with a least a little impunity, knowing that if the market takes a tumble they have a few decades to recover. Those in or near retirement don’t have such luxuries. A big hit to your portfolio can be devastating in your later years, especially if you’re already starting to draw money from your savings to live on. Once again, a few minor adjustments are in order as you try to preserve what you have. Your financial professional should be able to help you here with asset-protection strategies and tax-efficient strategies.

Be prepared for long-term care expenses. You might not be giving a lot of serious thought to long-term care, but you should since 48 percent of Americans who reach age 65 will require long-term care at some point during the remainder of their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The cost of that care can bring even the sturdiest of portfolios to the edge of ruin. For example, the average annual cost of a private room in a nursing home is $102,200, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey. The average for an assisted-living facility is $48,612. So, another small shift in thinking to include long-term care in your retirement planning could pay major dividends to the overall health of your retirement portfolio.

No matter what the market conditions are, or what season of life you are in, you want to make sure that any changes you make – small or large – advance you toward your goal of a happy and secure retirement.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Working Overseas and Earning U.S Social Security

Dear Rusty: My daughter had menial jobs - part time - here in the USA during high school and college but shortly after college moved to South Korea to teach English. After 8 years there she will be going to Belgium and getting married. She will be living there and working there. Will she ever have access to any Social Security benefits? Signed: Interested Father

Dear Interested Father: It will depend upon how many U.S. quarter-credits your daughter has from her work here in the U.S. The U.S. has bilateral agreements (known as “Totalization Agreements”) with both South Korea and Belgium (and 24 other countries) and these agreements allow someone who has worked in both the U.S. and another country to aggregate their credits from both to qualify for U.S. benefits (and vice versa). But your daughter will need to have earned at least 6 U.S. credits from working in the U.S. in order for her credits from either South Korea or Belgium (or both) to be counted under the Totalization Agreement, thus entitling her to U.S. Social Security benefits.

The U.S. requires a minimum of 40 total quarter-credits to be eligible for Social Security benefits. If your daughter has at least 6 U.S. credits now and can get enough additional credits via the Totalization Agreements to achieve minimum 40 required, then she may be eligible for at least a small U.S. Social Security benefit when she is 62.

Since you say your daughter had only “menial part time” jobs here in the U.S., key for her to eventually get benefits will be if she has worked enough in the U.S. to earn at least the 6 credits which will allow her to take advantage of the Totalization Agreements and meet basic eligibility for Social Security. FYI, Social Security credits are based upon how much is earned each year, and the amount required for a credit varies annually. A maximum of 4 credits can be earned each year - for example, in 2020 a credit is given for each $1410 earned, up to a maximum of 4 credits per year ($5640 in annual earnings). Essentially, if your daughter had at least the minimum earnings for 1 ½ years of U.S. employment to earn 6 credits, she could eventually use the Totalization Agreements to become eligible for U.S. Social Security benefits.

I suggest that your daughter contact Social Security and ask how many quarters of credit she now has under the U.S. Social Security system. If she already has the minimum 6 needed to eventually qualify under the Totalization Agreements, she may be entitled to a small SS benefit when she becomes age-eligible (62).

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How companies can rethink supply chains to deal with disruptions

The coronavirus has disrupted U.S. companies in many ways, and nearly three-fourths of them have seen their supply chain significantly affected.

While China has begun slowly reopening as the number of coronavirus cases there decreased in recent weeks, reports of the illness shot up in other countries, and the epicenter of the pandemic shifted to Europe and then the U.S. Thus, multiple supply chains have been compromised as the outbreak spreads, and there’s no telling when those links in the various chains will operate at normal capacity.

“There are waves of effects coming even if Chinese manufacturing gets back to full-go,”

says Hitendra Chaturvedi (www.wpcarey.asu.edu/people/profile/3541031), a professor at the Supply Chain Department of W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and an expert on global supply chain sustainability and strategy. “As the coronavirus has spread globally, drops in different trading partners’ ability to supply is felt everywhere.

“What this is showing, especially in the U.S., is we need to reassess supply chain strategy and make it stronger to withstand unforeseen, major disruptions.”

Chaturvedi outlines some possible outcomes in U.S. supply chain strategy as a result of the coronavirus:

Learning that cost is not the only consideration. Chaturvedi says that when companies in the future plan their overall global supply chain strategy, they may decide that paying more to establish a more resilient and flexible process would be worth it by reducing risk. “Companies typically find the lowest-cost supplier, but if you have a single source, you’re vulnerable, and that’s what’s happening now,” Chaturvedi says. “This will move companies more toward mitigating risk. That requires making investments. They could stabilize their supply chains by enlisting alternative suppliers, boosting inventories or investing in more diverse ways of distribution.”

Localizing more manufacturing and transporting. “Dependence on China for their manufacturing has put small and midsize businesses in jeopardy,” Chaturvedi says. “The pandemic exposes the vulnerability of companies that rely heavily on a limited number of trading partners. What will result is businesses will look to restructure their global supply chains, and some companies will look at localizing more than they would have in the past. A shift in that direction had already started during the U.S.-China tariff fight.”

Planning for future disruptions. Another result of the pandemic’s impact on supply chains is it will compel companies to anticipate disruptions in the future and build in quick responses to their supply chain. This involves a process called mapping, in which companies engage suppliers in order to better understand their sites and processes. “It’s imperative for businesses running a global supply chain to be in the know about news that could cause disruptions,” Chaturvedi says. “You have to be proactive and not reactive. Knowing where the disruption will come from and how that will impact their products allows companies lead time and the ability to create a mitigation strategy.”

Utilizing technology. Chaturvedi expects to see a rise in the use of AI, chatbots, the internet of things, and robotic process automation to facilitate supply chains. “This will be done not only as a pretext to bring manufacturing jobs back from China,” Chaturvedi says, “but also for purely selfish reasons, because bots do not get sick.”

“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on supply chains has given new meaning to the word ‘disruption," Chaturvedi says. “We’ve never seen anything quite like this, and businesses can learn a lot from it that will help their supply chain process in the future.”

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Financial tips for when you’re newly unemployed or business is slow

Over 3 million people in the U.S. have recently filed unemployment claims as a result of the severe economic impact of the coronavirus.

Some of those suddenly jobless have limited financial resources besides unemployment benefits. Others are fortunate to have emergency savings or investment vehicles they can draw from such as a 401(k). Then there are those who are still working, but feeling the effects of business slowing down.

“Overall, the pandemic has put many people in a weakened financial condition that they didn’t expect,” says Steve Kruman (www.brycewealth.com), a financial planner and investment advisor at Bryce Wealth Management. “And there are some lessons in there that could better protect them and their loved ones going forward.”

Kruman has tips to help people weather the financial storm and learn how to plan differently for the future:

Be careful with the 401(k). “When sources of funds are limited, people should withdraw only the amount they need from their 401(k),” Kruman says. “You want to look for other sources that would be accessible without taking on the major tax hit of raiding the 401(k). Home equity loans are great, and they are at rates much lower than the tax rates of the 401(k). Also, cash value life insurance policies are good sources to borrow from as well. For those who lost their job but have adequate reserves, it’s advisable to roll their 401(k) money over to an IRA at the earliest possible opportunity. Employer-sponsored plans have several drawbacks, including limited investment options. By rolling to an IRA, you can select from a much wider investment universe.”

Don’t panic in the stock market. ”Don’t sell now,” Kruman says. “People who are being induced into panic are selling, and somebody else is buying those shares for when prices recover. The stock market always has fluctuations. It comes down to risk tolerance. You have to be prepared for volatility and be diversified.”

Don’t rely on group life insurance anymore. Many people have the majority of their life insurance through their job. But when you lose the job, you lose the life insurance. “You have to replace it with new life insurance at an older age, which means a higher premium, and with possibly negative health changes, again upping the premium,” Kruman says. “It’s vital to have a well worked-out plan of personal life insurance, which means not tied to a job.”

Find an independent financial advisor. “An independent advisor doesn’t have a company telling them what to invest clients’ money in,” says Kruman. “A client’s best interest should always be the number one priority for an advisor, and it’s easier to maintain that focus by being independent of any parent company’s fee goals or investment selection limitations.”

Consider making a Roth conversion now. When you move money from a tax-deferred retirement account into a Roth account, the money is taxed at that time. “But by making that conversion, you are putting yourself in a position to get tax-free income for life if you comply with two requirements,” Kruman says. Those requirements: be at least age 59 ½ and don’t take any gains out of the Roth for five years. Most financial professionals expect taxes to go up sometime in the future. One reason is that the recent economic stimulus will need to be paid for at some point. Another reason is that the tax cuts passed in 2017 will expire at the end of 2025 for personal rates. “So paying the taxes now at a lower rate when you make the Roth conversion is the better bet for the long run,” he says.

“Now is a tough time for many,” Kruman says, “but it is time that can be used wisely to consider the things you can differently to protect yourself and your family financially from the next period of economic uncertainty.”

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Social distancing tips: 15 ways to stay both sane and safe

MUNCIE, Indiana – Practicing social distancing to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic may sound scary or impossible to do, but there are ways to appropriately handle the process, says Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 that include recommendations for social distancing—a term epidemiologists use to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the virus.

“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” Khubchandani said. “Given the existing crisis of isolation in societies—with probably the loneliest young generation that we have today—social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”

Khubchandani recommended 15 ways to counterbalance the effects of social distancing:

Maintain a routine. As much as possible, social distancing should not disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, working hours, and daily activities.

Make social distancing a positive by taking the time to focus on your personality and personal health, reassessing your work, training, diet patterns, physical activity levels, and health habits.

Carve time to cook for yourself and others in need. Add more fruits, vegetable, vitamins, and proteins to your diet (most adults in the United States do not consume enough fruits and vegetables). Get 2-3 meals a day.

Go for a walk or exercise at home. Definitely go out in nature as much as possible. Only half of American adults today get enough exercise.

Do not let anxiety or being at home lead you to indulge in binge eating or alcohol and drug use. Don’t oversleep, but do sleep at least 7 hours. Our recent study found that more than a third of Americans sleep less than 7 hours.

Social distancing can cause anxiety and depression due to disruption of routines, isolation, and fear due to a pandemic. If you or someone you know is struggling, there are ways to get help from a distance.

Think forward and try to make best use of technology to finish your work, attend meetings, and engage with coworkers with the same frequency that is required during active office hours. The good news: Working from home can make people more productive and happier.

Small breaks due to social distancing are also times to reassess your skill and training- think of an online course, certification, training, personality development, or new language to learn.

Engage in spring cleaning, clear that clutter, and donate non-junk household stuff. Household clutter can harbor infections, pollutants, and create unhygienic spaces.

Social distancing should not translate to an unhealthy life on social media. While you can certainly become a victim of myths, misinformation, anxiety, and fear mongering, you may also inadvertently become a perpetrator, creating more trouble for communities.

Based on American Time Use Survey and leisure related time-spending patterns worldwide, we spend too much time on screen. Except for 1-2 times day to watch national news for general consumption and local news to check spread of COVID-19 in your own community, you are likely over-consuming information and taking away time from yourself and friends and family.

Reach out to people and offer help. Social distancing should also help reinvest in and recreate social bonds. Consider providing for and helping those at risk or marginalized (e.g. the elderly, disabled, and homeless; survivors of natural disasters; and those living in shelters). You will certainly find someone in the neighborhood who needs some help, this can be done from a distance, on phone, or by online activities and giving.

Check your list of contacts on email and phone. Certainly, there are people you have not talked to in a while—time to check on their wellbeing and connect. This will also help you feel more connected, social, healthier, and engaged. Be kind to all; you never know who is struggling and how you can make a difference.

Engage in alternative activities to keep your mind and body active such as: listening to music and singing, trying dancing or biking, yoga or meditation, taking virtual tours of museums and places of interest, sketching and painting, reading books or novels, solving puzzles or engaging in board games, trying new recipes and learning about other cultures, etc.

Do not isolate yourself totally (physical distancing should not become social isolation). Don’t be afraid, don’t panic, and do keep communicating with others.

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New to working from home full-time? Here’s how to stay productive

As the coronavirus pandemic threatens public health and the U.S. economy, more people are working from home on a regular basis. The move follows social distancing guidelines as an attempt to slow the outbreak, but keeping scattered workforces connected and productive can be challenging for managers and employees.

“This is new terrain for all involved, but employees and their companies can come out of this stronger by learning how to work together even better while they’re physically apart,” says Dr. Jim Guilkey (www.jimguilkey.com), author of M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage — What All Executives Need To Know.

“Optimally, working remotely can sharpen the skills you have and open new avenues of training that broaden skill-sets and increase results. But technology alone can’t smooth the transition to remote working, and both employees and business leaders must learn how to implement new structures and some new or tweaked processes.”

Dr. Guilkey offers tips for both managers and associates to make working from home work out well for their companies:

For employees:

● Get started early. “When going to the office, you normally get up and out the door early,” Dr. Guilkey says. “At home, this is more difficult. Get up, take a shower, and get started.”

● Create a dedicated work space. People who haven’t worked remotely may need to experiment with different approaches to find what setting works best for them. “Just because you’re not going to the office doesn’t mean you can’t have an office. Dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to work,” Dr. Guilkey says. “You should associate your home office with your actual office. This creates the correct mindset for being productive.”

● Structure your day like you would in the office. Workers need to adopt exceptional conscientiousness when it comes to dividing their day into intensive work, communications, personal time and family life,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Have an agenda. Schedule meetings and project time and stay on schedule.”

For managers:

● Set expectations. “It is vital that employees know what is expected of them,” Dr. Guilkey says. “When will you be available? How long will it take to get back to someone?”

● Create a cadence of communication. Without daily face-to-face interaction, there’s more importance on communication. “A rhythm of communication is vital – daily check-ins, weekly one-on-ones, weekly team meetings, etc. ” Dr. Guilkey says.

● Take a video-first approach. “Video, with all the current technology, is the most effective means of remote communication,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Invest in reliable tools.”

● Maintain company social bonds. One drawback of working remotely is the potential breaking of social bonds that are necessary for productive teamwork. “Video conferencing or a quick Google chat with a colleague is vital to keep relationships strong,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Employees miss face-to-face banter and impromptu discussions in the physical office, so seeing faces on the screen daily is optimal for morale and a sense of normalcy.”

“Employees and employers can take this unprecedented time as a time to improve individually and as a company,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Working from home and working well together can go hand-in-hand when everyone is pulling even harder in the same direction.”

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Love conquers all

Love can triumph in times of adversity, such as the “new fresh hell” that is the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, there was the couple in New York City who decided recently to marry sooner than later. The city was in lockdown and so Reilly Jennings and Amanda Wheeler called on a neighborly friend, Matt Wilson, who happened to be licensed to perform wedding ceremonies. He lived just around the corner and so the couple took the short walk and stood on the sidewalk while Wilson, practicing “social distancing,” conducted the ceremony by shouting down from his fourth floor apartment.

Enough is enough

It might not ease your frustration when you find all the stores are out of toilet paper so soon after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. But a software developer in the U.K. has come up with an online toilet paper calculator. Their Website is called, HowMuchToiletPaper.com, and it tells you how much toilet tissue you’ll need to get through the confinement caused by the virus. You input the number of toilet paper rolls you have on hand and how many times family members go to the bathroom. Interestingly, techie Ben Sassoon says that the average visitor to the Website has 500 percent more toilet tissue than they need. Sassoon hopes that the staggering overabundance might help reduce hoarding.

Stressed? Smile!

An entrepreneurial restauranteur in Cambridge, Minnesota is giving his takeout customers a treat amid the COVID crisis. He’s giving away a roll of toilet paper with every $25 order-to-go. "When the customers get their order, you hear a genuine laugh and that's the best thing right now. I wanted to do something nice, I'm not making fun of it, I just hope it puts a smile on people's faces," said Sean Okerlund.

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Extend your garden season

By MELINDA MYERS

No matter where you garden there never seems to be enough time to grow all the fresh vegetables desired. Planting earlier or just providing plants with some added warmth on chilly days and nights can reduce the time from planting to harvest. Southern gardeners will enjoy the additional time for harvesting heat-sensitive plants before the stifling heat moves in and plants begin to decline.

Prepare the soil as soon as it can be worked. Cover the prepared soil with clear plastic, row covers or high tunnels for several weeks when planting earlier than normal. This warms the soil for planting and helps germinate many of the weed seeds. Lightly cultivate to remove the young weed seedlings without bringing more weed seeds to the surface. You’ll be pulling fewer weeds throughout the growing season.

Once the garden is planted, enlist some of these season-extending helpers (gardeners.com). Homemade and commercial cloches, cold frames and row covers can help you plant earlier and harvest later in the season.

Row covers made of spun fabrics let air, light, and water through while keeping the plants warm. Anchor the fabric with landscape pins, stones, boards, or other heavy items. Leave enough slack in the fabrics for the plants to grow. Lighter weight garden fabrics also protect plants from insect pests like cabbage worms and bean beetles.

Garden covers take this method one step further. These structures fit over plantings in the garden, raised beds or elevated planters. Look for those with durable greenhouse fabric covers that let water in and keep excess heat out. These types of structures protect plants from cold and wind, speeding up your harvest by as much as 25%.

Raise the roof on these structures with high tunnels and plant protection tents. These are perfect for growing tall plants like tomatoes. As temperatures rise, the tops can be ventilated or in some cases replaced with a mesh that keeps out insects and critters, while providing plants enough room to reach full size.

Or maybe you just can’t wait for that first red ripe tomato and only want to jump start a row of greens. Garden cloches have long been used for this purpose. They capture the sun’s warmth to protect plants from frosty weather. Gardener's Supply Company’s Early Season Row Cloche Set allows you to expand your protection to the desired size. These clear PVC plant protectors have water wells to capture rainwater and gently disperse it to the plants below and vents for managing the temperature.

Further boost your tomato harvest with red plastic mulch, red tomato teepees and tomato boosters. University researchers found using red plastic mulch increased the individual fruit size and weight and overall tomato harvest by as much as 20 percent. They found the red plastic mulch reflected certain growth-enhancing wavelengths of light back onto the plants.

With a bit of extra effort and investment you’ll be harvesting fresh vegetables long before your friends and neighbors. Then be sure to keep these season-extending devices handy to use again in fall. Protecting plants from those first few fall frosts can keep you eating garden-fresh tomatoes, peppers and greens well into winter.

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The best dahlias for a backyard cutting garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Dahlias are bold and beautiful flowers that are easy to grow in any sunny garden. They are also spectacular in summer flower arrangements. With just a few dahlias, you can enjoy picking your own fresh-cut flowers every day from July through September.

These spring-planted tubers make gorgeous additions to flower beds and even the vegetable garden. If space allows, the very best way to grow dahlias for bouquets is in a cutting garden. A backyard cutting garden doesn’t need to be large. Even a 3’ x 6’ raised bed will give you plenty of space for 6 to 8 full size dahlia plants. Planting dahlia tubers in rows lets you get maximum productivity with minimal maintenance.

When choosing dahlias for a small to medium size cutting garden, start by narrowing your choices. Select colors that you can imagine looking great together in a vase. This will make it easy to create lots of creative combinations on the fly.

Choose red, orange, and yellow flowers if you like energetic arrangements that mimic the colors of late summer and fall. Blossoms in cool colors and pastels, such pink, lavender and violet, will be softer and more soothing. Include purple and burgundy flowers to add drama and help unify warm and cool colors.

Floral designers know that combining flowers with different shapes and sizes makes arrangements more interesting. Dahlias offer many options and it’s one of the reasons they are such a popular cut flower.

Ball dahlias have tightly curled petals and dense, perfectly round, 3 to 4” flower heads. Varieties such as Sylvia and Jowey Mirella are perfect for adding repeating bursts of color. Decorative dahlias have the classic dahlia look, with 4 to 6” wide, open-faced blossoms and orderly layers of petals. American Dawn and Great Silence are two reliable and versatile, decorative dahlias.

The flowers of dinnerplate dahlias can measure 8 to 10” across and these enormous blossoms make it easy to make stunning summer bouquets. Popular varieties for cutting include Café au Lait, Penhill Dark Monarch and Otto’s Thrill. Add texture and movement to your arrangements with cactus dahlias. Varieties such as Yellow Star and Nuit d’Ete have tightly rolled petals that give the flowers a spiky appearance.

Single and peony-flowered dahlias are seldom seen at the florist or even in farmer's market bouquets because they don’t travel well. But home gardeners can enjoy growing varieties such as scarlet-red Bishop of Llandaff or the melon and burnt orange flowers of HS Date. These plants tend to be compact and rarely need staking.

Don’t let the many options overwhelm you. Consider starting with an assortment such as the Flirty Fleurs Sorbetto Collection (longfield-gardens.com). It includes five varieties of pink and burgundy dahlias, specially selected by an experienced floral designer.

Most cutting garden flowers are picked before they are fully open. But dahlias should not be harvested until they are fully open and in their prime. To avoid crushing the stems, make your cuts with a sharp knife rather scissors.

If you want your dahlias to have nice, long stems, take a cue from cut flower farmers. When harvesting for market or removing spent flowers, they always remove the entire stem, cutting right back to a main stalk. Though this means sacrificing some buds in the short term, the next round of flowers will have noticeably longer stems.

When selecting plants for this year’s flower garden, be sure to include plenty of dahlias. These spring-planted, summer-blooming bulbs will take your homegrown flower arrangements to a whole new level.

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Inventions that didn't get research and development tax credits

R&D tax credit specialists, RIFT Research and Development Ltd, have looked at five historic advancements that not only changed the world but would have eligible for some big R&D tax credit claims if they had come about today.

5. The Wheel

Perhaps the first invention that changed the course of mankind notably, the wheel enabled us to transport goods quicker and in greater quantities, while facilitating the birth of commerce and agriculture. Created in 3500 B.C., but only used on chariots some 300 years later in its primary function, the wheel doesn’t just help us to travel easier but it also has a wide array of other applications, such as its use within machinery.

Should the wheel be invented today through R&D it would qualify in the transport and storage sector and see an R&D tax credit claim total somewhere around £71,000.

4. The Battery

In the 1800s a lack of consistent electrical lines meant a consistent supply of power was non-existent. Then an Italian, Alessandro Volta, developed the first battery using zinc and silver discs placed alternatively to form a cylindrical pile. This new device produced a repeated number of sparks that could operate a number of devices without mainline power. Today, the battery has evolved through R&D and now almost every day to day electrical device relies on one with a focus on smaller sizes with longer battery life and the latest advancements coming through their use in cars to reduce pollution.

If invented today, the battery would qualify for an R&D tax credit claim of £80,000 within the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning sector.

3. Semi-conductors

Not the sexiest invention but semi-conductors form the firm foundation for all electrical devices and are pretty much the cornerstone of the digital world. The first device to contain one was developed by Bell Labs in 1947 but should they have waited until today, their work would be in line for an R&D claim to the tune of £105,000.

2. Mechanical Clock

Our ability to tell time is pivotal to the way we live and work and without clocks to help us we would be living in a world of unorganised chaos. The clock was technically an R&D advancement on the sundial but when Yi Xing created the mechanical clock in China in 725 AD it would be the first that was widely accessible within society and would go on to change the world dramatically.

Today Yi Xing’s work would be in line for a £107,000 R&D tax credit claim within the professional, scientific and technical sector.

1. Penicillin

Last but not least, Penicillin is probably the most important medical advancement of years gone by that would qualify for an R&D tax credit claim today. Discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and then researched and developed over the following 20 years, the drug revolutionised the way we treat a wide array of medical problems and helps fight infection without causing us harm in the process.

Like the clock, if invented today Alexander could have submitted an R&D tax claim of £107,000 for his work within the professional, scientific and technical sector.

Director of RIFT, Sarah Collins, commented:

“R&D has been changing the world before the term was even coined and in these cases, the impact of the developments made have changed the human race and created the modern world as we know it.

Of course, had these advancements been made today, the work carried out to develop them would have qualified for a pretty chunky claim where R&D tax credits are concerned. Instead, the government’s R&D pot of gold will have to remain for those making modern-day improvements in their respective sectors in today’s world.”

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COVID-19: Exploit what you can control

BY ARMY COL. ELIZABETH A. MARTIN

"Can't," "don't," "contain" and "restrict" are negative words present everywhere in the news, the media and conversation. The threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus will undoubtedly remain a challenge for everyone for months to come. Significant abrupt restrictions and closures are making many within our communities feel very controlled and unhappy.

With so much heightened fear, paranoia and global concern due to COVID-19, stress and anxiety continue to skyrocket. While the containment strategy the United States is executing is difficult, it is vital to follow directed medical and public health expert precautions, mandates and guidelines to "curtail the curve" and control the rampant spread of this highly contagious and deadly illness.

As we all do our part to help, fear is natural. However when left unharnessed, fear can lead to panic and destructive behavior. We are already seeing this in grocery stores and other shops — just try looking for toilet paper!

Recent extended school closures and activity cancellations are already tearing apart the stability that children are accustomed to, need and enjoy. Parents are grappling with new daytime extended child care requirements, unforecasted home school burdens and how to keep children productive.

Many of us feel like we can't control much in our lives right now due to the threat of this powerful virus, but what we absolutely can control is how we react and what we do. Based on prior military experience as a battalion commander and 20-plus years of service in the Army dealing with intense uncertainty and high stress, I offer the following tips for how to turn this pandemic into a productive and positive experience while concurrently doing our part to maintain social distancing in support the nation’s battle against COVID-19.

Turn Uncertainty Into Certainty. This pandemic is plaguing society with heavy uncertainty, yet there is still so much we can control. Redirect your energy away from uncertainty and focus on those aspects of life that are certain.

Community. What are you doing to help your community? What talents or resources can you share for the betterment of others within your area? Do your elderly neighbors need assistance in a manner that you can support them within local restriction guidelines? If you are allowed to shop in your local community, remember that many small businesses are struggling during this crisis so wisely consider where you spend your hard-earned money.

Immunity. Improve your immune system through diet and exercise. Eat well and enjoy Vitamin C – this starts at home. If you do get sick, you will conquer it faster and more successfully if your immunity is strong.

Time. We traditionally never have enough time in our lives. If you are a parent of a school-aged child, you likely have far less time now if schools are closed. If you are not a parent of a school-aged child, you may have a lot more availability with so many activities and events cancelled. So, what are you going to do with this opportunity? Be decisive with time and make a productive plan.

A girl is parallel to the ground while riding a swing at a playground.

Get Outside. Go camping with family, go for a walk/run/bike, and get outdoors. Enjoy spring!

Taxes. We have no excuse for not having time to get taxes done now. Knock them out.

"To Do" List. Closets and "to do" projects: now is the time. Tackle them.

Leverage Technology. Use Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, phone calls and letters to stay connected. We already have the tools and the means. Don't fret on how to pursue education or communicate: Keep living and learning. CAUTION: Don't stare at your devices all day.

A girl looks at an electronic screen device.

Unplug. Communicate with family and friends. This is an invaluable time to do so.

Opportunity. Focus on how to turn your COVID-19 prevention from a crisis into an unanticipated opportunity for growth, support, health, community and family.

Discounts and Offerings. Many local and national companies are offering exceptional deals and special accommodations to maintain their customer base. Check them out.

Invest. What financial investments can you make now to help later? Stocks are at record lows; consider buying.

Don't Hoard. So, where is all of the toilet paper for purchase across many stores nationwide, and why do people think they need it for COVID-19? This is a prime example of panic-induced purchases, and we shouldn’t selfishly hoard products that create a lack of availability for others.

Don't Mentally Suffocate; Stay Positive. Control your reactions to restrictive measures required to prevent and battle this pandemic. Positive, productive mental health is a huge component needed to fight this illness and will directly improve community response.

A girl strikes a yoga pose in front of a brick wall.

Create. Challenge yourself and your family to be more creative with resources and time. Expand your boundaries within your home. Paint a room, use a new recipe and rediscover your ingenuity.

Focus. Turn your focus from what you can't do to what you CAN do.

Win. We cannot fall victim to feeling sorry for ourselves or become hindered during this difficult time. Don't let this virus win – mentally or physically!

We will come together as a nation if we all do our part to prevent and fight the spread of COVID-19. Turning the challenges of this pandemic into opportunities to positively exploit growth individually, within our families, and to protect our communities will bind us together. As we tackle this new (temporary) normal, we can be more productive, stronger and happier if we focus on what we CAN do versus what we cannot!

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Adviser RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Using IRA instead of Claiming SS; Disability Appeal

Dear Rusty: I am currently unemployed and drawing funds from my IRA. I am 62 years old. My financial adviser instructed me to not take Social Security because once I do that the percentage of increase would stop. He said to wait until the benefits increased to the point where I could then take Social Security and leave my IRA alone. Does that seem right? Also, I have applied for SS Disability benefits and have been rejected, but I am currently appealing that decision. Is my next step a lawyer? If so do you have any recommendations? Signed: Befuddled

Dear Befuddled: If you take your Social Security (SS) benefits at age 62, your payment will be cut by about 27.5% from what it would be at your full retirement age of 66 ½. If you wait, your SS payment when you claim it will have grown for each month you delay. You only get 100% of the SS benefit you have earned from a lifetime of working when you reach your full retirement age (FRA). The rate of benefit growth before you reach your FRA is a bit more than 6% for each year you wait, so I expect that your financial advisor compared that guaranteed growth to the interest you are receiving on your IRA and concluded that waiting to claim a higher SS benefit for the rest of your life is a better deal. Provided you are in good health, that seems like a prudent suggestion. And just so you are aware, if you delay claiming SS beyond your FRA, you’ll earn an additional 8% for each year you further delay, up to age 70 when your SS benefit would be about 75% more than it will be if you take it now.

Regarding your disability appeal, I cannot recommend a specific attorney, but I suggest you seek one who specializes in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims. SSDI attorneys must adhere to Federal law and they are limited in what they can charge you. Usually that limit is 25% of whatever back SSDI benefits they can secure for you (paid from those back benefits) to a maximum of $6000. There should be no charge for an initial consultation, and you shouldn’t be required to pay anything unless they win your case for you. The easiest way to find someone to assist you is to do a search for “SSDI attorneys near me” and then do some initial research on your search results before selecting. You’ll be able to judge the strength of your SSDI appeal by whether the SSDI attorney accepts your case – they’ll only accept your case if they believe they can win and be compensated for their efforts. Only you can judge if engaging an attorney is a wise idea at this point. You still have multiple SSDI appeal levels available to you, and an SSDI attorney can be engaged at any point you choose.

Ask Rusty – Retiring from work; When should I claim Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I turned 63 August 12th, 2019. I will be retiring June 30th, 2020 from my current job. I will have made approximately $35,000 by then and am receiving severance pay of $19,000 on June 30th. Will the pay I receive through June 30th affect what I can draw from Social Security? Also, how much of a difference would it be if I wait until August 12th, 2020 to officially start drawing Social Security? Is there any other information I should be aware of before I start drawing Social Security? Signed: Anxious to Retire

Dear Anxious: First, let me assure you that the money you earned this year before your benefits start aren’t counted as part of Social Security’s “earnings test” which could affect your payment after your benefits start. When you claim, your Social Security benefit amount will depend upon two things – your “primary insurance amount” (or “PIA”) which is determined from your highest earning 35 years (adjusted for inflation) over your lifetime, and the age at which you claim your SS benefit. By claiming at age 64 in August, your benefit will be cut by about 15.6% from what it would be if you wait to claim at your full retirement age (66 plus 4 months). Your earnings for 2020 won’t be applied to your SS record until after you file your 2020 taxes in 2021, so won’t affect your benefits (if appropriate) until after that. If your 2020 earnings are more than any of those in the 35 years used to initially compute your benefit, your benefit will increase at that time. The day of the month you were born isn’t significant, only the month. So, if you apply to start benefits in August of 2020, your benefit cut will be as stated above because you’re claiming exactly 2 years and 4 months early. But if you wait longer you’ll gain another 5/9ths of 1% (.556%) for each additional month you delay up until your full retirement age (FRA).

Although you plan to retire from work, be aware that if you decide to return you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit once you are collecting benefits before your FRA, and that will be the case until you reach your full retirement age. If you go back to work after you start your SS and earn more than $1,520 in any remaining month of 2020, you’ll not be entitled to benefits for that month. Starting in 2021, you’ll be subject to an annual earnings limit of at least $18,240 (that’s the 2020 limit – limits for future years aren’t yet known but will be higher). Exceeding the annual limit will cause SS to withhold half of anything you earn over the limit. The limit is more, and the penalty is less in the year you reach your FRA and goes away once you have reached your full retirement age.

Finally, to be sure you’re aware, you can actually defer claiming SS until age 70 if you wish. After you reach your full retirement age you’ll earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) of 8% per year of delay, which are added to your benefit when you finally claim it. That would give you a benefit which is 29% more at age 70 than it would be at your full retirement age.

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From the files of the FBI

Missouri public corruption ring disrupted

A county executive in Missouri who brazenly and illegally steered government funds to his political donors has been convicted and sentenced as a result of an FBI investigation.

St. Louis County Executive Steven Stenger, who served in the role from 2015 to 2018, repeatedly directed his staff to illegally rig county contracts to benefit his political donors.

In the fall of 2014, while still campaigning to be county executive, Stenger met St. Louis businessman John Rallo, who made a $5,000 donation to Stenger’s campaign. Rallo explicitly told Stenger he was “tired of giving money to politicians and not getting anything in return,” according to court documents. Stenger assured Rallo that he would steer county business to him in exchange for the donation—a violation of federal law.

“When Rallo donated with the clear understanding that he would receive county funds in return, that’s where it crossed the line into public corruption,” said Special Agent Andrew Ryder, one of the agents who worked the case out of the FBI’s St. Louis Field Office.

After Stenger was elected, Rallo continued to donate to him, believing he would receive a county insurance contract in return. Rallo also recruited other donors, who in total gave Stenger’s campaign about $50,000.

When staff thwarted Stenger’s initial efforts to steer county insurance contracts to Rallo, Stenger and Rallo focused on getting Rallo a contract for marketing services. Although Rallo had no experience in marketing, Rallo told Stenger he could get a famous television personality he knew to do promotional work. Stenger told his staff Rallo was a donor to his campaign, and he expected Rallo’s company to get the $100,000 contract.

When the county put the marketing job out for bid, it received proposals from companies with actual experience. The St. Louis Port Authority, which controlled the funds, issued the contract to Rallo at the county executive’s direction. Stenger’s staff even tacked an additional $30,000 onto Rallo’s contract—money that was illegally funneled to another of Stenger’s supporters.

“Citizens should be able to expect honesty from their public officials, and we hope this case will send a message to future officials who might consider engaging in these illegal activities.”

Andrew Ryder, special agent, FBI St. Louis

“It was a sham contract. No actual work was done for the county,” Ryder said.

Stenger later facilitated a land deal for Rallo and worked to get a $149,000 county contract for another donor—all in exchange for donations.

After these deals began to get local media attention, several cooperators came forward to the FBI to provide information on the illegal activity. After search warrants and interviews with cooperators exposed the crimes, Stenger and Rallo agreed to plead guilty to bribery and mail fraud charges. Stenger resigned from office.

“We had a lot of cooperation in this case from St. Louis County employees who were concerned about what was going on. The culture in the government was so toxic that people were willing to talk to us about it,” said Special Agent Lindsay Wegge, who also worked on the case.

In August 2019, Stenger was sentenced to 46 months in prison. In March 2020, Rallo was sentenced to 17 months in prison.

For the investigative team, the case sends a message that public corruption—one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities—will not be tolerated.

“Citizens should be able to expect honesty from their public officials, and we hope this case will send a message to future officials who might consider engaging in these illegal activities,” Ryder said.

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The Spanish Flu, Polio and COVID-19

By DAVID BRUCE SMITH

Co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize

The past is prologue to the future, and--here we are--102 years later, in the midst of another calamitous pandemic. The Spanish Flu reached the U.S. in March of 1918; now, just after another Ides of March, the country is plagued—literally—by another deadly influenza.

This one is COVID-19.

We’ve come far since the Spanish Flu surprised the world a century ago; little was known about how to defend against--or rub out--a disease. And so, it tore through the country for more than a year:

“In 1918, as scientists had not yet discovered flu viruses, there were no laboratory tests to detect, or characterize these viruses. There were no vaccines to help prevent flu infection, no antiviral drugs to treat flu illness, and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with flu infections,” according to the Centers for Disease Control [CDC].

Now, the world is far more intricate. Shortly after the early cases of COVID-19 were reported, cities, states, and the federal government, asked people to adopt non-pharmaceutical interventions to avoid a possible infection, while laboratories--the world over--ramped up research—to somehow--reveal a vaccine.

In 1918, it took America’s public health officials nine months to educate the populace about the dangers of unprotected coughing and sneezing; the public was told to bend its routines and avoid crowds. Now, prevention from four generations back is in vogue.

No doubt, the Spanish Flu whipped up a destructive pandemic. “The Runner Up” goes to poliomyelitis, a viral disease that caused paralysis, mostly in children. During the polio epidemic of 1916, 27,000 were reported, but it didn’t peak until 1952 at 57,000.

A year later, Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, announced that he had successfully developed a vaccine. After clinical trials to prove its effectiveness, a national inoculation campaign was begun in 1955; the number of cases consistently declined through 1979—the year the disease was declared: eradicated.

For a better understanding of the Spanish Flu, Polio, and COVID-19 pandemics, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends, Makila Lucier’s novel, A Death-Struck Year, and Jeffrey Kluger’s Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio.

Falsa alarma

It was a quiet Sunday morning when the phones began to ring at the police station in the town of Molina de Segura, Spain. “A lion is on the loose,” the callers reported, asking for assistance. The “policia” responded with great success. They apprehended the creature in a flash. But, it was not a lion. Alas, it was a rather large pooch whose owner had given it a haircut to mimic the mane and tail of a lion.

This is no joke

Do you know why flamingos lift up one leg when sleeping? Because if they lift both legs they’ll fall. It is one of many such witticisms about the pink bird. But the 21-foot tall pink flamingo unveiled recently at the Tampa International Airport is no joke. The pink flamingo is the iconic symbol of the state of Florida and the sculpture, which cost more than half a million dollars, is to become the centerpiece of the airport’s main terminal.

Wine a little; Laugh a lot

Most people have hot and cold running water in their kitchens but in the Italian hamlet of Settecani recently villagers woke one morning recently and it was red wine that came out of their taps, not only in their kitchens but in their bathrooms, as well. It seems that a high pressure leak in the storage tower of a local winery allowed the vino to seep into the town’s water pipes. Many of the residents managed to bottle the beverage before the leak was fixed. After all it was Lambrusco Grasparossa, a very tasty sparkling red wine, and it would have been a shame to let it dribble down the drain.

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Make college more affordable by saving on intangible costs

When it comes to comparing the costs of various colleges, remember that on the broadest level, costs can be tangible or intangible. To save money, follow these tips from KHEAA.

Tangible costs include tuition and fees and room and board.

Intangible costs include everything else: textbooks and supplies; computers; and personal items, such as shampoo, clothes, entertainment, laundry, and other expenses.

You can save money, sometimes a significant amount, by controlling the discretionary costs of your lifestyle. That doesn’t mean skimping on shampoo, soap, food and doing your laundry; but you can cut costs by finding sales or using coupons. Always be looking out for buy one, get one free deals.

You can also save quite a bit of money by cutting back on treats such as entertainment and dining out. Doing those things less often will make them even more special when you do treat yourself.

Remember: The less you spend on the intangibles, the less you’ll need to take out in student loans. That means that after you graduate you can afford more of the things you enjoy.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

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Deer are smarter than you think

Soon spring will arrive in many regions across the country. Most of the Lower 48 can expect above-average temperatures this spring, according to The Weather Channel.

If accurate, you’ll soon see an unhappy side-effect of the milder weather; more deer will be browsing your backyard when the weather warms.

Don’t discount deer’s intelligence, they’re smarter than you think; they actually possess a memory of negative experiences, learn from them and adapt their habits accordingly. Deer know they’re greatly exposed to danger due to hunters and predators in woodlands and have moved right to the edge of woodlands, in close proximity to suburban neighborhoods, where they’ve learned they’re safe. They’re also smart enough to know danger is not present or even threatening in suburbia and they will remember your bountiful backyard food sources, too. Once in your yard, you can count on deer damage to your trees, shrubs, gardens and landscapes that you’ve invested much time, money and effort in.

The damage to residential landscapes, crops and timber from deer foraging ranges around $1 billion annually. With a single deer capable of eating a ton and a half of vegetation per year, just one or two deer can cause significant damage.

But deer don’t have to devastate your yard this spring and summer, you can use deer’s own intelligence against them to trick them right out of your yard. Just as they learn where to find safe, reliable food sources, you can “train” deer to avoid any specific area.

Negative conditioning works well to deter deer from your yard, but it’s important to choose a strategy that outsmarts them continuously. Scare tactics such as dogs barking, canned noise and scarecrows have limited effects, as deer quickly learn there’s no real harm associated with these “threats.” Fences also have limitations; deer can easily jump over any fence lower than 8 feet and few neighborhoods will approve a fence of that height.

A product that combines scent and taste deterrents, will be most effective in keeping deer away from suburban landscapes because deer will remember the unpleasant smell and taste of your backyard’s food source and they’ll pass by your yard rather than eat something they’ve already been conditioned to learn will be distasteful.

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Are you backyard ready for spring?

Your family yard is extension for your home – providing a respite from stress, offering an outside entertainment area, expanding your living space and giving kids and pets and a safe place to play. Research shows children reap numerous health, social and personal benefits from spending time outside playing.

Here are TurfMutt’s top tips to help you get Backyard Ready this spring courtesy of the TurfMutt Foundation.

Plan for Fun: Depending on your lifestyle and climate, consider an outdoor room, turfgrass for a game of croquet and a place for kids to run and play, trees and shrubs for privacy and a game of hide and seek, fire pit, pergola, sandbox (for kids and dogs to dig!), outdoor furniture, or a decorative water feature.

Plant for Kids & Pets: There are many species of turfgrass to choose from to create pet and kids play space. Your local garden center or landscaper can help you identify what will work best for your climate zone and lifestyle. And don’t forget to avoid toxic plants to pets if they are a member of your family.

Remember Wildlife & Pollinators: Grass, trees, shrubs and flowering plants provide food and habitat for birds, small mammals, and pollinators, so plant to support them.

Take Stock of Equipment: Do you need to update, upgrade or replace your outdoor power equipment, like a lawn mower, hedger/trimmer or edger? Want to install a water solution like a smart irrigation system? Invest in outdoor power equipment now so you are ready to roll for spring!

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From the files of the FBI

Stanley Finch: The bureau’s little known first leader

The former Department of Justice building at 1435 K Street NW, Washington, D.C., housed the Bureau’s early Headquarters, including Stanley Finch’s office (Library of Congress photo, circa 1914-1918)

Everyone who has more than a passing knowledge of FBI history is familiar with J. Edgar Hoover, who led the Bureau for nearly five decades.

But while Hoover was officially the first director of the organization that became known as the FBI in 1935, after he had already served 11 years, the Bureau actually traces its history back to 1908. That’s when Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte created a small investigative force through a combination of practical necessity and innovative foresight.

In assembling his “force of special agents,” Bonaparte selected a dapper, dedicated veteran of the Department of Justice to be its first leader. His name was Stanley Wellington Finch.

It was a logical choice. Born in 1872 in Monticello, New York, Finch joined the Department of Justice as a clerk in 1893. Over the next 15 years, he rose to become chief examiner, the highest-ranking investigative official in the organization. In this position, he audited the books of the U.S. Courts and Prisons and oversaw the work of other examiners. During this time, like so many other future FBI personnel (including Hoover), he was also studying at night at National University (now George Washington University) Law School. He earned two law degrees by 1909.

Fittingly, Finch helped lead the way in creating the early Bureau. Around this time, Department of Justice investigators were hired literally on a case-by-case basis; most agents were U.S. Secret Service employees working within the Treasury Department. In December 1907, Bonaparte informed Congress that he needed his own detective force. Six months later, Congress instead banned the Secret Service from loaning its personnel.

That left the Department of Justice in a bind, but Bonaparte, Finch, and their colleagues were already developing a plan. A Finch memo dated April 29, 1908 said the Department should create “a small, permanent force of special agents” to meet its investigative needs. In late June and early July, the department quietly hired 34 investigators. On July 26, Bonaparte directed his attorneys to refer most investigative matters to Finch for handling by one of these agents. The Bureau was born.

Finch led the new group capably, keeping close tabs on its work. He was officially named “chief” of the newly titled Bureau of Investigation in March 1909.

But his real passion was curbing the trafficking of young women. As urban centers grew, many criminals during this time preyed on women leaving their rural homes in search of marriage, riches, and fame, instead trapping them in a life of prostitution. What is now known as sex trafficking ensnared an estimated 250,000 women and girls nationwide, most between the ages of 13 and 25.

Finch began speaking out against this and lobbied Congress to make it a federal crime. In 1910, a bill sponsored by Rep. Horace Mann was enacted, criminalizing prostitution and the transportation of women across state lines for prostitution. Money to enforce the law quickly followed, allowing the Bureau to add dozens of new personnel.

To enforce the law, the Department of Justice created a new organization led by a separate commissioner. In 1912, Finch was named its head, leaving the Bureau of Investigation and moving his office to Baltimore. Working with a core group of agents, Finch hired upstanding citizens, usually attorneys in major cities, to work with local law enforcement to map out brothels and identify patrons and victims.

The plan was ambitious, but despite some early successes, it ultimately failed. In 1914, Finch’s organization was consolidated into the Bureau of Investigation, and Finch left government for a series of jobs in journalism and humanitarian organizations. In 1922, he returned to the Department of Justice as a special assistant to the attorney general. He also served as inspector of prisons before retiring in 1940.

Finch was not just known for fighting crime. His hobby was inventing, especially toys for children. He formed the General Novelty Manufacturing Company and went on to earn more than 100 patents. One of his ideas was for an inline skate, a prescient proposal, especially coming from an early 20th century lawyer and investigator.

Finch died in November 1951 at his home in Washington, D.C., having spent nearly half of his eight decades serving the Department of Justice, mostly in a variety of leadership roles. His four years running the young Bureau gave it a strong start, including growing expertise in investigating fraud, civil rights violations, anti-trust matters, Indian Country crime, and sex trafficking—key areas of the FBI’s responsibility that continue to this day.

Cold case solved: Decades later, murderer brought to justice

James Ricks was sitting in his car late on a summer night in 1967 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, when he was startled by tapping on his car window. Two criminals were fleeing a store they had robbed when their getaway car broke down. They stole Ricks’ car — and his life — but decades would go by before his killer was brought to justice.

The pair of criminals shot Ricks, a 27-year-old African-American father of a young daughter, and locked him in the trunk of his own 1964 Oldsmobile. After driving around with a wounded Ricks in the trunk, they shot him again in the back of the head and left him in a wooded area in rural Arkansas.

James Leon Clay, 20, and his brother Leon Junior Clay, 25, were convicted of interstate vehicle theft for stealing Ricks’ car and for the robberies they’d committed earlier that night. But the men were never charged with Ricks’ murder, despite having stolen his car and leaving fingerprints inside the vehicle. Ricks’ body was found by hikers two months later on August 27, 1967.

Cold Case Heats Up

Nearly 50 years later and 1,100 miles away in Delaware, Special Agent Justin Downen—working out of the FBI Baltimore Division’s Dover Resident Agency—received a call from a man who said his brother-in-law’s prison cellmate had confessed to the murder. Though Downen was not familiar with the killing, the story piqued his interest. So Downen and Officer Derrick Calloway of the Laurel (Delaware) Police Department interviewed the cellmate of James Leon Clay, by then in his 60s, at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Delaware. (Calloway was familiar with Clay because he had investigated the bank robbery—unrelated to the Ricks murder—that landed Clay in prison.)

Clay’s cellmate, who was imprisoned on drug charges, gave the investigators a detailed account of the killing—the circumstances, type of gun used, Clay facing Ricks’ family in the courtroom when he was charged with stealing the car. The cellmate, who slept in the top bunk, took detailed notes on their discussions while Clay talked from the bottom bunk.

Clay told the cellmate he regretted killing Ricks, and that his brother, who had since died, had told him to do it.

“I think some of it was bragging a little bit,” Downen said of Clay’s willingness to confide in his cellmate. “He’s an old man in prison, and you wonder how much he wanted people to be a little bit scared of him. I don’t know how much of it was ego and wanting people to think he was a tough guy, or how much of it was just boredom.”

After additional investigation, it became clear that the story checked out.

“There’s just no way this story isn’t true,” Downen said after listening to the story and seeing how it corroborated with known details of Ricks’ murder. “Then it was just a matter of how we would prove it. The case is 50 years old, so the only way we get a conviction is to get the guy on tape admitting to it.”

“No one would’ve criticized us if we didn’t follow through on this case from 50 years ago with nothing more than a tip from someone in prison. We knew it was the right thing to do, and we would want someone do it for us. That’s what justice is about.”

Justin Downen, special agent, FBI Baltimore (Dover Resident Agency)

Waiting Game

There were a number of challenges with getting that proof, one being that the cellmate had since moved to a minimum security prison out of state.

So the investigators decided to simply wait for Clay’s release and try to get a second confession—this time on tape.

“It wasn’t like we were working it every day or even every week, we just had to have the willingness to wait him out and take the long approach,” Downen said.

Two years went by. Downen was assigned to other cases. Calloway transferred to another police department. Given their workloads, they could’ve easily moved on from the case or not acted on the tip, but investigators were committed to seeing it through to the end.

“No one was tracking this case. No one would’ve criticized us if we didn’t follow through on this case from 50 years ago with nothing more than a tip from someone in prison,” Downen said. “We knew it was the right thing to do, and we would want someone do it for us. That’s what justice is about.”

‘Chance’ Encounter

Downen called the Delaware prison system occasionally to check on Clay during those two years. In August 2014, he got the answer he’d been waiting for: Clay was released that morning. It was time to get their taped confession.

Given where Clay and his old cellmate had met and bonded, the probation office seemed the most likely place for their “chance” meeting, so Downen, Calloway, and officials from the Delaware Department of Probation and Parole came up with a plan to have the two former cellmates in the lobby at the same time as they were arriving for meetings with their probation officers.

Right on schedule, the cellmate arrived at the probation office when Clay did, wearing a hidden recording device. Clay recounted everything, both in the office and as the two men continued to chat in Clay’s truck.

Clay was quickly arrested and returned to Little Rock, where he was charged with Ricks’ murder. After the judge declared his taped confession admissible, Clay pleaded guilty to the murder charges and was sentenced to 20 years. He was 67 at the time of his arrest in 2015 and will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Justice Achieved

For Ricks’ family, the years without justice and closure for their loved one were difficult, especially knowing that the Clay brothers had been convicted of other crimes but would be released.

Ricks’ brother described James Ricks as a friendly and fun-loving young man.

“It was hard on me,” said Julius Ricks, who is now 74 and still lives in the North Little Rock area. “I would often think about him. Me and my brother and my sister, we’d always talk about it. We wondered what happened to the guys. It was rough; I won’t lie. I really missed him.”

He was surprised to receive a phone call from the FBI that his brother’s killer had confessed.

“That was a miracle, what they did,” Julius Ricks said. “It was just a miracle when they called and said that the guy had talked in jail.”

Putting a killer behind bars—even nearly a half-century after the crime—was also worth the patient effort for Downen and the other investigators involved.

“It’s really easy to put yourself in the shoes of that family and think about what it would be like to lose a loved one under those circumstances and not have justice,” Downen said.

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Designing a beautiful garden for you and the pollinators

By MELINDA MYERS

You don’t need a prairie or large lot to attract and support pollinators. A meadow or informal, formal and even container gardens can bring in bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to help pollinate plants. It’s just a matter of selecting the right plants, adjusting your maintenance practices, and skipping the pesticides.

Create your garden by converting a few square feet of lawn, garden bed or front yard into a pollinator-friendly garden. You may want to start by switching out part of an existing garden or container to more pollinator-friendly flowers.

Expand your planting options by converting a portion of your lawn into a pollinator garden. Outline the bed with a hose or rope. Remove the sod, add compost as needed to improve drainage and you’ll be ready to plant.

Simplify and dress up your efforts by using an easy-to-assemble raised garden kit like the Pollinator Garden Bed (gardeners.com). Its long-lasting cedar planks slide into aluminum corners to create a hexagonal bed. Get creative while increasing the garden’s size by adding additional sections to create a honeycomb or other interesting design.

Mark the outline of the raised bed you select. Cut the grass short and cover with newspaper. Set your raised bed in place and fill with a quality planting mix. Mulch four to six inches surrounding the raised bed for ease of mowing and to eliminate the need to hand trim.

Once your planting bed is prepared, you’re ready to plant. Include single daisy-like black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and asters that allow visiting insects to rest and warm when sipping on nectar or dining on pollen. Add a few tubular flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. They both like bright colors and can be seen visiting salvias, penstemon and nasturtiums. And don’t forget the bees that are attracted to bright white, yellow, blue and ultraviolet colors. You’ll find them visiting these and other blossoms like catmint, sweet alyssum and perennial geranium.

Include spring, summer and fall bloomers to keep pollinators visiting and well fed throughout the season. You’ll enjoy the seasonal changes along with the color and motions the visitors provide. Include early spring perennials and bulbs to attract visitors in early spring as they search for much-needed food. Add fall flowers to help prepare them for winter or migration to their winter homes. Those in milder climates will want to add some pollinator-friendly flowers to support and attract pollinators wintering in their backyard.

Plant flowers in groups for greater design impact and to reduce the energy pollinators expend when gathering nectar and pollen from one flower to the next. Provide plants with enough space to reach their mature size. Temporarily fill in voids with annuals like salvia, single zinnias and nicotiana that also attract pollinators.

Don’t let all the plant and design possibilities overwhelm you into inaction. Gardener’s Supply Company has plans for designing gardens to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds plus tips on keeping them safe in your garden.

Mulch the soil with leaves annually. It suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, improves the soil and provides homes for many beneficial insects.

Allow healthy plants and grasses to stand for winter. These provide homes for many beneficial insects and food for birds. Wait as long as possible to clean up your garden in spring. If needed, pile clippings out of the way to allow beneficial insects to escape these winter homes once temperatures warm. Then shred and compost the plant debris in summer.

As your gardens flourish, you will want to create more pollinator-friendly spaces. Your efforts will be rewarded with beautiful flowers, increased harvest and the added color and motion these visitors provide.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

Irish Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th. The first, in 1601, was in St. Augustine, FL—then a Spanish colony. The town’s vicar was of Irish descent; the occasion was religious, but ubiquitous secular observance of the day--replete with parades and other festivities-- didn’t come until more than 100 years later-- in Boston and New York City, led by Irish soldiers serving in the British army.

The Irish immigrated to the U.S. to escape famine and oppression. Eventually, St. Patrick’s Day—along with its customs-- were “absorbed” into America’s story, and it became an unofficial national holiday.

For more information about the role of Irish immigrants in America, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests Michael Coffey’s The Irish in America.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry’s voice boomed, “Give me liberty or give me death!” He delivered a rousing speech at the Second Virginia Convention, less than a month before the start of the American Revolution. Henry’s words ramped up the militia’s might, and Virginia’s venom; it was the largest American colony in favor of defying British rule. Henry’s plea resonated with his audience, all the other colonists—and--succeeding generations.

Henry’s story is an inspiration for young learners, says the Grateful American Book Prize, which recommends Thomas S. Kidd’s Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots.

Poliomyelitis has plagued mankind for centuries. It is a disease that attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis. In 1952 more than 58,000 new cases of polio were reported in the United States; of those, 3,000 died. Medical scientists were desperately seeking a vaccine. Finally, on March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, reported that he had devised a way to immunize the population against the scourge that favored children.

For more information the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Jeffrey Kluger’s Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio.

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They had a craving

To what lengths would college students go for a savory fast-food treat? Members of the track team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY had a craving recently for Chick-Fil-A but the chain’s nearest eatery was an hour and a half away. It turns out, however, that there is a Chick-Fil-A outlet inside the Albany International Airport located less than 20 minutes from campus. So, the track team ponied up enough cash to buy a $98 ticket, the cheapest ticket available, allowing teammate Vincent Putrino to clear security and purchase a $227.28 team lunch.

She used just her bare hands

You don’t want to mess with Kathleen Krausse. The German strongwoman recently broke the Guinness World Record for crushing and rolling up frying pans. She destroyed seven aluminum pans with her bare hands in just one minute.

Brett to the rescue

There you are having a beer at your favorite pub, when you look down and spot a gecko in your mug. It happened recently to a regular by the name of Brett at The Amble Inn in Corindi Beach, New South Wales. His first thought was that the bartender was having him on but it turned out that the little lizard was drowning. So Brett unflinchingly went to the rescue and began performing CPR on the poor little critter, alternating between applying chest compressions and giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until the gecko was able to breath on its own.

This is no ‘fish story’

Justin Hamlin got lucky on Valentine’s Day this year but his luck didn’t last long. He caught a record-breaking fish in Keystone Lake near Tulsa that Friday -- a paddlefish weighing in at about 157 pounds. But, alas, he could not claim the record. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation made him release it. It seems that the American paddlefish is classified as a vulnerable species and so the state’s fishing regulations require paddlefish caught on Mondays and Fridays must be released. Though he can’t claim the record, he does have the satisfaction of knowing his catch outweighed paddlefish that won the state’s record [132 pounds] and the world record [144 pounds].

A virtuoso performance

How do you pass the time when you are lying there on an operating table undergoing brain surgery. Dagmar Turner played her violin. It happened at King’s College Hospital in London during an operation to remove a brain tumor. Ms. Turner plays with the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Keyoumars Ashkan, who performed the surgery, explained that playing the instrument during the operation helped ensure that her musical abilities were not impaired. Dr. Ashkan said that her tumor was too close to the parts of the brain that control motor skills. "We perform around 400 resections (tumor removals) each year, which often involves rousing patients to carry out language tests, but this was the first time I've had a patient play an instrument.”

Pigeons Power

PUTIN ordered a fly-by over downtown Las Vegas recently, but it wasn’t the Russian president. Rather, it was a group calling itself Pigeons United To Interfere Now, which outfitted each of the pigeons in the flock with red Make America Great Again [MAGA] hats. PUTIN says it organized the demonstration in support of President Trump. One of the birds even wore a wig mimicking the president’s hairstyle.

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Create your own low maintenance relaxation garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Create an outdoor space to relax and recharge. Transform a corner of your landscape, deck or balcony into your own escape from everyday deadlines and stress.

Use decorative fencing, sheer curtains or plantings to define the space and create a bit of privacy. An outdoor carpet, steppers or groundcover can also help define the space and create added comfort.

Provide a bit of protection from the blazing hot sun with a shade tree, pergola, umbrella or retractable awning. Deciduous trees and vines add shade during hot summer months, but let the warm sunlight shine through during the cooler months of the year.

Reduce maintenance by growing plants suited to your climate and growing conditions. Use fewer varieties and more of each to provide unity while reducing maintenance. Include permanent plantings of low maintenance trees, shrubs and perennials. Further reduce maintenance by selecting All-America Selections (AAS) winning plants (all-americaselections.org) that have been trialed across the US and Canada and selected for their performance in home gardens and containers.

Select varieties known for being low maintenance. Interspecific Supra Pink and Jolt dianthus are both such plants. Their showy flowers brighten the garden all summer long despite the heat and with no deadheading.

Add some therapeutic fragrance to your space by growing a pot or patch of Lavender lady, an English lavender. Brush your hand over the foliage and flowers to enjoy its relaxing fragrance. This compact variety flowers just 90 days from sowing and is hardy in zones 5 to 9.

Perfume the air with blue Evening Scentsation petunia. Perfect for containers and hanging baskets, its fragrance peaks during the evening hours. Set a container of compact Deep Purple nicotiana near your chair or entryway for a fragrant greeting in the evening.

Get a boost of color and health benefits by inviting birds and butterflies into your sanctuary. Being in nature lowers your blood pressure and improves your mood and adding bird watching to the mix increases these benefits.

Plant Tip Top Rose nasturtium to bring in the hummingbirds and butterflies. This compact plant boasts showy rose-colored flowers that bloom all season long. Pluck a few of the edible leaves and flowers to enjoy in your salad.

Summer Jewel Salvias include red, white, lavender and pink flowered wind and rain tolerant beauties. You’ll enjoy the butterflies and hummingbirds visiting the flowers and goldfinches feasting on the seeds.

Extend your enjoyment into the evening with some night lighting. Drape a string of lights over a pergola, arbor or tree. Lead the way to your retreat with some solar powered path lighting. Within the space, light a few candles or lanterns for more intimate lighting.

Brighten the night garden with a few flowers that shine during the darker hours. Gypsy White baby’s breath is a non-invasive species and has better branching and heat tolerance, making it an attractive low maintenance option.

Mega Bloom Polka Dot vinca’s bright white flowers are a standout in the garden. Its pure white petals with bright pink center provide a nighttime glow as well as daytime interest.

Be sure to include a comfortable chair, hammock or glider to relax into the space. Add the soothing sound of water to help mask any unwanted noise.

Then grab a good book, your favorite beverage and escape to your own backyard retreat. You’ll leave the space refreshed and ready to embrace and enjoy whatever comes next.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Does Social Security Ever Make Mistakes on Benefits?

Dear Rusty: Can or does the Social Security Administration occasionally make mistakes in determining the benefits due? I’m now 72, but I retired early at age 61 and knew that my benefits would be reduced. I’ve always wondered if my monthly benefit calculation was incorrect but did not know how to address my concerns. If it is possible, could you direct me in how to handle with the SS Administration? Signed: Skeptical of My Benefit

Dear Skeptical: Can the Social Security Administration ever make mistakes? Of course they can, and do, but not really very often considering that they are dealing with tens of millions of beneficiaries, and especially when it comes to computing benefit amounts. Since nearly all benefit computations are done by computer, the usual source of any error is almost always from using incorrect input data. The actual benefit computation formula, while complex, is very standard and well proven; if an error occurs in a basic benefit computation, it is usually because a person’s lifetime earnings record contains an error. Having said that, let’s explore why you feel your benefit may not be correct.

When you say you “retired early at age 61” I assume that means you claimed your Social Security early at age 62 (the minimum age). Since your full retirement age is age 66, that means that by claiming at age 62 your benefit was cut by 25% from what it would have been at age 66. Also, any benefit estimate you had from Social Security prior to claiming made the assumption that you would continue to earn at your current level until you reached your full retirement age. If you “retired” and stopped working and earning at age 61, the benefit you are entitled to is less than that estimate you had from Social Security at age 61.

So, how can you address your concerns? I suggest the first thing you do is get a copy of your lifetime earnings record from Social Security. You can do this by calling them and requesting it or, if you have a “My Social Security” personal account, you can obtain it online. You should verify that all of your lifetime earnings are properly reflected in Social Security’s records (SS gets your earnings data from the IRS). Note that only your earnings up to the maximum payroll tax for each year count because that’s all you paid SS FICA tax on; if your actual earnings in any year were more than the annual payroll tax cap, only the amount up to that year’s tax cap is used. Be aware that if you find an error, you will need to prove it to Social Security by showing them a copy of your W-2 or your Federal Income tax return for the year(s) in question. If your lifetime earnings record is in order, then you are almost certainly getting the correct benefit. When computing your benefit, Social Security adjusts each year of your lifetime earnings to today’s dollar value, so inflation shouldn’t be a factor either. The highest earning 35 years over your lifetime (adjusted for inflation) are used to determine your benefit amount.

If you’re still uncomfortable that you may not be getting the correct benefit, you should call Social Security directly and ask them to review your benefits to make sure you are receiving the correct amount. Social Security has all of your lifetime earnings data immediately available and can quickly determine if your benefit amount is correct based upon the earnings history shown in your record.

Dear Rusty:. My husband is 70 and has been taking Social Security for several years. His benefit is $2,100 per month. I am 60 and will turn 61 in March. I have very little built up and my expected SS benefit at my full retirement age is $1163 and $829 if I choose to take it at age 62. We are comfortable with our current income, but the benefit at 62 is enticing. I want to know how taking it at 62 would affect my situation if my husband predeceases me. Would I then be able to exchange my benefits for his? Please advise. Signed: Planning Ahead.

Dear Planning: Taking your own SS benefit early (before your full retirement age) won’t affect the amount of your survivor benefit should your husband predecease you. The only thing that would affect your survivor benefit is the age at which you claim it. So yes, you could claim your own benefit first and then switch to your survivor benefit later without hurting your eventual survivor benefit. If you have reached your full retirement age (FRA) when your husband passes, your survivor benefit will be 100% of the amount your husband is receiving at his death, instead of your own smaller benefit. But if you take the survivor benefit before your FRA, it will be actuarially reduced according to the number of months prior to FRA it is claimed. To be clear, if your husband were to pass before you reached FRA, you have the option to wait until your FRA to claim the survivor benefit (so you can get 100% of his benefit). In other words, you could continue to collect your own benefit until your survivor benefit reached 100% at your FRA (a survivor benefit reaches maximum at FRA).

Be aware, though, that there is another consideration if you claim your own SS benefit before you reach your full retirement age. If you are still working and claim your benefit before your FRA, you’ll be subject to Social Security’s “earnings limit” which, if exceeded, will cause SS to take back future benefits equal to 50% of the amount you exceeded the limit by (the 2020 limit is $18,240, but it changes annually). If you have substantial earnings from working, that could mean you will go some number of months without benefits (depending upon your earnings level). In the year you reach your FRA (but prior to your FRA) the earnings limit goes up by 2.6 times and the penalty is less, and once you reach your FRA there is no longer an earnings limit. But, I want to make sure you’re aware that collecting early and exceeding the earnings limit will affect your benefits. If you go months without benefits because you exceeded the earnings limit, SS will give you time credit for those months when you reach your FRA, which will result in a small increase in your own SS benefit at that time.

But the bottom line is that collecting your own Social Security benefit early will not affect your eventual survivor benefit. Only the age at which you claim it, if earlier than your FRA, will affect the amount of your survivor benefit. And, by the way, your FRA as a widow is 4 months less than your normal FRA because SS takes 2 years off of your birth year to determine your “widow’s FRA.”

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Housecall

By DR. APPATHURAI BALAMURUGAN

Assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

Q. How can I tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

A. While viruses cause both the common cold and the flu, the symptoms may not always be similar. In general, colds develop gradually and worsen over time, while the flu hits suddenly and harder. Symptoms of the flu are worst in the first two to three days and then begin to subside over the course of one or two weeks. Colds can linger as long as 10 days.

A cold may include mild head and body aches, while the flu brings more severe, widespread pain.

A stuffy or runny nose always accompanies a cold, but only sometimes does with the flu. Coughs with the flu tend to be dry, while coughs from a cold tend to be associated with mucus. Sneezing or a sore throat can occur with both a cold or the flu.

Chills and sweats, headaches and fatigue that drains energy and appetite are typical of the flu.

The first line of defense against the flu is getting an annual flu vaccine each fall. The second line of defense is antiviral medications prescribed by a doctor, but treatment must begin within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Q. I recently injured my knee. What can I do to help it heal faster?

A. Some of the most common injuries include sprained ligaments, runner’s knee (a broad term used to describe pain stemming from several knee problems), an inflamed or irritated tendon, and a tearing of the rubbery knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thigh bone.

Treatments include rest, pain relievers and physical therapy. A minor injury should improve after one or two days of rest, but severe injuries will take longer and some will not heal on their own. Be sure to visit your doctor if it does not improve after a couple of days or you have ongoing knee-related issues.

While resting the knee, apply ice to decrease inflammation and elevate the leg to prevent swelling. Also, wrap the joint to offer support and reduce fluid buildup and if needed, use a cane for additional support.

Once rested, increase activity with low-impact exercises such as water workouts to prevent reinjuring it. Those carrying extra pounds should lose weight to reduce additional strain on the knee and don’t forget about your feet, as wearing cushioned insoles in your shoes can reduce stress on knees.

Q. I think my wife has depression. How can I know for sure and what can I do to help her?

A. You should encourage her to talk to her doctor or a mental health professional. Be sure to share your support and hope that she will feel better with treatment and time. Remember that depression can also affect her physically, with problems including stomach issues, headaches, cramps and pain. Depression also leads to higher risk of heart disease.

Common symptoms may include eating or sleeping more or less, feeling tired, having trouble concentrating or making decisions and thinking about suicide. While men are more likely to be irritable and lose interest in hobbies or work and turn to alcohol or other drugs when depressed, women are more prone to feel worthless, guilty or sad. While tough situations can trigger depression, that is not always true. Treatment may include exercise for mild depression, lifestyle changes, counseling or medication. Once treatment is sought, it will take a while for symptoms to improve, possibly with appetite and sleep being the first to get better.

Those with depression should exercise even when they don’t feel like it, as exercise improves mild depression.

Q. Will intermittent fasting really help me to lose weight?

A. Intermittent fasting, an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and abstaining — along with healthy food and exercise — may help in weight loss, easing inflammation and lowering cholesterol levels, according to a recent review in the New England Journal of Medicine. However, check with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting to make sure it is safe for you.

There are several types of intermittent fasting, ranging from the twice a week method that caps calories at 500 for two days each week, alternate days of fasting capping calories at 500 on fasting days, time-restricted eating with set fasting and eating windows, and fasting completely for 24 hours one or two days each week.

Intermittent fasting can be addicting, as going without food can give some people a feeling of being “high” similar to alcohol or cigarettes.

Intermittent fasting is designed for short-term use only and taking part in one too often can reset and slow your metabolism, making it more difficult to keep off lost weight and lose more later. Also, any weight lost from an intermittent fast will be from loss of water and muscle, not fat.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On March 3, 1913, 5,000 suffragettes-- including the legendary journalist, Nellie Bly, and Helen Keller, took to the streets in Washington D.C. to fight for the right to vote. An unruly crowd of onlookers tried to shout them down; it looked as though a riot was about to break out, but a contingent of soldiers under the orders of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, restored order. The commotion occurred the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson who, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, was not in favor of giving women the right to vote, noting that “it gave him a chilled, scandalized feeling.”

It took six more years to happen-- for Congress to pass the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Winifred Conkling’s Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the battle for the Ballot.

The U.S. Congress-- or legislature-- is one of the three branches of government, where the federal laws that govern the nation are made. It is comprised of the Senate, and the House of Representatives; they convened–for the first time–under a newly adopted U.S. Constitution, in New York City, on March 4, 1789.

Eight years earlier, on March 1, 1781 --and two years prior to the end of the American Revolution--the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution, established Congress as the sole governing body of the soon-to-be independent American nation.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Lee H. Hamilton’s How Congress Works and Why You Should Care.

Medicine has progressed considerably since the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. When it reached America, about a third of the population caught the flu, and more

than 600,000 died from it; globally, it is estimated that 20 million to 50 million people perished from the illness.

These days, a less deadly variety of flu is commonplace in the fall and winter, but the surety of death is usually held in check by modern medicine.

The Spanish Flu was cause for alarm, but it also incited a rush to discover a prevention. A good read about the outbreak is Makila Lucier’s novel, A Death-Struck Year.

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Tips to Find the Perfect Rental Home

By DAVID HOWARD

Roughly 37 percent of American households rent, rather than own, their homes. That's the highest share in more than 50 years.

Increasingly, people are renting simply because it fits their lifestyles better -- not because they can't afford to buy. Americans are especially flocking to single-family rentals, rather than apartments or duplexes. In fact, the single-family rental industry is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. housing market, accounting for more than one in three rentals. The industry has grown 30 percent since 2007, double the rate for multifamily rentals.

Could a single-family rental be right for you? Here are five questions to ask yourself:

1. Would you like a more responsive landlord?

It's often difficult for apartment companies to oversee the hundreds or even thousands of units they manage. So it's easy for an individual tenant to get lost in the crowd.

Landlords who rent out single-family homes are far more responsive. Most own fewer than ten units -- so they're quick to fix broken appliances or resolve other issues. And many of the larger single-family rental companies employ experienced property managers who work in teams -- so someone is on-call 24/7.

These single-family landlords are also leveraging technology to make tenants' lives easier. Renters can submit maintenance requests via smartphones, pay online, and even set up "Smart Home" technology.

2. Would you like to live closer to your grandchildren?

Most grandparents dream of spoiling their grandchildren after school.

Single-family rentals make it easy for Baby Boomers to downsize and move closer to family. Empty-nesters can rent quiet homes in nice neighborhoods, without pouring their retirement savings into a down payment.

3. Are you drowning in student debt?

U.S. student loan debt reached an all-time last year. Americans with student loans owe an average of $35,000 each -- and many middle-class families find themselves paying off these loans well into their 30s and 40s. Renting lets these folks live in suburbia without the financial commitment of home-ownership.

Consider that the median down payment for a home in 2018 was about $15,500 -- while median monthly single-family rent clocks in around $1,600. And single-family rentals cost less per square foot than apartments.

As long as they pay their rent on time, youngsters who rent can build credit for future purchases.

Another perk? Unlike apartments, single-family homes offer 3 or more bedrooms -- which means renters have the flexibility to start a family.

4. Are you dreaming about a new job?

Considering a career change? Thanks to a hot job market, millennials are job-hopping more than other generations. About one in five millennials changed jobs in 2016 alone -- three times as much as non-millennials. And 60 percent say they're open to a switch.

Single-family rentals give these workers the ability to easily relocate for new careers.

5. Do you crave a home that truly feels like "home?"

Many renters find themselves in swanky apartment buildings that more closely resemble hotels than homes.

Single-family rentals offer young families the space and privacy of a home -- perhaps a yard for their dogs and kids -- without the financial commitment of home-ownership. Plus, single-family rentals are more likely to be in good school districts than traditional apartments.

Millions of Americans are choosing to rent, rather than own, single-family homes -- for good reason. Single-family rentals are affordable, spacious, and provide all the advantages of suburban living without the downsides of home-ownership.

David Howard is the executive director of the National Rental Home Council.

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Compare award letters to find the best college deal

Most high school seniors headed for college will soon be receiving financial aid award letters. Seniors and their parents should read those letters carefully, according to KHEAA.

The letter will usually show the total cost of attendance for one year, including tuition, fees, room, meals, books, supplies, transportation and personal expenses.

It may also show the expected family contribution (EFC), which is how much the student’s family is expected to pay toward those costs. The EFC is subtracted from the total cost of attendance to get a student’s financial need. The letter will then list various sources of financial aid offered to cover that need. Students can accept or reject any or all of those proposed sources.

Students can also appeal the awards if their family’s financial circumstances have changed.

One thing to carefully consider is how much of the financial support being offered consists of federal student loans, which must be repaid. If the package includes federal loans and isn’t enough to pay all expenses, students may have to turn to a private loan. Comparison shopping is a must in that case.

But students shouldn’t choose a school based simply on cost. A more expensive college may be a better choice for the student than a less expensive one that isn’t a good fit.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

KHEAA also helps colleges manage their student loan default rates and verify information submitted on the FAFSA. For more information about those services, visit www.kheaa.com.

In addition, KHEAA disburses private Advantage Education Loans for its sister agency, KHESLC. For more information about Advantage Education Loans, visit www.advantageeducationloan.com.

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Early spring preparation for a beautiful summer garden

By MELINDA MYERS

As winter fades into spring, gardeners can’t wait to get busy in the garden. Pruning, cutting back perennials and ornamental grasses and preparing the garden for spring planting are just a few of the tasks. Keep yourself and the pollinators overwintering in your garden safe as you start the cleanup process.

Always prune with a purpose. Start by removing any damaged and diseased stems from shrubs and roses. Watch for insects like swallowtail butterflies that overwinter in protective cocoons and the egg masses of some like the hairstreak butterflies. Prevent problems by destroying overwintering non-native pests like the gypsy moth. Search the internet and insect books for help identifying the good and bad guys you may find in your landscape.

Additional pruning may be needed to manage the size and shape or encourage better flowering and bark color. Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs like lilacs and forsythia if you want maximum flowering. Prune these shrubs right after flowering before they set their floral buds for next spring.

Keep yourself safe by wearing safety glasses and gloves. It’s too easy to focus on the task and end up with a stick in the eye. Heavy duty gloves protect and support your hands, allowing you to garden longer with less stress, scratches and bruises. Consider synthetic leather gauntlet style gloves like Foxgloves extra protection gloves (foxglovesinc.com) that protect hands and forearms from harm yet are supple enough to allow you to work efficiently. The breathable fabric is durable, machine washable and puncture resistant.

Lightly rake any debris off the lawn and add it to the compost pile. Check for damage and lightly tamp any disturbed areas back in place. Reseed bare spots so grass, not weeds, fill in these spots.

Brush leaves off the crowns of perennials but leave the rest in place for insects that spend winter or summer in the leaf litter. Plus, the leaves help preserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as they break down.

Pull mulch away from tree trunks and shrub crowns that may have shifted over winter. Keeping mulch off the stems reduces the risk of future problems that can lead to decline and even death of the plants.

Leave perennials and grasses stand as long as possible since many are homes for beneficial insects. Bundle grasses for easy cutting and removal. Once cut, loosely stack or stand perennial stems and grasses at the edge of the garden or natural spaces. This allows any insects still present to safely emerge when it’s time to move to their summer homes. Plus, birds will appreciate the easy access to nesting material.

Enjoy the changing of the seasons and the beauty of nature hidden among the plants in your garden. Protect yourself when preparing the garden for spring so you won’t lose time recovering from injuries. And keeping the pollinators and other beneficial insects safe will improve your garden’s health and productivity throughout the growing seasons.

Love was in the air

The introduction for the old time radio show, Grand Central Station, noted that the New York City railway terminal was the “Crossroads of a million private lives! Gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily.” But, the senior advocacy organization reports that there were only two people sharing that stage for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner this year, Macy and Spencer Wise. The couple, married for just two years, won a promotional contest and were regaled with a repast in the middle of the terminal in the middle of the night [it gets too crowded during the day]. The meal was prepared and served by one of the City’s finest restaurants. And, to ensure an air of romance, a pianist served up a medley of classically amorous melodies.

The value of love

Online dating didn’t work out for Jeff Gebhart. The Prairie Village, KS bachelor was pushing 50 years of age when he came up with a new way to find the love of his life. He built a website offering a $25,000 reward for some lucky matchmaker who could set him up with a date with a suitable companion -- a woman with whom he could build a relationship. It is the 21st Century, after all, so why not use technology to find the girl of his dreams.

Valentine’s Day, the German way

Hessian farmer Steffen Schwarz wanted to surprise his fiancé with a marriage proposal and while he was at it, he managed to surprise anyone who uses the Internet. Schwarz planted corn rows in his field in the heart of Germany in a way that when the corn grew it spelled out the words, “willst du mich heiraten” -- will you marry me. He then gave his girlfriend a drone equipped with a camera who flew it over the field. She was, indeed, surprised when she spotted the proposal. So was Schwarz’s aunt, who lives halfway around the world in Canada. She happened to be browsing the Google Earth website and accidentally came across her nephew’s proposal and wasted no time sending him a screenshot.

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5 health benefits of our green spaces

As you get outside this spring, have you ever considered how our green spaces contribute to our health? Studies show that green space and landscaping contribute to health, happiness, and intellect.

It’s natural to long for spring when it’s cold outside. But did you know, there’s a good reason why you may pine for green? Living landscapes are an important part of the outdoor lifestyle that Americans enjoy, but the benefits go beyond the barbeque and backyard baseball. Green spaces are necessary for your health.

“The advantages of grass and landscaping surpass the usual physical benefits that result from outdoor activity,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI). “Numerous studies have found that people who spend more time outside or are exposed to living landscapes are happier, healthier and smarter. As you get ready to get outside this spring with your lawn mower and other outdoor power equipment, it’s great to know being outside is good for you.”

Researchers have studied the impact of nature on human well-being for years, but recent studies have found a more direct correlation between human health, particularly related to stress, and the importance of people’s access to nature and managed landscapes.

Getting dirty is actually good for you. Soil is the new Prozac, according to Dr. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. Mycobacterium vaccae in soil mirrors the effect on neurons that Prozac provides. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening, doing yard work, and have direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier.

Children who are raised on farms in a “dirtier” environment than an urban setting not only have a stronger immune system but are also better able to manage social stress, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Living near living landscapes can improve your mental health. Researchers in England found that people moving to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least three years after they moved. The study also showed that people relocating to a more developed area suffered a drop in mental health.

Greening of vacant urban areas in Philadelphia reduced feelings of depression by 41.5% and reduced poor mental health by 62.8% for those living near the vacant lots, according to a study by a research team.

Green spaces can make you healthier too. People who live within a half mile of green space (such parks, public gardens, and greenways) were found to have a lower incidence of fifteen diseases by Dutch researchers — including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines.

A 2015 study found that people living on streets with more trees had a boost in heart and metabolic health. Studies show that tasks conducted under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Spending time in gardens, for instance, can improve memory performance and attention span by 20%.

Living landscapes make you smarter. Children gain attention and working memory benefits when they are exposed to greenery, says a study led by Payam Dadvand of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, In addition, exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in children.

This applies to adults as well. Research has also shown that being around plants helps you concentrate better at home and at work. Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture believes that spending time in gardens can improve attention span and memory performance by as much as 20 percent.

A National Institute of Health study found that adults demonstrate significant cognitive gains after going on a nature walk. In addition, a Stanford University study found that walking in nature, rather than a concrete-oriented, urban environment, resulted in decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and produced cognitive benefits, such as increased working memory performance.

Living landscapes help you heal faster. Multiple studies have discovered that plants in hospital recovery rooms or views of aesthetically-pleasing gardens help patients heal up to one day faster than those who are in more sterile or austere environments.

Physicians are now prescribing time outdoors for some patients, according to recent reports. Park Rx America is a non-profit with a mission to encourage physicians to prescribe doses of nature.

All of these benefits reinforce the importance of maintaining our yards, parks and other community green spaces. Trees, shrubs, grass, and flowering plants are integral to human health. Not only do they provide a place for kids and pets to play, they directly contribute to our mental and physical well-being.

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9 garden planning tips for the greatest return

By MELINDA MYERS

We’ve all done it…gotten overzealous in spring and overplanted or planted the wrong varieties for our tastes and needs. Make this the year you plan your garden for the best return on your investment.

First, prepare a list before placing your catalog order or making that first trip to the garden center. Without a bit of preplanning our carts end up filled with more seeds and plants than space available or varieties that are not suited to our growing conditions or our family’s taste.

Make sure each plant you select provides the greatest return on investment by including winning varieties with a visit to the All-America Selections (AAS) website (all-americaselections.org). This non-profit trialing organization has test sites across the US and Canada that trial and select winning varieties for their taste and garden performance.

Review your favorite recipes and consider growing the ingredients you need on a regular basis. Salad lovers may want to plant a container of greens that can be harvested daily. Sandy Lettuce and colorful mild flavored Red Kingdom Mizuna are slow to bolt, extending the harvest into warmer months. Add some super nutritious Prizm kale for your morning smoothies and salads. Prizm’s stemless stalks releaf quickly after harvest so you’ll have a continuous supply.

Fill a corner of the garden or container with a small-fruited tomato or two for salads, snacking and other daily treats. Red Celano grape tomato (a determinate for containers) and the light-yellow sweet Firefly tomato (an indeterminate for vertical or staked gardens) are attractive and very productive, ensuring more than enough for your whole family to enjoy.

Add a bit of crunch and color by growing Roxanne radishes. And don’t forget the cucumbers. Green Light cucumbers are seedless, sweet and prolific – great for salads or a refreshing summer drink. Keep a constant supply of these ingredients by making small plantings throughout the season.

Grow several containers of tasty and attractive Delizz strawberries. These everbearing plants will provide a pretty pot of fresh strawberries throughout the summer for your morning oatmeal or afternoon glass of wine.

Plant unusual vegetables you can’t purchase at the grocery store. Roulette pepper has the look and citrusy flavor of a habanero without the heat. And you won’t find anything like Yellow Apple tomato at the store. It has small unique apple-shaped fruit with a citrusy sweet flavor that’s perfect for snacks or stuffing with cheese.

Dedicate some space for those vegetables that are more expensive to buy than grow. Green peppers are a bargain in the summer, but the yellow, orange and red ones can cost two to three times more. Reduce the wait time and increase your enjoyment with early maturing colorful peppers like Orange Blaze or the yellow sweet peppers like Cornito Giallo, Escamillo or Just Sweet.

If you plan to freeze, dry or can your harvest, make sure to reserve some time during harvest season for picking and preserving. Select disease resistant productive varieties like Early Resilience Roma Tomato so you’ll have plenty of produce to preserve.

This is your year to produce a garden filled with just enough family favorites and unusual varieties that are less expensive to grow than buy.

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Know Your Military

Medal of Honor: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Owen Hammerberg

By KATIE LANGE, DOD NEWS

Most Medal of Honor recipients earned the award during combat, but that's not the case for everyone. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg, a boatswain's mate, is one of the few recipients who earned it for his heroic efforts outside of normal duty.

Hammerberg was born May 31, 1920, and grew up on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His family moved around and landed in Flint during Hammerberg's teen years. He dropped out of high school, hitchhiked west and worked on a ranch before joining the Navy on July 16, 1941, when he was 21.

After basic training, Hammerberg was assigned to the USS Idaho and USS Advent. While on the Advent, Hammerberg became known for an incident in which he dove into the water to free a cable that had been tangled in a mine. It could have caused an explosion, but Hammerberg's actions prevented that.

After his heroics in the water, Hammerberg went to Navy dive school. He completed the training and was assigned to Pacific Fleet Salvage Force, Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 1 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The West Loch Disaster

Hammerberg earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on Feb. 17, 1945, but before we get to that, it's important to mention what led to it — an incident known as the West Loch Disaster.

Pearl Harbor's West Loch was an area that had been spared from damage during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attacks. In May 1944, several ships were moored there, all of which were loaded with ammunition and fuel for an upcoming mission in the Pacific. On May 21, one of those ships mysteriously blew up, causing a chain-reaction explosion that set several other ships on fire. The Navy was forced to sink several of them so they didn’t put more nearby ships in danger.

The following February, the Navy called in five dive teams to raise the hulks and clear the channel. Hammerberg and his team were able to raise their assigned ship without any issues, but another team didn't have that luck. As the two divers tunneled under a ship that had sunk in 40 feet of water and 20 feet of mud, they got trapped in steel and cables. Attempts by other divers to reach them made the waters even muddier, so even a special diving team wouldn’t risk the mission.

A Dangerous Rescue

A call for volunteer divers went out, and Hammerberg responded. He pushed his way into the black, muddy waters to find the stranded men, despite serious concerns about cave-ins and jagged pieces of debris tearing his lifeline.

Working in complete darkness, it took Hammerberg five hours to find and free George Fuller, the first of the trapped men. "Fuller, who had been pinned by a steel plate, shook Hammerberg's hand underwater before heading to the surface for safety," congressional records state.

Hammerberg was tired from the effort, but he continued to push his way through the buried wreckage to find the second diver, Earl Brown, whom he located about 18 hours after the rescue mission began. At the same time, though, a cave-in occurred, causing a heavy piece of steel to pin Hammerberg on top of Brown. Hammerberg was crushed to death, but Brown survived because he was protected by Hammerberg's body.

Two days later, a Filipino father-and-son dive team rescued Brown from the murky depths and recovered Hammerberg's body.

Posthumous Honors

For giving his life to save another, Hammerberg received the Medal of Honor. His parents accepted it on his behalf the same month he died. The 23-year-old was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan.

The young diver has not been forgotten. In 1954, the Navy named a destroyer escort, the USS Hammerberg, in his honor. It was christened by his mother. Around the same time, Hammerberg Road was dedicated in Flint, Michigan, and a Detroit park was named for him.

In 2005, a large monument was dedicated for Hammerberg near Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5966 in Menominee, Michigan. The Medal of Honor recipient's medals and uniform are also on display at the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

The West Loch Disaster killed 163 people and injured more than 350. Last year marked the 75th anniversary.

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FORGET ME NOT: 'Gun Five'

By MATT RUSSELL

If you’re ever lucky enough to meet Howard James McCarville, plan on being charmed. Howard, who turns 90 next month, still sports a boyish, playful grin, and his quick wit is sure to bring a smile. And don’t be surprised if he whips out a harmonica from his bib overalls and starts playing a rousing stanza or two of the Marine Corps Hymn.

As a boy growing up in the hills of South Dakota and Missouri, Howard loved to hunt and always wanted a gun he could call his own. Having nine siblings, six of them brothers, plus being born during the Great Depression, his dream of having a gun would have to wait.

Finally, in May of 1953, Howard got his wish. She was a thing of beauty and packed a powerful punch. Weighing in at just over two and a half tons, Howard’s gun could fire a 33 pound, high-explosive round over seven miles with pinpoint accuracy. It was probably a bit large for hunting rabbits, but was the perfect size for the thousands of Marines and soldiers Howard and his gun were protecting.

“Gun Five,” as she was known, was a 105mm howitzer. Both Howard and his gun belonged to Easy Battery, 11th Marines, 2nd Battalion. When Howard arrived in Korea, his Battalion was covering a 35 mile line anchoring the western front. From there, Marines could block the enemy's objective of capturing to Seoul, the South Korean capital. Both sides were dug in hard with daily skirmishes gaining little ground.

One day the enemy launched a massive offensive across the entire front line. They attacked outposts like "Reno," "Vegas" and "Carson" which were called the Nevada Cities Campaign. During the intense fighting, Gun Five was so busy that Howard had to repeatedly pour five-gallon buckets of water down the barrel to keep intense heat from exploding the shells as they were being loaded.

With the help of Howard and Gun Five, the Marines stood their ground. Guns like Howard’s saved a lot of American lives and played a critical role in the Korean War. As one Marine Colonel put it, “Has field artillery ever had a grander hour?" After 15 months of combat, Howard said goodbye to Gun Five and returned home.

Howard and his wife, Wanda, moved to Harrison about 45 years ago where they raised five children, 15 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. After 57 years of marriage, Howard lost Wanda a few years back.

Howard wasn’t the first of his siblings to serve in the Marines. His eldest sister, Margaret, joined the Marine Corps during World War II and served working on weather balloons. She later became a nun and is today over a hundred years old and still goes to church every day. His son Michael and granddaughter Miranda were also Marines, and in 2017, they joined Howard on a “Honor Flight” to Washington D.C. where they visited the Korean War and Marine Corps Memorials.

The booming echoes of Gun Five are now a distant and proud memory of this United States Marine, but Howard still serves his country as an active member of the Boone County Disabled American Veterans (DAV) helping others who served. If you ever notice the DAV in front of Walmart raising money to help veterans, chances are Howard will be there wearing his boyish, playful grin, harmonica at the ready.

Matt Russell is a USMC Vietnam combat veteran and Commander of the Boone County DAV. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent the position of this newspaper, the Disabled American Veterans or any other organization. You can contact Matt at russell1634@gmail.com.

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Boozman recognizes military service of 100-year-old WWII POW

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service and sacrifice of WWII veteran Eustace O. Roberts Jr. “June,” in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.

Roberts was born in Magazine, Arkansas in 1919. As a seventh grader, he quit school so he could work to help his parents support the family. His well-established work ethic undoubtedly helped him endure more than three years as a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese.

During the winter of 1941, when he was taking a pause from his job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he followed a girl to Fort Smith. Instead of gaining a new love interest, he got a new job. “I saw a picture of Uncle Sam,” Roberts said. “I went to the old Goldman Hotel and said can I join the Army?”

He joined the Army on May 8, 1941 in Little Rock and headed to San Francisco days later where he boarded a ship to begin the long journey to his assignment in the 60th Coast Artillery on Corregidor, the largest island in Manila Bay. “I was seasick before I got out from under the Golden Gate Bridge,” Roberts said.

He was trained as an automotive mechanic. “Everything was mostly WWI stuff. Old petrol trucks and old equipment,” Roberts said.

The mission of the 60th was to defend the bay. Roberts and his fellow soldiers valiantly did so at all costs.

“We were playing poker in the parts room and a bomb hit in the back of our building,” Roberts said. He recalled his friend saying it was a test fire, but he knew it was much more severe. “It set off a lot of ammunition. We got all of our trucks out of there.” It earned his friend the nickname “Test Fire Nichols,” and for safeguarding the trucks, Roberts was awarded the Silver Star.

Roberts remembers the battering of Corregidor by the Japanese military following the fall of the Philippines. For nearly a month, Roberts and Allied soldiers were hammered by bombs and artillery. “You get out of your hole or tunnel and go out to relieve yourself and there’s shrapnel be whizzing around everywhere,” he said.

On May 6, the Commander of Allied forces in the Philippines surrendered Corregidor and Roberts and his fellow comrades were taken to a POW camp.

For more than three years, Roberts was known by his POW number, four digits that are still easy for the 100-year-old to remember in both English and Japanese. You had to know it or “they’d beat the hell out of you,” he said.

Roberts was one of 1,619 POWs loaded onto a ship to be transported to a camp in Japan in late 1944. “A lot of them were smothered to death within the first two hours because it was packed too full,” he said. “There were bodies two deep.”

At one point during his captivity he was too weak to work in the coal mines as he was expected to do, so he was reassigned to farm detail. He survived harsh conditions, performing tiring forced work and receiving little food. “I got to be good ole friends with the boys on butchering detail because they’d bring in a bunch of meat all cooked up and get them to give me a little cup,” Roberts said.

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese soldiers abandoned the POW camp. Roberts and fellow POWs, including others from Arkansas, found their way to safety.

“I always thought I was going to make it back home. I always had that in mind,” Roberts said.

In addition to the Silver Star, Roberts also earned the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and other military awards for his selfless sacrifice.

After returning home from the war, Roberts married Glenda Marie Jones. They had four children and were married for 70 years.

“June Roberts lived through unimaginable circumstances as a prisoner of war for more than three years. The accounts of his time as a POW are an important part of his life and our nation’s history. I am pleased to be able to collect and preserve his memories and share with future generations about the horrific events he lived through as a reminder that freedom is not free,” Boozman said.

Boozman will submit Roberts’ entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will Selling Large Asset Affect Wife’s Social Security?

Dear Rusty: If I have reached full retirement age (FRA) and wish to sell a $500,000 asset, will it affect my wife’s Social Security if we file jointly? I have heard that it will affect my Medicare (the amount withheld each month) but she still has three more years before she can receive benefits. Is it better to liquidate assets before she reaches FRA if we will be penalized? Would her Medicare be affected as well as mine? Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning: Only earnings from working can affect Social Security (SS) benefits, so passive income from selling a large asset won’t affect your wife’s future Social Security benefits (nor yours). However, if your “combined income” from all sources (which is your Adjusted Gross Income plus any other non-taxable income you may have, plus 50% of your SS benefits) exceeds certain levels, your Medicare premium will be subject to the Income Related Medicare Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) rule, which will add a supplemental amount to your base Medicare Part B premium. If your combined income (including that sold asset) for the 2020 tax year is between $326,000 and $750,000 then your Medicare premium for 2022 will be at least $462.70 (I say “at least '' because the Medicare Part B premium can increase each year).

The IRMAA premium increases on a sliding scale starting at $174,001 of combined income for a married couple filing jointly ($87,001 for an individual). If you liquidate that large asset this year, it will be reported on your 2020 income tax return which will be filed in 2021. That will mean that your Medicare premium for 2022 will be affected by IRMAA, and so will your wife’s if she has enrolled in Medicare at age 65 in 2021 (which she need not do if she has other “creditable” healthcare coverage through an employer).

So, should you liquidate that large asset before your wife reaches her SS full retirement age? It doesn’t matter for Social Security purposes because that passive income will not affect your wife’s SS benefit. But, if your wife enrolls in Medicare at age 65, her Medicare Part B premium, as well as yours, will be subject to IRMAA and, thus be considerably higher than the standard premium of $144.60 (the amount for 2020). Note that if your combined income for the following year is low enough to reduce your IRMAA premium, the Medicare premium will revert back to the lower level. Medicare typically uses income data from 2 years ago to determine current year premium, so they wouldn’t normally change your IRMAA premium back until they receive your income data for the previous year from the IRS. But, it is possible for you to contact Social Security earlier and provide them with proof that your income is now lower than reported in a previous year (causing the higher IRMAA premium) and they will adjust your Medicare premium sooner than they otherwise might.

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Abandoned at birth

When a mom leaves a newborn on a stranger’s doorstep one can only guess the reasons why. But Cornelius Williams of Camden County, North Carolina, can’t even begin to fathom why a pair of newborn bear cubs were left on his doorstep in a box. Fear not. The cubs are now in the capable care of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

A maelstrom of mail

Talk about being overwhelmed with junk mail. In fact, the post office in Twinsburg, Ohio, told local resident Dan Cain recently that he would have to pick up his mail, which included 55,000 identical student loan statements. Dan and his wife had taken out the loan for their daughter. The loan company says that somehow a glitch in its processing system caused the posting of the astounding number of duplicates. To make matters worse, the statement was incorrect and the company said they would make a correction and send Dan a new statement. Hopefully, they will have fixed their processing system, as well.

Sexagenarian seafarers

Senior citizens are living longer and healthier lives these days. Take the four-man team calling themselves the “Ancient Mariners.” They crossed the Atlantic in a rowboat and in what may be a record 49 days, 8 hours and 40 minutes. Together 67 year old Guy Munnoch, Mike Winn, 64, John Moorhouse, 63, and Steve Hughes, 61 figure they put in a combined total of 1.5 million strokes between the Canary Islands and English Harbor, Antigua.

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Increase indoor garden success with proper watering

By MELINDA MYERS

Too much of a good thing can mean death for indoor plants. Overwatering is a good example of this and a common problem for indoor gardeners. For others it’s the opposite extreme, allowing plants to go too dry. Knowing when to water your indoor plants can increase gardening success and eliminate the stress of uncertainty.

The first step is to throw away your watering schedule. Start watering plants based on their individual need not the date on the calendar. Consider the type of plant, container material and size as well as other growing conditions.

Get to know your plants by checking the plant tag, online resources and books. Those native to tropical climates or wet soils such as peace lily, baby tears and papyrus prefer moist soil. Plants from drier locations like cacti, succulents, Chinese evergreens, ponytail palm and snake plants do best when the soil dries between watering.

Evaluate the indoor growing conditions. Plants located in bright light and warm homes where the humidity is low lose moisture faster and need more frequent watering. Cooler homes, higher humidity and lower light conditions mean longer stretches between watering plants.

Adjust watering as the seasons change. Shorter, often gray days of winter mean plants dry out more slowly. When the heat and air conditioner are turned on, the humidity level drops and plants dry out more quickly. Plus, many plants rest in winter and prefer drier soil.

Check plants growing in small pots, breathable terra cotta containers and fast draining growing mixes more often and water as needed. Plants growing in larger containers and those made of plastic, glazed ceramic and similar materials dry out more slowly.

Use your finger to determine when plants need to be watered. Stick your finger an inch or so below the soil surface of small pots. You’ll need to go a finger length deep for larger containers. And for succulents and cacti feel the soil through the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. Water thoroughly until the excess runs out the drainage holes as needed.

Extend the time between watering with self-watering pots and watering aids. These have reservoirs that slowly provide water to plants over time. Or amend the soil with a moisture-retaining product like wool pellets (wildvalleyfarms.com). This organic and sustainable product holds 20% of its weight in water and slowly releases it into the soil when needed. The wetting agents in most potting mixes lose effectiveness after a month or two. These pellets continue working long after this, so you’ll be watering less often.

Make watering easy, so it feels like an opportunity to enjoy each individual plant instead of a chore. Use a watering can with a long narrow spout, making it easy to apply water over the entire soil surface and under the leaves and crown of the plant. This reduces the risk of disease that can occur when the top growth remains wet.

Set plants on saucers or trays filled with pebbles. The excess water collects in the tray and the pebbles elevate the container above the water. This eliminates the need to empty the water that collects and remains in the saucer for more than thirty minutes.

With more experience watering indoor plants, it will become second nature. That means you’ll have more time and opportunity to enjoy and even expand your indoor garden.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Why Did My Social Security Payment Go Down?

Dear Rusty: Upon reading a magazine article about the 2020 COLA increase, I thought I’d share the following: Like others, I received the 1.6% raise in my Social Security benefit. However, after their manipulations with Medicare, the net result was a reduction of $124 in my Social Security payment. I can’t afford their “raise.” I now pay double for Medicare! Signed: Disgusted

Dear Disgusted: Actually, Social Security and Medicare are two totally separate and financially independent programs, but the Social Security Administration handles enrollment and premium payments on behalf of CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). For 2020, your gross Social Security benefit went up by 1.6% as a result of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), but at the same time the standard Medicare Part B premium went up by $9.10 to $144.60 per month. Most Medicare beneficiaries pay the standard premium amount.

If your Medicare Part B premium is deducted from your Social Security benefit you would normally be protected by a provision known as "Hold Harmless," which prevents your Social Security payment from decreasing as a result of an increase in the standard Medicare Part B premium. But if you have any change (other than a COLA increase) to your Social Security benefit amount, or if you pay an "IRMAA" surcharge on your Medicare Part B premium, the "hold harmless" provision doesn't apply to you. In either of those cases your net Social Security payment could go down as a result of an increase in your Medicare Part B premium.

"IRMAA" is Medicare's "Income Related Medicare Adjustment Amount" which is a surcharge assessed on Medicare Part B (and Part D) premiums for those with higher incomes (the surcharge varies depending upon your IRS filing status and income level). I suspect that you are suddenly subject to IRMAA because of a sudden increase in your income and the 1.6% COLA increase to your Social Security was applied to your new Medicare premium. That, however, fell short of covering your entire IRMAA Medicare premium increase and, since you’re not protected by the Hold Harmless provision, the remainder was taken from your Social Security benefit.

Most Medicare enrollees pay the standard Part B premium ($144.60 for 2020) and are protected by the hold harmless provision from a decrease in their Social Security payment. But higher earning Medicare beneficiaries are affected by IRMAA, and I believe that is what happened in your case, especially because you say you suddenly "pay double" for Medicare. This might typically happen if you took a large one-time distribution from a tax-advantage investment, or received some other form of significant, but temporary, income. The good news is that if your premium doubled because you had a temporary increase in your income in one year, the Medicare premium increase will also be temporary, and you will automatically revert back to the lower premium the following year.

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Tales from the FBI

Murder and Mayhem in the Osage Hills

In May 1921, the badly decomposed body of Anna Brown—an Osage Native American—was found in a remote ravine in northern Oklahoma.

Anna BrownThe undertaker later discovered a bullet hole in the back of her head. Anna had no known enemies, and the case went unsolved.

That might have been the end of it, but...just two months later, Anna's mother—Lizzie Q—suspiciously died. Two years later, her cousin Henry Roan was shot to death. Then, in March 1923, Anna's sister and brother-in-law were killed when their home was bombed.

One by one, at least two dozen people in the area inexplicably turned up dead. Not just Osage Indians, but a well known oilman and others.

What did they all have in common? Who was behind all the murders?

That's what the terrorized community wanted to find out. But a slew of private detectives and other investigators turned up nothing (and some were deliberately trying to sidetrack honest efforts). The Osage Tribal Council turned to the federal government, and Bureau agents were detailed to the case.

Early on, all fingers pointed at William Hale (pictured below), the so-called "King of the Osage Hills." A local cattleman, Hale had bribed, intimidated, lied, and stolen his way to wealth and power. He grew even greedier in the late 1800s when oil was discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation. Almost overnight, the Osage became incredibly wealthy, earning royalties from oil sales through their federally mandated "head rights."

Hale's connection to Anna Brown's family was clear. His weak-willed nephew, Ernest Burkhart, was married to Anna's sister. If Anna, her mother, and two sisters died—in that order—all of the "head rights" would pass to the nephew...and Hale could take control. The prize? Half a million dollars a year or more.

Solving the case was another matter. The locals weren't talking. Hale had threatened or paid off many of them; the rest had grown distrustful of outsiders. Hale also planted false leads that sent our agents scurrying across the southwest.

So four agents got creative. They went undercover as an insurance salesman, cattle buyer, oil prospector, and herbal doctor to turn up evidence. Over time, they gained the trust of the Osage and built a case. Finally, the nephew talked. Then others confessed. The agents were able to prove that Hale ordered the murders of Anna and her family to inherit their oil rights...cousin Roan for the insurance...and others who had threatened to expose him.

In January 1929, Hale was convicted and sent to the slammer. His henchmen—including a hired killer and crooked lawyer—also got time.

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History Matters

Courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On February 15, 1898, the U.S. battleship, Maine, blew up, and sank in Havana Harbor. Two hundred sixty of the nearly 400 American soldiers aboard perished. The ship had been dispatched to protect U.S. interests during a time when Spanish rule was being challenged by Cuban rebels. A U.S. Naval Court ruled that a mine had caused the explosion. The aftermath of rage connected to the incident, and the suppression of the Cuban freedom fighters escalated into war.

Seventy-eight years later, naval investigators revamped their conclusion: the disastrous explosion was not from a mine; it was likely caused by an on-board fire which ignited a stockpile of ammunition.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Sinking of the USS Maine: Declaring War Against Spain by Samuel Willard Crompton.

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and America was pulled into World War ll. Two months later, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which required all Americans of Japanese descent living on the Pacific Coast, to report for mandatory relocation to a detainment camp.

The prisoners were not released until December 17, 1944.

For more information about the controversial decision, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Monica Hesse’s novel, The War Outside.

America’s first spaceship was Friendship 7; John Glenn was the first astronaut to experience the void of space. He was launched into orbit February 20, 1962, circled the planet three times, and returned to earth approximately five hours later.

America became quite taken with Glenn, and his six Project Mercury compatriots, and, soon, President John F. Kennedy was moved to “promise” a U.S. moon landing within a decade.

Seven years later-- on July 20, 1969-- NASA’s Apollo 11 spacecraft entered lunar orbit with Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and "Buzz" Aldrin. Armstrong boarded his Lunar Module, the Eagle, and the country watched, transfixed, as he became the first man—ever-- to set foot on the moon.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves by NASA’s seven original astronauts: John H. Glenn, M. Scott Carpenter, Gordon L. Cooper, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Alan B. Shepard, Donald K. Slayton.

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Get kids access to dental care

Protecting children’s teeth may be easier—and more important—than many parents realize.

Here’s something many parents may be surprised to learn: tooth decay is the most common preventable chronic disease among children in the United States.

The Problem

If left untreated, it can hurt more than your kid’s mouth. Your child’s physical and social development—as well as his or her school performance—can also be affected. More than 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related illness. Kids with healthy teeth have fewer sick days and less distractions from learning.

The Good News

Parents may be surprised to find that getting their child’s teeth checked is easier and less expensive than they think. Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), essential health care services like preventative care and dental health are covered. For more than 20 years, CHIP has been instrumental in reducing the number of uninsured children to historic lows. Medicaid and CHIP cover more than one-third of all children in the U.S. and have helped insure 95 percent of the nation’s children—an estimated 35.5 million currently are covered.

How It Works

Dental coverage includes access to regular check-ups, x-rays, fluoride treatments, dental sealants, fillings and more.

Parents can look online to see whether their children are eligible. In most states, children and teens up to age 19 can enroll. Depending on income, many families qualify for free or low-cost health coverage. In general, children and teens in a family of four earning up to $50,000 a year—and in some places more—may qualify for Medicaid and CHIP.

Children and teens can stay covered for as long as they qualify. Families can enroll at any time of the year, but need to renew coverage each year.

More Good News

Even if your application for Medicaid and CHIP has been denied before, you and your children may now be eligible. Parents may qualify for Medicaid as well, but you don’t have to be eligible for your child to get coverage.

Who Can Help

More kids can be covered with the help of Medicaid and CHIP. With that as the goal, the Connecting Kids to Coverage National Campaign, a national outreach and enrollment initiative, informs families with children and teens about Medicaid and CHIP eligibility. Families enroll through their states. Call 1-877-KIDS-NOW or visit InsureKidsNow.gov to be connected to program offices in your state.

Learn More

For more information and to see eligibility requirements, visit www.InsureKidsNow.gov.

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Protect yourself from Social Security scams

If you get a threatening call from someone saying they are from ­Social Security, it is from a scammer.

Calls and e-mails from scammers pretending to be government employees are widespread. Social Security phone scams are the #1 scam reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Chances are you, a friend, or a family member have received a call like this.

You don’t have to be receiving benefits to become a victim. You may get a call saying there is a problem with your Social Security number or account. Everyone, regardless of age, income, and geography, is at risk. Scammers will try to scare and trick you into giving them your personal information or money.

Is It A Scam?

The best way to protect yourself and your money is to recognize a scam. Scammers use intimidating language and often offer a “solution” to fix what they say is a serious problem with your Social Security number or account. How can you tell when it’s a scam? Social Security will not:

• Say your Social Security number has been suspended.

• Promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information.

• Call to demand an immediate payment.

• Insist you pay a debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

• Require payment by retail gift card, pre-paid debit card, Internet currency, wire transfer, or by mailing cash.

• Ask for your personal information.

Scammers prey on your fears. The stories they tell you would scare anyone. No matter how horrible the story, if they do anything above, it’s a scam.

What Should You Do?

If you receive a suspicious call, the safest thing for you to do is:

1. Hang up!

2. Don’t share personal information or make a payment.

3. Report the scam to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General at https://oig.ssa.gov.

And, if you receive such threats via e-mail, delete the e-mail and do not click on any links or download any attachments. Even if the e-mail or an attachment contains Social Security’s seal or names of real people, ignore it. Then, report the scam.

Other Tips

How about if Social Security needs to contact you? Generally, they will mail you a letter and only contact you by phone if you have requested a call or have ongoing business with them.

Usually, Social Security will mail you a letter that contains telephone numbers for contacting them. You can also contact Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting SSA.gov.

Scammers are always looking for the next way to trick someone. No matter how someone might try to scam you, learning the warning signs shared here can go a long way to protecting yourself and someone you care about from identify theft and financial loss.

If you think you have been scammed, don’t be embarrassed. Report the scam to Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General at https://oig.ssa.gov and share this important information with your family and friends.

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How to save time and money this tax season

By GLINDA BRIDGFORTH

Tax season is upon us, and you should have received all the documents needed to file your taxes and (hopefully) get a refund. To help reduce the stress that comes with filing taxes, Glinda Bridgforth, a leading financial expert who explores the emotional and cultural factors that block financial success, identifies a few ways to save time and money this tax season:

1. Get organized. Whether you visit a tax professional or do it yourself, gather all documents ahead of time, such as your employer W-2s and any 1099 forms you may receive for interest income, retirement plans, or gig work such as driving for Uber. Don’t forget to check your online accounts where you might need to download tax documents.

“Avoid the panic and stress that comes from disorganization,” says Bridgforth. “Also, look at last year’s return, which can serve as a good guide.”

2. Start (and finish) early. Don’t wait until April. Starting the process early will let you get organized, and have more time if you need it. Filing early will not only help you get your refund faster, it may also help you avoid tax-related identity theft since you will already have filed using your own Social Security number before someone else tries to. Speaking of identity theft…

3. Watch out for scams. Where there’s money there’s a con, and criminals have become very good at exploiting tax season. Be wary of threatening phone calls from “IRS agents” and phishing e-mails “from the IRS” seeking your personal information. Also, while all tax preparers and DIY websites aim to minimize taxes and maximize refunds, beware of promises for more than your fair share. Unscrupulous “tax preparers” entice unsuspecting taxpayers with hopes of a high refund, only for them to lose it all. The IRS just launched “Identity Theft Central” (IRS.gov/identitytheft) to help taxpayers report identity theft and learn how to protect themselves against crimes.

4. Get all your tax breaks. Did you get married? Have children? Change jobs? Take all the deductions you deserve.

“Even if nothing has changed in your life, you may have missed credits in the past that you’re entitled to,” notes Bridgforth. “For example, according to the IRS, one in every five eligible workers fails to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).”

If you find out you qualify for the EITC this year and didn’t claim it in the past, you can even file amended returns for 2016, 2017, or 2018. The IRS provides a wealth of this type of information online at IRS.gov/eitc.

5. Look for tax prep discounts and promotions, then use direct deposit. The full service tax prep companies, as well as the DIY websites, are competing for your business, so be sure to shop around and look for coupons or rebates to find the best deal. Many free options are also available to those who qualify. Just go to IRS.gov/freefile to check eligibility.

And for the fastest and most secure delivery of your tax refund, opt for direct deposit instead of a check.

“If you don’t have or don’t qualify for a traditional branch bank account, there are new digital options to consider,” says Bridgforth. “Several FDIC-insured digital bank accounts and prepaid debit cards are available to open online or on your mobile phone, such as Green Dot Bank’s Unlimited Cash Back Bank Account, or Intuit’s Turbo Card prepaid debit card for those who use TurboTax.”

In addition, if you direct deposit your federal tax refund into your Green Dot account, not only will you get it faster, you’ll be entered in the Green Dot Extreme Tax Sweepstakes for a chance to win one of fifty $1,000 prizes. Details and official rules can be found at greendot.com/ExtremeTax.

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Protecting your ability to drive safely for as long as possible

It may be the safest, wisest course to get help with your driving before you have to give it up.

Driving a car means maintaining independence for many older adults. Driving allows you to shop, see friends and family, keep up with medical appointments, and avoid social isolation. But sometimes staying safe behind the wheel as you age can be a challenge.

Age-related physical and mental changes can affect your ability to drive safely. If you’re alert to these changes and manage them carefully, you may be able to continue driving safely for some time.

To keep your skills as sharp as possible, consider following these suggestions from experts at the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), healthcare professionals dedicated to improving the health, independence, and quality of life of older people:

Check your eyesight to keep it as sharp as possible by getting a complete annual eye exam once you turn 60. Test yourself to monitor your vision:

• Do you have problems reading street signs?

• Are you having difficulty seeing road or pavement markings, curbs, or other vehicles or pedestrians, especially at dawn, dusk, and nighttime?

• Is glare from oncoming headlights making it hard to see when driving at night?

Assess your physical fitness to drive by asking yourself:

• Can I comfortably turn my neck to see over my shoulder when I change lanes?

• Can I easily move my foot from the gas pedal to the brake? Can I easily turn the steering wheel?

• During the past year, have I fallen one or more times?

• Do I regularly walk more than a block a day?

• Can I raise my arms above my shoulders?

Perform a reality check on your attention span and reaction time:

• Are you overwhelmed by signs, traffic signals, and car and pedestrian traffic, especially at busy intersections?

• Does it seem harder to merge into traffic on the highway?

• Do you take any medications that make you sleepy, dizzy, or confused?

• Do you feel less confident about driving at highway speeds?

• Do you react slowly to cars entering your roadway, or to cars that have slowed or stopped in front of you?

Pay attention to changes and warnings:

• Have friends or family members expressed worries about your driving?

• Have you ever gotten lost on familiar routes or forgotten how to get to familiar destinations?

• Has a police officer pulled you over to warn you about your driving?

• Have you been ticketed for your driving, had a near miss, or a crash in the last three years?

• Has your healthcare provider warned you to restrict or stop driving?

Consider Getting a Professional Driving Assessment

If you’ve experienced driving problems like these or are worried about your ability to be a safe driver, consider getting a professional assessment of your skills.

Occupational therapists trained as driving rehabilitation specialists can evaluate your driving skills and strengths, as well as any physical, visual, and cognitive challenges you may face. They can also evaluate your ability to operate a vehicle safely and, if needed, recommend ways to reduce your risks.

Driving rehabilitation specialists are trained to evaluate older drivers for:

• Muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion

• Coordination and reaction time

• Judgment and decision-making skills

• Ability to drive with special devices that adapt your vehicle to your needs

The specialist may recommend ways for you to drive more safely after the evaluation. Suggestions may include getting special equipment for your car or helping you sharpen your skills.

Not sure how to find a driving rehabilitation specialist? Talk to your healthcare provider or contact the American Occupational Therapy Association for a directory. You can also visit the AGS’s public education website, https://www.healthinaging.org/driving-safety, for more safe driving resources for older adults and caregivers.

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Reading potpourri

“Behind Every Lie” by Christina McDonald

If you can’t remember it, how do you prove you didn’t do it?

Eva Hansen wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and discovers her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva was found unconscious down the street. She can’t remember what happened, but the police are highly suspicious of her.

As Eva unravels her mother’s carefully held secrets, she soon realizes someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. And with violent memories beginning to emerge, Eva doesn’t know whom to trust.

McDonald has crafted another “complex, emotionally intense” domestic thriller, told in alternating perspectives from Eva’s search for answers and Kat’s mysterious past. It’s an excellent choice for fans of Lisa Jewell’s “I Found You” and Karin Slaughter’s “Pieces of Her.” From Gallery Books, purchase at http://bit.ly/36TGAE4.

“Faith on Fire” by Deborah Curtin

This book engulfs the reader in a turbulent time in American history where no one ever really knows who is friend or foe. Robert makes a daring rescue of his brother after the family receives his cryptic letter from the respite home. Many unanswered questions lead to strife and a discord between his mother and father.

As the Civil War begins, Robert is determined to do his part. When he fails, he questions his luck. He then realizes his father, in underhanded ways, is steering Robert’s life choices. Laced with spies, secret messages, gritty players, and split loyalties, the book is a captivating depiction of a family and the consequences of war, with characters wrestling with morality. Purchase at http://bit.ly/2qDQ72i.

“The Key Skill of All Skills: Learn How to Learn” By David Myers

A must for anyone seeking career, education, or personal life betterment. Everything you read continually puts anything you don’t understand in perspective with what you already know. That’s the active ingredient. Using the right anecdotes and analogies at the right times is trickier than it looks. When you acquire and master that key skill featured here, you retain and use information better, are more productive, may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease unless genetically predisposed, and perhaps even alleviate other disorders. This book isn’t just education, business, or personal growth training; it makes everything you’ve learned and experienced work better for you. Something for the whole family. Purchase at https://amzn.to/2O5q1yh.

“Epic Solitude: A Story of Survival and a Quest for Meaning in the Far North” by Katherine Keith

After fleeing her life in Minnesota as a young adult for an idyllic and rustic existence in Alaska, and then suffering the loss of her husband and infant daughter in the Far North, Keith’s quest for healing and meaning began. While independently raising her second daughter, Keith found the solace she sought in athleticism and solitude as a competitive dog-musher traversing thousands of miles of Alaska’s tundra.

This powerful and touching story of one woman fighting her way out of trauma into freedom is excellent for fans of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and John Krakauer’s “Into the Wild.” From Blackstone Publishing, purchase at https://amzn.to/39SeD1F.

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What makes a school great

To find the best school for your child, you first need to know what choices are available to you.

Great learning environments elude easy definitions. They come in all different shapes—traditional public schools, public magnet schools, public charter schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling programs. Perhaps the best definition is this: A great school is one in which students are academically challenged, equipped to be a good citizens and persons, and inspired to greatness.

Because children are different, you can best find a great school for your child when you have diverse options to consider. That could mean open enrollment in a public school outside of your “zone” so your child stays connected with an important peer group. It could mean a charter school focusing on classical education or a magnet school that lets students shadow medical professionals. Maybe it’s learning at an accelerated pace at home or through online coursework, or in a private school that shares your values.

It’s parents who really decide whether a school is good or even great, based on their children’s needs and interests. What might be an excellent learning environment for one child might not be a good fit for another.

That’s one reason National School Choice Week, Jan. 26 through Feb 1, 2020, is important. It raises awareness among parents of their K-12 education options. It’s celebrated by teachers, school leaders, parents, students, and community leaders at 50,000 events and activities.

This National School Choice Week, I encourage all families to explore their education options. You can start, and discover the choices available to you, at www.schoolchoiceweek.com/mystate/.

• Mr. Campanella is president of National School Choice Week and the author of “The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child.”

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Five to-do's to take your basement from unlivable to lovable

Look up “basement” in the dictionary and you’ll see cellar, vault—even crypt. But with a little effort and some design flair you can make your basement come alive—and reclaim valuable living space.

Create the workout room you always wanted. A dramatic home theater. Or a spacious office, playroom or craft area. If you can re-imagine your basement, you can remodel it. Here are hints on how:

1. Make a plan: An accurate floor plan will help you visualize the end result—especially if you’re dividing rooms, adding a pool table, a large sectional or a projector and theater seating.

Dozens of design apps can help you create a virtual, 3D floor plan. A few to consider: Home Designer Suite, Sweet Home 3D, Home Design 3D and Google Sketchup.

Check to see if you’ll need a permit for improvements.

2. Banish water: Does your basement pass the smell test? If your lower level has moisture problems, your nose will know.

Besides a musty smell, moisture leaves other clues: dark, saturated concrete block walls, flaking paint or condensation. Consult a basement waterproofing contractor if you have any concerns before you begin remodeling.

3. Elevate your ceiling style: Stained or sagging ceilings also point to excess moisture. Identify the cause and make repairs. Then replace the old ceiling with coffered ceiling tiles. With the look of sunken panels, they add depth and distinction. Some of Armstrong Ceilings’ coffered options resist moisture and mold and stand up to humidity.

Like the look of wood? Check out Armstrong WoodHaven Ceiling Planks. They’re available in a variety of finishes, although WoodHaven Classic White planks is the DIY favorite. These wood-look ceiling planks can install over drywall, plaster or joists and can even cover an existing drop ceiling grid.

4. Beautify floors and walls: Beautiful, versatile flooring options are abundant today. Before you choose, think about how you’ll use the space. Consider structural issues, too.

Creating a playroom or cozy retreat? If moisture isn’t a worry, add warmth and softness underfoot with carpeting or an area rug.

If your sub-floor is smooth and even, vinyl is hard to beat. Whether in tile, sheet or plank form, the styles are versatile and the material is water-resistant or waterproof.

If you’re adding a basement gym, consider rubber interlocking tiles. They absorb shock and you can install them yourself.

You’ll discover abundant wall-covering options, too—such as wainscoting, paneling and beadboard. Subtle grass cloth wallpapers add sophistication. Peel-and-stick cork wall tiles create design interest and absorb sound.

Whatever your choice, be sure to waterproof the walls before you cover them.

5. Make a statement: Once you’ve landed on the look you love—whether it’s traditional, farmhouse or mid-century modern—personalize your décor to make it your own.

Display cubes or built-in shelving with lighting are great options for showing off your trophies, baskets, pottery or collectibles. For color and warmth, mix and match a variety of pillows and plush throws.

To personalize your walls—without making a permanent design commitment—consider wall decals. Their elegant patterns and bold images add instant interest. You can even make your mark with an inspiring, oversized quote.

Use every type of lighting—general, task and accent—to bring your basement out of the shadows. Mirrors are another great way to add light—and the illusion of space.

DIYers have never had more versatile design tools and materials to choose from. So don’t let your lower level go unloved and unused any longer. Let the transformation begin.

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Discuss healthy, unhealthy relationship behaviors with youth to combat teen dating violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month and is a good time for teenagers and their parents to talk about healthy and unhealthy behaviors in a relationship, Dr. Janette Wheat, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) associate professor and Cooperative Extension Program human development specialist, said. Teen dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.

Teen dating violence (TDV) is a type of intimate partner violence that occurs between two people in a close relationship, Dr. Wheat said. It can be physical, emotional or sexual and can include stalking.

TDV can occur in person or electronically via texting, social media and other online applications. When it occurs electronically, this type of violence can include repeated texting or posting sexual pictures of a partner online without consent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TDV includes four types of behavior:

• Physical violence – when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking or using another type of physical force.

• Sexual violence – forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching or a non-physical sexual event such as sexting when the partner does not or cannot consent.

• Psychological aggression – the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.

• Stalking – a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.

“Teens often think some behaviors such as teasing and name-calling, are a ‘normal’ part of a relationship – but these behaviors can become abusive and develop into serious forms of violence,” Dr. Wheat said. “Many teens do not report unhealthy behaviors because they are afraid to tell family and friends.”

Dating violence is common and affects millions of teens in the U.S. each year. According to a recent national CDC survey, 8 percent of high school students reported physical violence, and 7 percent reported they experienced sexual violence from a dating partner within the last year.

Data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicate:

• Nearly one in 11 female high school students and approximately one in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.

• About one in nine female students and one in 36 male students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.

• Twenty-six percent of women and 15 percent of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18.

• The burden of TDV is not shared equally across all groups. Sexual minority groups are affected by all forms of violence to a much greater degree. Some racial/ethnic minority groups are more commonly affected by many types of violence.

Dr. Wheat said unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. According to the CDC, teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college and into adulthood.

“Victims of TDV are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Dr. Wheat said. “They might also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco, drug and alcohol use, and they might exhibit antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying or hitting. Some victims also have suicidal thoughts.”

Supporting the development of healthy, respectful and nonviolent relationships has the potential to reduce the occurrence of TDV and prevent its harmful and long-lasting effects on individuals, their families and the communities where they live, Dr. Wheat said.

“It is critical for youth to begin learning the skills needed to create and maintain healthy relationships during the pre-teen and teen years,” she said. “These skills include things like how to manage feelings and how to communicate in a healthy way.”

The CDC developed “Dating Matters®: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships” to stop teen dating violence before it starts. The program focuses on youth, 11-14 years old, and includes multiple prevention components for individuals, peers, families, schools and neighborhoods. All the components work together to reinforce healthy relationship messages and reduce behaviors that increase the risk of dating violence.

The CDC’s Dating Matters program and a technical package on preventing intimate partner violence can be accessed online at www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence. Other website resources include articles, publications, data sources and prevention materials.

“Teaching healthy relationship skills and changing norms about violence can help prevent teen dating violence,” Dr. Wheat said. “Talk to teens now about the importance of developing healthy, respectful relationships.”

ATM? No, APM

A London chain of drinking establishments opened a new pub, known as the Vagabond, in a building that used to be a bank. The owners apparently decided that the ATM out front gave the saloon a unique look and so they kept it where it stood. But, instead of dispensing cash, they rigged it so that it would dispense, Proseco, a sparkling Italian white wine, thus converting the ATM into what may be the very first Automated Proseco Machine or APM.

No parking, no kidding

There’s a reason there are “no parking” signs in front of a fire hydrant. It’s self-evident to most drivers, but one driver in Camden, NJ had to learn it the hard way. No, he or she did not just get a ticket. Instead, firefighters responding to a call simply broke both the passenger’s side and driver’s side windows and ran their hose through the car in order to deal with a nearby blaze.

As the worm turns

Tapeworms usually attach themselves to the body’s intestines and cause abdominal pain but one of these critters somehow made its way into the brain of a man in Austin, TX and he suffered from recurrent headaches. Surgeons at Ascension Seton Medical Center operated and removed the worm and the man is now on the mend. Doctors there believe that the patient may have ingested the tapeworm ten years ago in Mexico. The condition, which is known as Neurocysticercosis, is not so common in the U.S. but it is a “frequent” diagnosis in developing countries, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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House Call

By Dr. Daniel Knight

UAMS

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

Q. What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Arthritis is a degenerative disease involving inflammation in and near joints. It occurs when the cartilage — a rubbery material comprised of water and a gel-like substance covering ends of bones — wears down, leading to joint deformities. Cartilage reduces friction in joints, working as a shock absorber. Once worn down, its ability is impaired and eventually, the bone erodes.

Early treatment is important since joint damage usually occurs within the first two years of diagnosis. Maintaining adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D helps reduce bone loss.

Osteoarthritis develops with age or after an injury, with postmenopausal women more at risk. Symptoms develop gradually over several months or years. There is no cure, but treatments include oral anti-inflammatory or topical pain medicine, steroid injections, physical therapy or surgery.

Rheumatoid arthritis, also more common in women, is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system overreacts, attacking its joints. It usually appears in those aged 20 to 50 and occurs in joints on both sides of the body, such as in both knees, helping to distinguish it. A blood test identifying certain proteins accompanying rheumatoid arthritis also helps in diagnosing it.

Q. What causes a bone spur and how is it treated?

A. The small hard bumps or extra bone that form on the ends of bones, often appear in joints where two bones meet. Bone spurs can appear on hands, shoulders, neck, spine, hips, knees or heels.

They often form when the body creates additional bone in an attempt to repair an injury. The most common cause is damage from degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis when cushioning between joints and bones wear down. When the spur presses on nerves or tendons, symptoms may include pain, stiffness when trying to bend or move the effected joint, weakness, numbness or tingling. A physician will examine the joint for a bump and may order an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatment may include over-the-counter pain relievers, steroid shots, rest or physical therapy. In some cases, surgery to remove the extra bone may be required.

Bone spurs caused by natural wear and tear may be unavoidable, but some types may be prevented by wearing shoes with a wide toe box and good arch support, following a healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D, performing regular weight-bearing exercises, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Q. Do weighted blankets work?

A. Some believe the blankets lower anxiety and stress through continuous, gentle pressure applied all over the body. For years, occupational therapists have used deep pressure stimulation to help calm children with autism spectrum disorders.

Weighted blankets, filled with plastic or glass pellets, range from five to 30 pounds. Manufacturers recommend adults use one that is 10% of their body weight. Weighted blankets should be kept away from babies, toddlers, and small pets to avoid becoming trapped underneath.

Studies of the blankets’ effectiveness are not plentiful. One study of 32 adults lying under a 30-pound blanket for five minutes concluded 63% of its participants reported less anxiety, measured through blood pressure, pulse rate, amount of oxygen in the blood, electrical properties of the skin known as electrodermal activity, and a questionnaire assessing temporary and continuous anxiety. Another study of 30 people hospitalized for a mental health crisis concluded 60% reported lower anxiety after using one.

If the blankets work, it may be because they redirect focus from the anxiety to the sensation of the blanket. Those with ongoing anxiety issues should consult with a mental health professional to develop a long-term plan for controlling anxiety and handling stress.

Q. What is prediabetes, what are some symptoms, and is there anything I can do to prevent it?

A. Prediabetes means the blood sugar is higher than normal but is not yet high enough to be type 2 diabetes. The risk factors for developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are the same and according to research, most people who have prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. Type 2 diabetes brings with it risks of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, amputations and blindness.

However, prediabetes does not have to lead to type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes, including eating healthier, increasing exercise, losing excess weight, and controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, can return blood sugar to a normal level. Prediabetes can also affect children, and the same lifestyle changes may also help improve a child’s blood sugar levels.

While prediabetes has no warning signs, symptoms of type 2 diabetes include increased urination and thirst, fatigue and blurred vision.

Those who are concerned about diabetes, notice any symptoms, or are at an increased risk for the disease should ask their physician about taking a blood glucose screening.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Capt. Raymond Murphy

BY KATIE LANGE

DOD News

This Medal of Honor recipient is Marine Corps Capt. Raymond Murphy, a recipient who honorably served his fellow Marines during war, then spent the rest of his life serving them, as well.

Murphy was born Jan. 14, 1930, in Pueblo, Colorado. He had three brothers and a sister and said he loved to play sports growing up. He was finishing his bachelor's degree in 1950 when the Korean War broke out.

Toward the end of his senior year, the draft was becoming more of a concern, so Murphy got advice from two of his older brothers — both of whom had already served. He decided he would try to become an officer, so he joined the Marine Corps after graduation and earned his commission.

Murphy was placed in Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. It wasn't long before he was sent to Korea, where he earned the Silver Star while commanding an infantry platoon in Seoul in late 1952.

On Feb. 3, 1953, Murphy earned the Medal of Honor by taking charge when several of his superiors went down. On that day, Murphy's company was positioned near the Imjin River, and their mission was to keep Chinese communist troops from getting a foothold on the hill. Murphy, a second lieutenant at the time, was commanding a reserve platoon that was positioned to help wounded men from the two forward-fighting platoons.

Quickly, Murphy realized something was wrong when there were no wounded men coming back to them. He decided to move his platoon up to see what was going on. As they got closer to the front line, he realized that all of the forward platoons' officers and noncommissioned officers were dead or seriously wounded. The lack of leadership caused mass confusion among the remaining ranks.

Murphy immediately took command, ordering his platoon to find their comrades and evacuate the area despite the heavy machine-gun fire raging around them. Murphy himself was seriously wounded by fragments from a mortar shell, but he refused help and continued to lead his men up the hill to find more pinned-down Marines. Murphy made several trips up and down the hill as it was blanketed by enemy fire, directing evacuation teams to the wounded and carrying several injured men to safety.

Murphy ordered part of his unit to help the attack platoons when they needed reinforcements. He took out two enemy combatants with his own pistol.

When all the wounded were evacuated, the assault platoons started to move down the hill. Although injured, Murphy stayed behind to cover their backs, fending off enemies who reappeared in the trenches with a carbine and an automatic rifle.

Once Murphy got to the hill's base, he organized a search party and went back up one more time to make sure no one had been left behind. During that search, they found the bodies of a machine-gun crew, which they carried down.

But they weren't in the clear. Enemy guns, artillery and mortar fire continued to cascade on them from above, and Murphy was wounded a second time while trying to get the company to the main line of departure. He refused to get help for himself until everyone else made it through to safety.

Years later, Murphy explained his thinking.

"That's one of the big things you're trained for in the Marine Corps. You get casualties, and even men you didn't know, whether they were alive or not — you get them out of the front line and get them back to where the medical people could look at them," he said in a Veterans History Project interview. "This is the purpose of the war — to save your men and take care of the enemy."

Murphy returned to the states shortly after that battle and was promoted to captain. He later left the service and enrolled in graduate school, where he was when he learned that his actions in war had earned him the Medal of Honor. He received the medal from President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a While House ceremony on Oct. 27, 1953. It went well with the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Korean Service Medal with two bronze stars, and the United Nations Service Medal he also earned during his short military career.

Murphy went on to marry and have four children, and he spent most of his civilian career in service to other veterans after settling in New Mexico. He served as the director of veteran services at what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs center in Albuquerque from 1974 to 1997. When he retired, he continued to serve the center as a volunteer, pushing veterans in wheelchairs to their medical appointments.

Murphy died on April 6, 2007, at the age of 77. He was buried in Santa Fe National Cemetery wearing his VA hospital volunteer smock.

Murphy's love for his fellow veterans was so well-known that, in 2008, the VA hospital where he worked was renamed the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center.

Former New Mexico Rep. Stevan Pearce praised Murphy during the renaming process. "Many of us too often believe that heroism can only be exhibited in those extreme circumstances. But I would say that it takes more courage to live a life of service that he chose to live after his heroic exploits. He wasn't faced with multimillion-dollar book-signing deals, no movie contracts — just a quiet life serving other veterans who are often overlooked."

A life that is well worth honoring.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – What happens to my Social Security if I die at age 62?

Dear Rusty: I have worked my entire life and contributed to Social Security. I have been single my entire life with no children. What happens to all that money I have contributed to Social Security if I die at age 62? Signed: Curious Worker

Dear Curious: From its inception in 1935, Social Security has always been a “pay as you go” program where current workers contribute money from which current beneficiaries are paid. That’s the way it has worked since the first Social Security payroll withholding occurred in 1937 and the first Social Security benefit was paid in 1940. And it works the same way today.

Social Security FICA payroll taxes collected from current workers are used to pay all those who are currently receiving benefits. Any excess collected which is not paid out in benefits is deposited into a special Trust Fund and held in reserve for the future. My hope is that understanding this will dispel a far too widely held myth that the money you pay into the Social Security program from your paycheck is deposited into a personal account for you - it is not. Rather that money is used to pay benefits to all those who are already collecting Social Security. And the extra money in the Trust Fund is invested in special interest-bearing bonds which contribute further to the Trust Fund’s reserves (more about the Trust Fund in a minute).

If you were to pass away at, or before, age 62, all the money you paid into Social Security via FICA payroll taxes will have already been spent to pay benefits to those already collecting Social Security. With no surviving dependents, there are no benefits to be paid from your lifetime work record. True you will have paid a great deal over your working career, but the system is designed so that when you retire your benefits will be paid for by those who are still working and paying into the system. Of course, it’s a game of averages and Social Security says the “average” longevity for a male today is about 84. So, unless you’re already in poor health, chances are pretty good you will live beyond age 62. Chances are also pretty good that if you do, you’ll get back much more in benefits than you have contributed. In fact, if you start collecting benefits at your full retirement age you will get back benefits at least equal to what you contributed within about 5 years (we’ve studied this carefully). Which brings us back to the Trust Fund.

The Social Security Trust Fund held about $2.9 trillion in reserves at the end of 2018. But over the years the ratio of workers to beneficiaries has declined from 16.5 to 1 in 1950 to less than 3 to 1 today, so there are far fewer workers paying for beneficiaries who are living much longer. Starting in 2019, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it received from FICA payroll taxes, which means the excess paid out in benefits will come from the reserves in the Trust Fund. That will continue, according to the most recent Social Security Trustees’ Report, until the Trust Fund is depleted in about 2035, at which time Social Security will only be able to pay out about 80% of benefits due - unless Congress acts soon to resolve the issue. And the solutions are well known; what’s lacking in Congress is a serious bipartisan effort to fix the problem.

He did the right thing

Howard Kirby, of Shiawassee County, Michigan, finally had the space at home to build himself a “man cave” and so he set about the task of furnishing it. Out he went to a local thrift store and found a couch and ottoman that fit the bill. But it wasn’t long before he found fault with the ottoman. It was lumpy. Try as he might to soften the footrest, it remained too firm for comfort. So, he tore open the cushion and quickly found what was wrong. It was stuffed with more than $43,000 in cash. It crossed his mind, of course, to keep his find to himself, but instead, he decided to find the rightful owner, one Kim Fauth-Newberry. Her grandfather had passed away and among his personal property was the couch and ottoman. Ms. Fauth-Newberry wanted to get rid of it and had actually thought about burning it. Instead she donated it to the thrift store. Kirby told reporters: “I always thought what would I do if that ever happened and now I know, and it makes me feel good.”

She couldn’t lose

Eve Dubois gasped when she got the answer wrong during an episode of Family Feud Canada. Nevertheless, she went home with a $10,000 prize. Her gaff occurred when the host of the show asked her “to name Popeye’s favorite food.” Instead of answering that Popeye, the Sailor Man, preferred “spinach,” she eagerly blurted out, “chicken.” It caught the attention of the fast food chain, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, which awarded her with a gift certificate worth $10,000 in food.

Riding high

A new era of for transportation is fast approaching. Waymo, the first commercial robo-cab company, boasts that hundreds of thousands of autonomous taxi riders are already using their service. Meanwhile, EHang, an air taxi company that uses self-steering passenger drones, has been testing its flying taxis in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Its first U.S. test took place recently in North Carolina, signaling a determination to get its venture “off the ground,” as one wag put it.

How much is too many

An attempt to break the world record for the largest number of twins to gather in one place went awry in Sri Lanka recently. They were aiming to attract about 5,000 pairs of twins to secure the Guinness record established in Taiwan where 3,961 sets showed up in 1999. But the Sri Lankan event attracted an estimated 14,000 pairs causing chaos.

Bragging rights

Two West Virginia fishing enthusiasts made it into the state’s record books. Zachary Adkins landed a carp measuring more than 53 inches at Warden Lake and Justin Conner brought in a nearly 50 inch blue catfish that he caught in the Ohio River. While they now hold the record to for length, neither the carp nor the catfish were heavy enough to break the existing weight records.

The cops had him dead to rights

A commuter in Arizona takes the cake when it comes to coming up with illegal ways to use HOV lanes. Arizona highway police recently caught a driver who thought he could get away with a skeleton propped up in the passenger seat of his car. Apparently he thought he could disguise the carcass by putting a hat on its head and covering its torso with what appeared to be bandages.

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Be your own valentine: Seven ways to tap into your "love-power" and change your life

By KAREN MCGREGOR

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and we all have our feelings about it. If we're dating or (happily) married, we may be excited about the flowers, chocolates, and candlelit dinners. If we are single, we may feel dissatisfied, sad, or annoyed. (We may even retitle the holiday "Singles Awareness Day.") Either way, is our tendency to define love in terms of romance making us miss a much bigger picture?

Yes, I believe so. I have no issue with Valentine's Day itself—I just don't want us to let it trivialize what love actually is.

Whether you have a partner or not, don't fall into the trap of seeing love as something outside yourself. We're all born with love; in fact, it's our Divine Purpose—our reason for being here—and it's the origin of all our power. It's what allows us to exert positive influence on those around us.

When you reconnect with that primal power—I call it "love-power"—you unlock the door to a deeper, richer, more meaningful life. You become a heart-driven person who regularly uses your influence to not only improve your life but the lives of those around you.

You may not be used to thinking of power and influence in terms of love. That's because Western civilization views the mind (not the heart) as the source of power. But since intellect is intertwined with ego, love-based power often gets distorted, morphing into fear-based power. This causes us to seek to control others, to be passive-aggressive, to act like a victim, to engage in risky behaviors to feel special or noticed, and more.

I believe the ancient wisdom of the 4,000-year-old Tao Te Ching can help us identify and break the "power patterns" that undermine our influence, create dysfunctional relationships, and otherwise squelch our potential.

When you're in pure love-power, you're happy, curious, in an unending state of awe. You're quick to forgive. You're wide open to other people and new opportunities. Everything about how you experience the world—and how it experiences you—shifts.

Read on for some "light" and relatively simple things you can do on Valentine's Day—and afterward—to start reconnecting with your pure love-power.

Take a Valentine's Day meditation break. (It's the key to experiencing life in the holy moment of now.) Why should we meditate? Because it helps us detach from our preferences—which trigger our need to be "right" or "in control" and lead to suffering—and practice being in the present. Just set aside 15-20 minutes to sit quietly and focus on your breath. If your mind wanders, that's okay: The point is not to judge the thoughts that stream endlessly into your consciousness but to allow them to ebb and flow without getting emotionally hooked.

Successful meditation occurs when there is no war between your head and your heart. This state is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. If you've always 'meant' to try meditating but haven't yet done so, Valentine's Day is the perfect day to start.

Gift yourself a lovely journal. Journaling is a powerful practice that can help you get in better touch with your thoughts and feelings, recognize goals, enhance gratitude, and pinpoint areas in your life that need work. Find a journal that speaks to you (pick a gorgeous one that inspires you to write). Then set aside some time alone (even just 10 minutes) to write each day.

Journal to find gratitude. Write about your blessings until you see how abundant your life really is. Pause as you write to ensure that you really feel the state of gratitude.

Journal to stay in the moment. When your mind is racing, journaling can help you return to the present. Make a small checkmark in your notebook or journal each time you're aware of not being in the holy moment of now. Note what took you out of presence.

Journal about stillness in your life. When and where can you incorporate more stillness? When does your mind struggle to be still? Record how you feel after meditation or practicing gratitude daily for one week.

Sing and dance your way to gratitude. As mentioned, many people keep a gratitude journal. The problem is, it can turn into a mindless checklist that simply creates the illusion of gratitude. If that happens, try singing and dancing instead. In his book The Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz says this is a natural expression of our love-power—which is why little children sing and dance. They haven't yet developed the filters and fear that they'll be judged. You can dance and sing in the privacy of your room or as you clean your house. If you want to take it to the next level, consider signing up for a hip-hop or salsa class or joining a local choir.

Get rid of something that isn't serving you. Often without realizing it, we clutter and complicate our lives with things that create chaos and drama. It can be anything from too much "stuff" in our homes, to too many commitments, to the wrong job or relationship. A great expression of self-love is to pinpoint something to purge. Do a closet clean out or a social media detox. Turn down a project. Draw a much-needed boundary. Just take one step to simplify your life and free up your energy.

Grieve losses and release pain with this heart exercise. This may not feel very Valentine-y, but when we're changing our life for the better, we must first release what was. Otherwise we'll get stuck and block the clarity we need to move forward. Pain can be released through the portal of the heart. When you focus on your heart, a desire to release the pain of the past may arise. Even better, your heart knows how to do that without your mind interrupting.

Here's a simple exercise: Focus on the heart and allow the feelings of your past to present themselves. Just allow the process to unfold. Allow your body to feel and release without letting your mind get hooked into the emotion, feeding the ego needs and magnifying your power patterns. When you put your attention on your heart, you may notice that it feels warm or even hot. That is a sign you are releasing stored emotional pain.

If you're single, stop searching for "the one." It's common to believe that there's one person out there who can finally see us for who we really are. But searching for our perfect match is a chase that's based on an illusion. I love romance, but I've come to believe that it's usually founded in the need to be special. People search for "the one" their entire lives, never escaping the constant craving for specialness. Never confuse love with specialness. Love supports a life of joy and love-power; "specialness" impedes it.

In that same vein, it's time to revisit the definition of "soul mate." Soul mates are actually not romantic partners but people destined to help you grow by presenting you with challenging personality traits and actions you don't like. This mind shift may defuse anger or defensiveness and help you change the dynamic with "difficult" people who cross your path.

If you're in a romantic relationship, start working toward a cause you believe in, together. There is no greater calling for a romantic relationship than to create a better world. In fact, many millennials are moving in this direction! Rather than being absorbed by one another, they are breaking the old paradigm of romantic co-dependency and choosing instead to be inter-dependent, working together for causes that uplift humanity. This new paradigm of relationship lets people shift from a state of isolation within their own dramas, fears, and wounds, which are experienced as they get to know their partner, to becoming a presence in the world.

Talk with your partner and choose a project to participate in. Maybe arrange to visit an orphanage to play games with or tutor school children, or plan a fundraiser event to benefit the homeless. Think about the passions you both share and start there. You will be amazed by how deeply a project rooted in love-power can transform your lives.

While Valentine's Day is a good time to think about connecting to your love-power, or even take a symbolic first step, it's actually a journey you take every day, all year long.

Before you can bring your best self to all of your relationships, you must connect to love-power. Love-power is the key to unlocking your potential and opening your being to everything life has in store. It's how you provide clarity to those around you. It's how you join hearts with others to change the world.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Pfc. Oscar Austin

By KATIE LANGE

DOD News

Sacrificing yourself for another is one of the most valiant things a person could do. It's how 21-year-old Marine Corps Pfc. Oscar Austin earned his Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.

Austin was born in Nacogdoches, Texas, but his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when he was very young. He grew up there and graduated high school in 1967 before enlisting in the Marine Corps on April 22, 1968.

A few months later, in October 1968, the newly promoted private first class was sent to Vietnam, where he served as an assistant machine gunner.

By early 1969, the North Vietnamese kicked off another offensive similar to the massive Tet Offensive of 1968. By February, they had launched simultaneous attacks on more than 100 towns, cities and villages across South Vietnam. On Feb. 23, 1969, Austin was at a Marine base just west of Danang when that enemy offensive came to them.

Early that morning, Austin and his friend, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Douglas Payne, was on duty at an observation post when the enemy attacked, spraying the Marines with gunfire, grenades and explosives.

Austin found himself protected from the assault in a dugout, but he quickly noticed that Payne was lying injured several dozen yards away. Without considering his own safety, Austin ran from his hole across the open terrain to help drag Payne back to safety.

Austin was almost to Payne when he saw a grenade land nearby. He reacted instantly, jumping between Payne and the grenade as it went off.

Austin was blasted with shrapnel and seriously injured, but he refused to give up. He somehow managed to stand and was about to grab for Payne when he saw an enemy soldier aiming a weapon at his unconscious friend.

Once again, without hesitating, Austin threw himself between Payne and danger. Austin was hit with a spray of bullets and died there on the battlefield. The 21-year-old had saved his friend's life twice in exchange for his own.

On April 20, 1970, Austin's mother received the Medal of Honor on his behalf from Vice President Spiro Agnew at a White House ceremony.

Payne — the man for whom Austin gave his life — survived the war. He publicly admitted to struggling for years with how he could live up to Austin's sacrifice. He eventually went to college, commissioned into the Navy, then worked as a civilian counselor for federal prison inmates.

In August 2000, the Navy commissioned a ship in honor of Austin, the destroyer USS Oscar Austin. The fallen Marine's surviving family attended the ceremony, as did Payne.

Austin is also memorialized on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington, and he continues to be honored all these years later. In March 2016, sailors from the USS Oscar Austin paid honors to the ship's namesake during Navy Week in his hometown of Phoenix, visiting his gravesite for a wreath-laying ceremony.

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Know Your Military

Ritchie Boys' aided Army's efforts to defeat Germany during WWII

By DAVID VERGUN

DOD News

As the world observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day, some may remember the so-called "Ritchie Boys," who greatly aided allied forces in their fight against Germany and other Axis nations in World War II.

Early on in the war, the Army realized it needed German- and Italian-speaking U.S. soldiers for a variety of duties, including psychological warfare, interrogation, espionage and intercepting enemy communications. Besides their language ability, these soldiers were familiar with the culture and thinking of enemy soldiers, which would aid them in their efforts.

Many of the 15,200 selected were Jewish soldiers who fled Nazi-controlled Germany, which was systematically killing Jews. The soldiers were sent for training to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, beginning June 19, 1942, where they trained at the Military Intelligence Training Center — thus their nickname, the Ritchie Boys.

Many of these soldiers landed at Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and others followed to perform their specialized tasks, which provided advanced intelligence to allied forces regarding German war plans and tactics.

Following the war, some of the Ritchie Boys were used as interrogators during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.

Many of the Ritchie Boys went on to have successful civilian careers, including J.D. Salinger, author of the classic book "The Catcher in the Rye."

In 2011, the Holocaust Memorial Center, in Farmington Hills, Michigan, hosted an exhibit of the Ritchie Boys' exploits. Surviving soldiers were among the attendees.

Walter Midener, an attendee, was awarded the Silver Star. In civilian life, he became a noted sculpture and fine arts teacher and rose to the presidency for the Center for Creative Studies at Detroit's College of Art and Design.

Wayne State University Professor Ehrhard Dabringhaus, another attendee, was ordered, shortly after the war, to become the American control officer to Klaus Barbie, the notorious war criminal. Dabringhaus went on to write a book about the experience, called "Klaus Barbie: The Shocking Story of How the U.S. Used this Nazi War Criminal as an Intelligence Agent."

Dr. Guy Stern, a Bronze Star Medal recipient who attended, said: "It was an emotional reunion, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was wonderful to see these people again. This was our kind of war. We worked harder than anyone could have driven us. We were crusaders."

It's important for people everywhere to remember those who perished and those who survived the Holocaust and, in a world increasingly faced with sectarian strife and intolerance, to set forth the lessons of the Holocaust as a model for teaching ethical conduct and responsible decision-making, Stern said.

"By highlighting those individuals who, in the midst of evil, stood for the best, rather than the worst of human nature, the Holocaust Memorial Center seeks to contribute to maintaining an open and free society," he added.

Fort Ritchie, as it later became known, closed in 1998.

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Medal of Honor: Army Capt. Thomas Custer

By KATIE LANGE

DOD News

We're honoring a famous Custer, but not THE Custer you’re thinking of — Civil War Gen. George Custer, of "Custer's last stand" fame. We're honoring his brother, Capt. Thomas Custer, who became the first double recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Thomas Custer was born March 15, 1845, in New Rumley, Ohio. He was six years younger than his more famous brother, whom he idolized, and he wanted to follow him into the military.

When the Civil War broke out, Custer was only 16 and too young to join, so he lied about his age. He enlisted in the Army's 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1861.

Custer took part in several battles in Tennessee and Georgia before being sent to perform escort duties on the staff of three generals until his unit was disbanded. When Custer reenlisted in 1864, he was promoted to second lieutenant and transferred to the 6th Michigan Cavalry, which served in Virginia. There, he worked on the staff for his brother, a brigadier general. He also fought in several campaigns, including the April 1865 Battle of Five Forks. His efforts there led to his battlefield promotion to brevet major.

On April 3, 1865, Custer was leading a charge over an enemy barricade near Namozine Church in Virginia when he grabbed the Confederate flag out of the hands of its bearer. He also secured the capture of 14 prisoners.

Three days later, Custer was at the Battle of Sailor's Creek in Virginia when he captured two more flags — one of which he stole while charging the color bearer on his horse. The animal was shot out from under him, and Custer was wounded in the face, but he managed to shoot and kill the enemy soldier to take the flag.

Custer received a Medal of Honor for each of those actions. He was the first of 19 men to have earned the nation's highest military honor more than once.

And if you're not sure why stealing flags warranted the Medal of Honor, here’s why.

According to the National Cemetery Administration, Custer's actions took away the honor of two enemy regiments. Military regimental flags were considered highly significant during the Civil War, as they helped guide troop movements during chaotic battles. If a regiment's flag was lost or stolen, confusion set in that sometimes led to men on the same side shooting each other. The flags were also often made by the communities from which the regiments came, so they symbolized local pride and sentimentality. The taking of a flag brought shame to that regiment's soldiers.

After capturing those flags, Custer wanted to keep fighting, but he was forced out of the battle due to his injuries, even though they weren't serious. He was sent to recover in a Virginia hospital.

When the war ended, Custer stayed in the military. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Cavalry — where his brothers George and Boston were also serving — and fought in the Dakota and Montana territories. In 1875, Custer was promoted to captain and put in command of Company C.

Custer and his brothers died during the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. Often referred to as "Custer's last stand," the short battle spearheaded by George Custer led to the deaths of nearly a third of the men of the 7th Cavalry, who were encircled and slaughtered by their enemy in less than an hour. The Custer brothers' bodies were found near one another on the battlefield.

Thomas Custer was initially buried where he fell, but in 1877, he was reinterred at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas. That military post was the main supply depot for the U.S. military west of the Mississippi River.

So now, when you think of Custer's last stand, you may remember there was more than one Custer involved.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

We took benefits early; can we get more now?

Dear Rusty: My birth date is 1947. My wife is 1950. We both took our Social Security years ago at age 62 due to health concerns because we questioned if we would live to age 78 to equalize the extra payout if we would have waited to age 66. Taking early at 62 may have been a mistake and I am wondering if there are any options available to maximize my and/or my wife's monthly payment with a restricted application or any other available options? My gross monthly is $946.60, and my wife’s is $543.60 before the deduction for Medicare. Together our gross monthly is about equal to the per person individual average monthly payment of $1479. Signed: Regretful we took SS early.

Dear Regretful: I’m afraid the options for either you or your wife increasing your benefit at this point are extremely limited. You cannot file the restricted application you mentioned because that can only be done by someone applying for the first time (and who was born before 1/2/1954), and only by someone who has not yet reached age 70. Neither can you suspend your benefits to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) because DRCs are only earned up to age 70. Your wife has a very small window until she reaches 70 in March during which she could suspend her benefits, and by doing so immediately she could perhaps earn, at most, an additional 1% in DRCs (about $5 more per month). That leaves only two other things which could increase your benefits: 1) Annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) granted each year depending upon inflation, and 2) returning to work and having substantial current earnings which may replace the earnings in a lower-earning year in your lifetime work record (SS uses the highest earning 35 years over your lifetime to compute your benefit amount).

If you have some years in that 35-year history with no or very low earnings, working now could replace one or more of those years. I have no way of determining whether that is a possibility; you would need to get your lifetime earnings record from Social Security and see if that is possible by examining your earnings for each year over your lifetime. But remember, all early years of earnings are adjusted for inflation, so for example, $10,000 earned in 1990 would be equal to about $25,000 in today’s dollars, and you’d need to earn more than the higher amount to have any effect on your benefit.

I wish I had better news for you, but the unfortunate reality is that once someone claims their Social Security, the benefit amount is quite fixed. Although it’s possible to withdraw an application within 12 months of initial filing, and it’s also possible to suspend benefits once FRA is reached, neither of those is available to you. And your wife only has a very short window to suspend her benefits, which will reach maximum when she reaches 70 in March. So, except for the COLA increases and returning to work options I’ve discussed above, I’m afraid you have no other opportunity to increase your Social Security benefit amounts.

About Warnings to Make Sure I “file properly”

Dear Rusty: I am currently 63 years old and planning to delay retirement until 70 to maximize my benefit. I’ve been seeing a lot of financial planners advertising claims that you can lose thousands of dollars in benefits if you don’t “file properly.” Is there really anything more to it than simply applying for benefits when you are ready to retire? Do I really need to pay a financial advisor just to tell me how to apply to get the most benefits? Signed: Skeptical

Dear Skeptical: Nearly all the advertisements you see using language like that have an underlying purpose of trying to sell you something – usually a book, a subscription, or financial services. The phrase “losing thousands if you don’t file properly” are very generic words meant to lure you into contacting them so they can sell something to you. Reality is that “filing properly” means simply choosing the right age to file for benefits given your specific personal circumstances. And personal circumstances are different for everyone. There aren’t any tricks in the filing process itself – it’s really quite straightforward, and you can get all your Social Security filing questions answered here at The AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory Service. Our staff of Social Security Advisors are fully trained and certified by the National Social Security Association (NSSA®), and we have years of experience on this complex topic. We provide Social Security information and answers to several thousand people each year, without a fee because we are a not-for-profit entity operating only on donations. And contacting us is easy at either ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org, or 1.888.750.2622.

As for when you should file, everyone’s personal situation is different, and your marital status should always be considered. But as an individual, waiting until age 70 will give you the maximum benefit available to you. If you are now 63, your age 70 benefit will be 29.3% more than it would be at your full retirement age of 66 years and 4 months, and about 65% more than you’d get at age 64. And provided you are in good health and expect at least average longevity (about 84) not only will your monthly payment be more, but you’ll collect more in cumulative lifetime benefits by waiting. And here’s an extra bonus – if you are married and you predecease your wife, her survivor benefit will be based upon that larger amount you were receiving because you delayed claiming. If she has reached her full retirement age, as your widow your wife will get 100% of your actual benefit. But if you were to claim earlier, your wife’s survivor benefit would be based on that smaller amount.

The answer to your specific question is that there is no magical way to apply for benefits once you determine the age at which you wish to file. You can file by calling the Social Security Administration directly, either at their general number (1.800.772.1213) or your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator), or you can also file online at www.ssa.gov/retire. Filing online is by far the easiest and most efficient way to complete and submit your application for benefits.

All aboard

Hundreds of men and women around the world “dropped trou” recently in celebration of the 18th annual No Pants Subway Ride. Immodestly clad in panties and scanties, young folk and old from New York, the flagship city, to the far reaches of the globe they boarded London’s Tube, Tokyo’s Metro, Berlin’s U-Bahn and Lisbon’s Metropolitano for a near-nude fun fest. New York-based comedy collective, Improve Everywhere, established the event in 2002 and it went viral across the planet. Their aim: “to surprise and delight random strangers through positive pranks.”

A fishy tale

Groupers are sluggish-looking fat fish that kind of hang around the waters off the coast of Florida. How fat are they? The one caught off the southwest coast of Florida recently by angler Jason Boyll weighed in at 350 pounds. And, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Jason’s fish was about 50 years old, making it the institute’s oldest sample.

An amazing buzzer-beater

It may have taken some luck, but high school cager, Katara Key, used her well-honed skill to sink a 65-foot winning basket from across the court for Reading High against rival William Penn High School in Pennsylvania. It happened just as the buzzer sounded the end of the game. As she put it in a post-game interview with KPVI-TV: "I just saw the spiral and I was like yeah, that's going in. I practice that shot all the time with my coach."

Inflatable robots

Robots can build cars, move inventory and clean floors, but could they someday also help take care of the sick or elderly? The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Nursing have received grant from the National Science Foundation to do just that. Their goal is to create robotic mats that inflate into precise shapes and could be placed on top of hospital beds to help health care workers move patients. “When you think about it, a hospital bed is already a robot,” said project leader James Pikul. “It bends to different shapes and has sensors to monitor vital signs. They’re already sophisticated systems; they’re just bad at moving people. And we want to fix that.”

Amazing cows

While food production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, there are opportunities to rethink the role of livestock in the environment. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, with support from the state’s Department of Agriculture, is investigating how cows can consume plant and food residues that are either indigestible by or unpalatable to humans or are no longer salable for any of a number of reasons. The project will uncover ways that products previously considered “waste” could be used as animal feed, leading to a more sustainable agricultural system and giving rise to meat, milk or fertilizer as a result.

How ice grows

For many people, winter is the season of scraping car windshields on frigid mornings. Researchers have spent decades studying the details of how ice deposits in this way. Now, an international team of scientists has described the first-ever visualization of the atomic structure of two-dimensional ice as it formed. Insights from the findings, which were driven by computer simulations that inspired experimental work, may one day inform the design of materials that make ice removal a simpler and less costly process. “This challenges the traditional view of how ice grows,” says Joseph S. Francisco, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Pennsylvania who co-authored the study. (EDITORS: the complete article, should you have need of it)

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – When Should I Claim My Widow’s Benefit?

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away at the age of 52, and I was 53. I am currently 59. I've read about and been encouraged to file for widow’s benefits from Social Security when I turn 60. My question is: does doing that impact when I should file for my regular Social Security benefits? In reading on many websites regarding my question, this never is addressed on what is best. Signed: Widowed Survivor

Dear Survivor: You have my sympathy for the loss of your husband at such a young age. I’ll try to clarify your options for you.

Provided you have not remarried you can claim your survivor benefit at age 60, but if you do it will be reduced by 28.5% from what it would be at your full retirement age (FRA) of 67. As long as you are explicit when claiming your survivor benefit that you are not also applying for your own Social Security benefit, there will be no negative impact to your eventual Social Security retirement benefit when you claim that. But, determining which benefit to take, and when, requires some thought.

Your goal should be to get the highest benefit possible for the rest of your life. To help you decide how and when to file, you should first see what your survivor benefit will be at your full retirement age (100% of what your husband was entitled to at his death). If that amount is more than you are entitled to on your own at age 70 then you should consider waiting until age 67 (your FRA) to claim your widow’s benefit, so you can get that higher survivor benefit for the rest of your life. Conversely, if your own age 70 benefit will be more than your widow’s benefit at your FRA, then claiming your widow’s benefit first and allowing your own benefit to grow until age 70 when it reaches maximum would be the more prudent choice. You can get estimates of both your survivor benefit and your age 70 retirement benefit by contacting Social Security. But if claiming the survivor benefit at age 60 is what you decide, or if you were to instead claim your Social Security retirement benefits early (e.g., age 62) there’s more for you to consider.

If you are collecting any Social Security benefits before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) and you are still working, you will be subject to Social Security’s “earnings limit” which restricts the amount you can earn before they take back some of your benefits (the earnings limit changes annually; for 2020 it is $18,240). Up until the year you reach your FRA, they will take back benefits equal to one half of any earnings you have over the limit. During the year you reach your FRA the limit increases by about 2.5 times and the penalty is less, and once you reach your FRA there is no longer a limit on your earnings. So, if you claim your survivor benefit at age 60 and are working, exceeding the earnings limit will result in you permanently losing some of your survivor benefits. If, instead, you claim your SS retirement benefit early (e.g., at age 62) you’ll still be subject to the earnings limit until you reach age 67, but at your FRA they will give you time credit for any months you didn’t get your retirement benefits and increase your benefit amount accordingly.

The important point to remember is that you have a choice of which benefit to take, and evaluating your options as described above should lead you to the right answer - whether you should claim your reduced survivor benefit at age 60, or to delay until it reaches maximum at age 67.

Back to the future

Ron Mallett is no “nut job,” but you might call him a very educated dreamer who believes in time travel. Dr. Mallet is also an astrophysicist and a tenured professor at the University of Connecticut. He has written a scientific equation using theories established by Albert Einstein that he believes might offer a blueprint for building a time machine, skeptics notwithstanding. As he told CNN recently, “In Einstein’s theory, what we call space also involves time — that’s why it’s called space time, whatever it is you do to space also happens to time.” Go figure!

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A very ‘naughty’ Christmas

He sported a beard that gave him a Santa Claus look, but he was no Kris Kringle. In fact, he was arrested by the Colorado Springs police robbing a bank for an undisclosed amount of cash. But it would appear that he was, indeed, full of the Christmas Spirit because after getting away with the loot he tossed his ill-gotten gains into the air, wishing passersby “Merry Christmas.” He then headed for a nearby coffee shop to await the arrival of the local authorities and his arrest.

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A fateful Christmas story

Siobhane Riggs, who was 5 years old at the time, placed a message in a bottle and tossed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia. The tides carried it off to Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa where Patrick Dennis found it in 2002. Patrick tried to call Siobhan and finally got in touch with her mom, Carolanne Riggs, who informed him that the girl was tragically killed in an accident at the age of six. Carolanne and Patrick stayed in touch and 17 years later Patrick and his family made the trip to Newfoundland to spend Christmas with Carolanne and her family. It was a heartfelt moment. As Carolanne put it to reporters at CBC: "I really do feel that this message landing over in Tenerife and Patrick getting this bottle and making this connection gives me some closure. It gives me a closure that she's not far. She is always here with us."

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If the tax cuts don’t last, will your retirement funds? 4 ways to make sure

Many taxpayers welcomed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that reduced income taxes through 2025, but now some people worry about the possibility of rates going up after the act expires and how that could affect their retirement.

It’s a special concern for people whose savings are in tax-deferred accounts, such as traditional IRAs or 401(k)s.

“The over-reliance on 401(k)s and IRAs is setting people up for a retirement trap,” says Greg DuPont (www.dupontwealth.com), an estate and tax planning attorney. “Given the dynamics of politics and the federal deficit, it’s probable that income tax rates will increase again. There’s a window of opportunity now before 2025 where plans can be adjusted to minimize those effects.

“Focusing on saving for the future using only tax-deferred investments forces you to take more risk to meet your income needs.”

DuPont says a recent bill passed by Congress, the SECURE Act, will affect retirees in numerous ways, including by the removal of the stretch IRA, which allowed an inherited IRA to be paid out over an heir’s lifetime. Now it must be paid out within 10 years, thus increasing the yearly tax burden on heirs.

“Passage of the SECURE Act indicates a real need to address the tax structure of your retirement accounts if they are part of the legacy you intend to leave behind,” DuPont says.

DuPont suggests four ways those approaching retirement or already in it can adjust their plans to reduce the impact of higher taxes:

Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account that allows the saver to withdraw savings tax-free in retirement. “The contributions are invested in what one selects, such as stocks, bonds or mutual funds, and Roth IRAs tend to offer more investment options than a Roth 401(k),” DuPont says. “Roth IRAs are an underutilized vehicle for retirement savings and investment. When the investments grow in value, you can receive the investment gains tax-free.”

Roth 401(k). Access to Roth 401(k)s is more common these days at companies. Contributions go in after tax. By contrast, with a traditional 401(k), contributions are pre-tax – taken off the top of gross earnings before your paycheck is taxed. “But the downside of a traditional 401(k) is you have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw based on your current tax rate in retirement,” DuPont says. “That’s a substantial penalty for many people. The biggest benefit of the Roth 401(k) is because you already paid taxes on your contributions, the withdrawals you make in retirement are tax-free. The money you put in, plus its growth, is yours.”

Investments through brokerages. “These have benefits above and beyond your typical IRAs,” DuPont says. “The thing people need to recognize is with brokerage accounts, you pay tax only on the money you gained on the investment. So it’s usually far better than taking out a sizable portion of your IRA, which is all taxable.”

Cash value life insurance. “The modern life insurance product gives the saver the ability to build cash value in that policy,” DuPont says. “That cash value grows without tax liability, giving you access to that cash value and accumulating at a more acceptable rate of return than typical bank rates at this point in time.”

“People strive to be debt-free in retirement,” DuPont says, “yet they disregard the biggest debt they may have – the debt to the IRS in their retirement accounts. You can manage the impact of those taxes and perhaps reduce them by taking determined action.”

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Dreading a dental visit? 5 tips for getting the most out of it

Many people would just as soon avoid scheduling a dental appointment, unless an unbearable toothache lands them reluctantly in the dentist’s chair.

Fear of pain is one reason for procrastination, but it’s not the only factor. People worry a routine checkup could reveal the need for expensive, major work. Wary patients also sometimes harbor doubts about whether a costly procedure is even necessary.

But patients can put themselves at ease and get the most out of their dental visit by fully vetting their dentist and learning how to weigh options, says Dr. Rick Mars (www.dentalcaregroup.net), author of The Big Smile: The Principles of Modern Dentistry – for Dentists and Patients.

“Many dentists don’t do a good job of educating their patients and communicating with them,” Dr. Mars says, “and most patients don’t do a good enough job educating themselves. We have a saying in dentistry that if you put 10 dentists in a room with a single patient, they will come up with 10 different treatment plans.

“But the great thing about dentistry is the multitude of creative solutions available to patients. You need to ask the right questions to make sure you understand the treatment options.”

Dr. Mars offers these tips for finding the right dental treatment at a fair price:

Educate yourself and listen when your dentist educates. “The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get the treatment you need and something disastrous happens,” Dr. Mars says. “The second worst thing that can happen is that you do get treatment, but you didn’t actually need it. Taking an active role means you not only do your own research and get a second opinion, but you also listen carefully to your doctor when your doctor educates you.”

Read online reviews with a critical eye. “The internet can be very helpful when you’re vetting a new dentist, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there with patients’ reviews,” Dr. Mars says. “In today’s world, patients wield power like they never previously had. In general, people who bother to write reviews are disgruntled and want recourse and even revenge. On the other hand, numerous positive reviews, ideally from people you know who were treated by that dentist, can add up to a trustworthy referral.”

Interview your dentist and their team. “You can ask them how many times they’ve done a certain procedure and even ask to see photos of their cases,” Dr. Mars says. “It may require a specialist rather than a general dentist. And find out why they charge what they charge.”

Get an honest second opinion. “Even though you trust your dentist, you might hear a treatment plan that just doesn’t sit well with you,” Dr. Mars says. “Get a copy of your radiographs from your current dentist to take to your second-opinion dentist. Never show the second dentist your treatment plan until they give their final suggestions.”

Ask to see the results of your dental investment. “Rather than limit your evaluation of your dentist to time, cost, or customer service, think about your dental work like you consider mechanical work to your car,” Dr. Mars says. “After treatment, dentists can and should show you radiographs of your teeth and point out the details proving your problem is fixed.”

“If you’ve done your homework,” Dr. Mars says, “your dentist, whether a general practitioner or a specialist, should leave no room for doubt that you’re in the right place.”

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Medal of Honor: Army 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk

By KATIE LANGE

Army 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk served in some of the most pivotal campaigns in the European theater of World War II, making him one of the war's most decorated paratroopers. After jumping into Normandy on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne Division, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross during Operation Market Garden. His Medal of Honor was earned toward the end of the war when he led the capture of a German garrison during the Battle of the Bulge.

Funk was born Aug. 27, 1916, and grew up east of Pittsburgh. He enlisted in the Army as a 21-year-old in June 1941, months before the U.S. entered World War II. He volunteered to be a paratrooper and was assigned to Company C of the 82nd's 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Funk was stationed in England for much of the war, although he didn't see action until June 6, 1944 — D-Day, the largest land, air and sea invasion in history.

On that day, the small unit he commanded landed nearly 40 miles inland. They fought for several days before breaking through enemy lines to rejoin their regiments closer to the coast. Everyone in Funk's unit survived that mission, and he earned a Silver Star Medal.

But that's a story for another time. Today we're focused on his heroics during the Battle of the Bulge.

On Jan. 29, 1945, Funk found himself in waist-deep snowdrifts with other American forces who had been fighting a massive contingent of German troops since mid-December. His unit had managed to advance 15 miles in a driving snowstorm so they could attack the German-held town of Holzheim, Belgium.

When the company's executive officer went down, Funk stepped up to take his place. He realized they didn't have enough infantrymen to take out the German garrison, so he gathered a platoon full of clerks — soldiers with noncombat jobs — and turned them into a fighting force.

Despite facing direct artillery shelling and gunfire, Funk's men moved in. They attacked and cleared 15 houses without suffering any injuries. With the help of another American unit, they quickly overran the town, taking about 80 German prisoners who were placed under a four-man guard. The rest of the dilapidated American forces, including Funk, scanned the town to mop up any isolated points of resistance.

A few hours later, an enemy patrol managed to trick the Americans acting as guards, freeing the German prisoners. They had begun to get into place to attack Company C from the rear when Funk returned to check on the prisoners. He walked right into the enemy patrol.

A German officer, poking a pistol into Funk's stomach, ordered him to surrender. The first sergeant pretended to comply with the order, slowly unslinging his submachine gun from his shoulder. But instead of giving it up, he quickly fired, emptying a full magazine into the German officer and his counterparts, all the while shouting to his American comrades to seize the enemy’s weapons.

Within minutes, 21 Germans were killed, many more were wounded and the rest were captured.

Despite being outnumbered and facing certain death, Funk's actions were directly responsible for the recapture of a force that was much larger than his own. His actions also allowed the other units of Company C to continue their attack plans unfettered.

Funk received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 5, 1945, at a ceremony at the White House. He's one of the most decorated paratroopers of World War II, having also earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters.

Funk left the Army after the war and went on to work for the Veterans Administration in the Pittsburgh area. He and his wife, Gertrude, have two daughters.

Funk retired from the VA in 1972 and lived in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, until his death on Nov. 20, 1992. The 76-year-old is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

His legacy lives on. In 1995, a section of road where he lived was renamed the Leonard A. Funk Jr. Highway. In May 2018, he was inducted into the 82nd Airborne Division's Hall of Fame.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Can My Husband use the “Restricted Application?”

Dear Rusty: My question is about the "restricted application for spousal benefits only" I saw referenced in an article. I will turn 66 in February and have applied for my "full retirement benefit" and will continue to work full time. My husband turned 66 this month and has not yet applied for his benefits. According to the Social Security paperwork sent to us, I will receive about $1900 a month and my husband, who is self-employed, would only receive $500 to $600. If my husband claimed "spousal benefits only" using the restricted application, would I still receive my $1900 and he would receive 50% of that for an estimated total of $2850? Doesn't seem to make sense to me! As you can see, we must be in denial of our age and are not knowledgeable about Social Security!! Signed: Inquisitive Senior

Dear Inquisitive: Based on the amounts you quoted in your email (which I assume were recent estimates from the Social Security Administration), your husband should claim his own benefits this month and then claim his normal spousal benefit in February when your benefits start. Since your husband has already reached his full retirement age of 66, his spousal benefit will be the full 50% of the benefit you are entitled to when you reach your full retirement age in February.

Although your husband qualifies for and can submit a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” (as described in the article you read), there is little reason for him to do so because his own benefit, even if he delays claiming it until he is 70, will be less than his spousal benefit from your record. Instead, since his spousal benefit from you will be the highest amount he will ever be eligible for, he can just claim his own benefit first and then claim his regular spousal benefit to begin when your Social Security retirement benefit starts. Here’s why:

If your husband’s current benefit at his full retirement age (FRA) would be $600 and he’s not yet collecting, he could earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) at a rate of 0.667 per month of delay (8% per year of delay). That will mean his own benefit would be 32% more at age 70 then he is now eligible for at his FRA, which means his maximum benefit on his own earnings record will be $792/month ($600 plus 32%).

The only reason to file the restricted application (for which he is eligible only because he was born before January 2, 1954) is to let his own benefit grow while he collects a spousal benefit, so he can switch to his own higher benefit later. But since his spousal benefit from you will be about $950 - more than the maximum benefit he can get from his own record at age 70 - his most prudent choice would be to simply claim his own benefit now and apply for his normal spousal benefit to start when your SS benefit starts in February. No need for him to file the restricted application because his own benefit will never be higher than his spousal benefit. And just for complete clarity, your husband collecting his spousal benefit from you will not affect your own Social Security retirement benefit in any way.

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org.

If the bra fits?

Vets came up with a “more comfortable” way to treat a sheep in New Zealand that suffered from sagging udders after giving birth to lamb triplets. Instead of surgery, they fitted the ewe with a store bought bra to keep her sagging mammaries from being dragged on the ground. The alternative would have been painful surgery or euthanasia.

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Museum Mania

There’s a museum dedicated to unknown animals in Portland, ME [go figure]. Then there is the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI and the Museum of the Weird in Austin, TX. But if you want to visit the Museum of Hangovers you’ll have to go abroad to Zagreb, Croatia. It is the brainstorm of a college student there and is dedicated to chronicling strange and, sometimes, disturbing tales of the “morning after.” Founder Rino Dubokovic says his aim is to make people aware of what can happen when they overindulge by sharing stories of odd and sometimes scary hangover experiences.

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Twas the night before Christmas

It happened on Christmas Eve in South Burlington, VT. A beloved pet, Cayenne the cat, took a stroll in the yard and decided to climb a tree. His distraught owner hastily decided to attempted a rescue on his own. But he wound up stuck with the cat in the tall branches. Firefighters soon arrived and rescued the cat and its owner and later issued this warning: “at no point is it a good idea to try and rescue an animal out of a tree yourself.”

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

It happened on New Year’s Day,1863—two years into a bloody war that pitted the Union against the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared: "on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State ... shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”

That pronouncement was a critical decision that has rippled through the country’s history, with profound impact.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction And The Dawn Of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Tonya Bolden; a 2019 Grateful American Book Prize “Honorable Mention.”

President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, was widely criticized for signing an 1867 agreement with Russia to purchase the territory of Alaska. Critics called it “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Iceberg”, even though the price--$7.2 million--was only about two cents per acre for a landmass about one-fifth the size of the U.S.

But, Johnson’s “polar bear garden,” according to a detractor, turned out to be an acquisition rich in resources, particularly oil reserves; on January 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation making Alaska the 49th state-- the largest in the Union.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Alaska's History: The People, Land, and Events of the North Country by Harry Ritter.

One of the most decisive skirmishes in the War of 1812 was the Battle of New Orleans; it took place January 8, 1815 and lasted a few hours. Ironically, neither the British forces nor the American forces were aware that the Treaty of Ghent—already signed—had ended the war.

With the aid of buccaneer Jean Lafitte, his band of pirates, and sharpshooters from Kentucky and Tennessee, 4,500 U.S. troops under the command of General Andrew Jackson, stormed a British force of 7,500 soldiers. Jackson’s army incurred a minimal number of casualties--eight men dead and 13 wounded, but among the British troops two thousand were killed or wounded.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny by Brian Kilmeade.

The birthday of the American oil industry is January 10. In 1901, wildcatters brought in what was probably the first “gusher” in history--on Spindletop Hill, just five miles from Beaumont, TX. It spewed 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day, took more than a week to cap, and eventually birthed the first trillion-dollar industry in the world.

“Black Gold” propelled the inventions of the automobile and the airplane, and improved efficiencies in the older forms of transportation--ships and trains.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Spindletop Gusher: The Story of the Texas Oil Boom by Carmen Bredeson.

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Defusing anxiety & negativity in 2020: Why gratitude is key

By FRANK KILPATRICK

We all want to feel happy and productive. But here's the Catch 22: the things we do to try to feel that way—working long hours, rushing kids from one activity to the other, and meeting all of life's obligations—can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and even resentful. (And that's not counting the complications that spring up.) We may find ourselves thinking: What's the point of all this hard work if I can't enjoy my life?

Thankfully, we can feel contentment (and yes, happiness!) even when life is at its most chaotic. It comes not from trying to control your circumstances (which isn't always possible) but from shifting how you look at them.

I love the saying "Gratitude doesn't change things for you, it changes you for things." When we can learn to come from a place of gratitude, we see things differently. There's a mindset shift that brings peace. My new Gratitude Musical/Visual meditation series, (available on YouTube at www.YouTube.com/c/GratitudeVideo) helps listeners tap into that mindset.

n other words, instead of dreading a tough project at work, we feel gratitude for our job. Instead of feeling stressed about taking our aging mother to the doctor, we're grateful to be able to spend the afternoon with her.

My colleagues—Grammy-winner Alex Wand and composer/vocalist Rayko—and I are on a mission to fill the world with gratitude. Our meditation series—which combines "microtonal" music, vocals, visuals, and on-screen lyrical messages in a unique way that keeps your attention—is designed to help train the brain for gratitude and peace. This focus stems from our work on the Stay Alive video/podcast documentary and is a central part of our strategy for supporting at-risk populations.

Of course, you can't just flip a switch and BOOM! you're grateful. Gratitude evolves over time. It's about building some small, daily habits into your routine—and the new year is the perfect time to start. For example:

Make room in your life for gratitude. Often FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) drives us to stretch ourselves too thin. But it's hard to feel grateful when you are overcommitted. Know that it's totally okay to turn down invitations if you don't feel like being around others, or to spend the weekend recharging. In fact, immersing yourself in the Gratitude meditation series is a great way to spend the time you free up when you cut back on all the "going and doing."

The Gratitude program can be an alternative to giving in to the toxic phenomenon of FOMO. When people remove what they've been conditioned to see as a "reward" they may feel empty, like something is lacking. This program is a great replacement. It's fine to feel grateful for friends and opportunities, but we need to feel grateful for quiet moments and downtime as well.

Prepare your mind. It's important to make time for meditation or contemplation. Think of this as strength training for your mind. At first it might seem difficult to find the time, but it teaches you to get relaxed and centered, which is a vital life skill. Over time, it will get easier and easier to drop into a space of quiet contentedness where gratitude is abundant. "Mind training" should be a part of your daily health routine, like brushing your teeth or stretching. But also, get into the habit of grabbing opportunities to meditate or watch the Gratitude series—like when you're getting ready for your day or waiting for your child at soccer practice.

There are very real advantages to this type of mind training. It helps you stay in a state of gratitude, which enables you to feel peace. It keeps you in the present moment, which is an incredibly powerful technique for keeping anxiety and depression at bay.

Make mind training a part of your self-care routine... People tend to think of self-care in terms of diet, exercise, and maybe sleep, but we often ignore what we put into our minds, what we think about and ruminate on. This is a mistake. Getting intentional about what we watch, listen to, and infuse into our consciousness is just as important—what we focus on shapes our mental state, impacts our relationships, and influences every choice we make.

Stop allowing junk food into your consciousness. We should monitor our cognitive input in the same way we regulate our intake of fats, carbs and calories. What you're doing is intentionally creating the best version of yourself.

...and think of it as a gateway to overall happiness. Neuroscience has proven over and over again that a focus on gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happy. When people engage in practices like meditating on gratitude (as the Gratitude series encourages) or by keeping a daily journal of what they are grateful for, they tend to feel more optimistic and positive about their lives. (That's happiness!) What's more, they may sleep better, exercise more, and enjoy better physical health than those who don't focus on gratitude.

Focus on the small things. There are plenty of things you can (and should) be grateful for in life's simple moments. A hot cup of coffee. Toasty sheets fresh from the dryer on a cold evening. A catchup phone call from a dear old friend. The smell of a delicious dinner wafting from the kitchen. The look of wonder in your toddler's eyes when they see the first snowfall of the year. Just start paying attention and let yourself feel the wonderment.

Say "thank you" (and really mean it). When someone does something kind for you, recognize it with a sincere "thank you." Be specific about why what they did matters. (This helps you mean it, which is important; mindless "thank yous" don't count.) Recognition, even in small doses, makes others feel great, but it also gives you a boost of joy. And it exercises those gratitude muscles.

Manage y