A compendium of news, facts, questions and answers

News and trivia

But, her ring was safe

Her boyfriend told her to swallow her engagement ring to keep it safe from “bad guys.” At least, that’s what happened in the dream that Jenna Evans had that fateful night. But when she woke up the next morning the ring was not on her finger and Jenna recalled the dream and knew it was in her stomach. As she put it in an interview with KGTV in San Diego, “When I woke up and it was not on my hand, I knew exactly where it was. It was in my stomach." She underwent surgery to retrieve the ring.

Another dream job

It’s a dream job for any football freak, getting paid to go to every home game your favorite team plays. In this case, the home team is the Los Angeles Rams. California’s Golden Road Brewing is offering to pay a Ram’s fan $150 per game. All the lucky new employee would have to do is promote the company’s products, especially its new Whose House?! Blonde Ale. The lucky applicant will have the title of Chief Beer Officer.

How safe can sleep-driving be

Technically, there is no law on the books in Massachusetts that prohibits falling asleep at the wheel if you’re traveling in a self-driving car, according to Boston’s WBZ-TV. At least, that’s what the station’s news report claimed recently. It seems that Dakota Randall was driving on the Mass Pike recently and spotted a Tesla on the road. As he passed the car he made a double take when he saw the driver and a passenger were apparently sound asleep. Randall told WBZ "it was just so bizarre that I just had to get it on video… They looked like they needed to go home and go to bed."

Rain forest inferno

Massive fires in the Brazilian Amazon are a threat not only to the invaluable biodiversity the rainforest holds but also to human health and the warming climate. The moist tinder from the forests are more likely than drier materials to release toxic fumes; by attaching to particles of soot, such toxins can spread far from where the fires occur. “Depending on the meteorological conditions, these particles can be blow thousands of miles,” said Reto Gieré, an environmental scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, the fires are releasing carbon dioxide and trapping heat in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, potentially worsening climate change, and, once the trees are gone, leading to soil erosion. “Sediments can enter the streams and rivers,” potentially impacting aquatic plants and animals.

Competition & exercise

Adding a competitive element can motivate people to exercise more. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine followed 600 people in a personalized fitness program with game-like elements and found that competition was more effective than social support or collaboration for increasing daily step counts. “Gamification and wearable devices are used commonly in workplace wellness programs and by digital health applications, but there is an opportunity to improve their impact on health behaviors by better incorporating behavioral insights and social incentives,” said researcher Mitesh Patel.

U.S. health care

There are “inevitable moral choices that come with tremendous medical progress," according to a new book, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die. The authors, Amy Gutmann and Jonathan Moreno, argue that Americans should have universal, affordable access to health care: “Until we make universal access to basic health care a reality while controlling costs, we will continue to have among the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates of any industrialized nation,” Gutmann said. “It turns out that increased access and affordability of health care actually can go together.” Gutmann is a political scientist and president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Moreno is a Penn expert on medical ethics and health policy.

Children & languages

Why do children learn languages more easily than adults? The human brains hold two types of long-term memory: procedural or knowing how, and declarative or knowing that. Researchers have found that adults learning a second language appear to store both its rules and words in their declarative memory, while native speakers file the rules in their procedural memory and words in their declarative memory. Linguistics expert Kathryn Schuler, through her Child Language Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, is working to understand that relationship. “We might be able to find a way we can force adults back into using their procedural memory circuit so they can achieve higher levels of proficiency. That would be the dream,” she said.

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Are you an overprotective parent? 4 ways to let go and let your child grow

Good parents want to be involved in their children’s lives, but for years educators and psychologists have been asking the question: How much parental involvement is too much? When does trying to help your children in school, sports, and myriad other ways go too far, hurt their development, and become over-protective?

The explosive college admissions scandal seemed to answer that question. Television actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to jail for paying $15,000 to influence the boosting of her daughter’s SAT score. Fourteen other parents in the probe have also pleaded guilty.

While most parents don’t cross that legal line, early education expert Christine Kyriakakos Martin says too much parental involvement can be harmful in a variety of ways, sometimes leading to children becoming ill-prepared for the challenges of adulthood.

“The consequences of being an overprotective parent is that your child will lack self-confidence to make decisions and take risks,” says Martin (www.youvegotthisparenting.com), author of You’ve Got This! Keys To Effective Parenting For The Early Years. “They’ll lack the coping skills to get up when they fall down from a bad experience and try again.”

Martin offers four ways for parents to stop being overprotective and promote more strength and independence in their children:

Stop teaching fear. While there are non-negotiables when it comes to teaching your child safety — for example: wearing a helmet when biking, no talking to strangers, no texting when driving — Martin says sometimes parents overprotect when they create too many boundaries, which in turn may teach children to live fearfully. “When you don’t allow them to play outside much, you’re impeding their freedom,” Martin says. “Play develops the imagination and self-confidence. Overprotective parents don’t want their children to fall down, and getting back up and brushing themselves off is a necessary component for healthy growth and development.”

Don’t be their full-time problem-solver. Martin says many parents want to take care of all of their chidlrens’ problems and make things easier for them. At some point that needs to stop, she says, because adult life is rife with adversity and unforeseen obstacles that we must learn to deal with independently. “Teaching children problem-solving skills encourages them to be independent,” Martin says. “Learning to resolve conflict on their own and work through problems builds resilience and teaches them how to handle adversity.”

Teach responsibility. “If you make their beds and clean their room, you’re doing them a great disservice,” Martin says. “It’s about learning early lessons in responsibility. Doing these things for a prolonged time can debilitate your child and set them up for a lack of life skills as adults. Let your child take on reasonable responsibilities and let them feel a sense of accomplishment.”

Let them branch out. Sometimes parents develop a comfort zone with their child’s pursuits and restrict them when the child wants to expand. “Let your child have some freedom to make some of their own decisions about their interests,” Martin says. “Interests change, and the more varied experiences they have, the better for their ability to make decisions and adapt to different situations.”

“Parents are right to protect their children in a dangerous world,” Martin says. “But having them grow up in a bubble hurts them and their ability to deal with the world as adults. The best thing you can do for your children is to find that balance between protecting them and teaching them to be strong and self-sufficient.”

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Use your head: What you need to know when considering a hair transplant

It’s a sad fact of male adult life: Many American men start losing their hair by the age of 35, statistics show.

Going bald can be a blow to the male ego, but rather than pull out their remaining follicles in frustration, more men are turning to hair transplant surgery. But with the industry growing rapidly in response to high demand, some transplant specialists say patients can be misled or confused amidst the mass of marketing and information. Some have been disappointed by the result; according to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS), 64% of men having hair transplants were disappointed with their hair density after their procedure. Other common complaints include unnatural design of hairline, unnatural angling of hairs, and more visible, unnatural grafts.

A hair transplant can cost between $10,000-$25,000, so specialists emphasize that patients need to educate themselves before taking that leap.

“Hair restoration or transplant surgery is a medical specialty,” says

Dr. Christopher Varona (www.varonahairrestoration.com), a hair restoration specialist and the owner of Varona Hair Restoration in Newport Beach, Calif. “Many people aren’t aware of the possible pitfalls. A botched procedure can be worse than going bald.

“There are many factors that go into it, and certain procedures aren’t for everybody. But if you do your homework, you can have a great outcome.”

Dr. Varona suggests that anyone considering whether a hair transplant is right for them should:

Research non-surgical options first. “Surgery should be considered only as a last resort if other methods have failed to achieve the desired result,” Dr. Varona says. “First visit your regular doctor to discuss medical options, such as Rogaine and Propecia, the FDA-approved medical therapies for treating hair loss. PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatments for the scalp are also gaining popularity.”

Research hair transplant physicians. Prospective patients should ask physicians for examples of before-and-after hair transplant results. Investigate their reputation and read patient reviews. “Patients who prefer a certain technique need to make sure the surgeon is experienced in that method,” Dr. Varona said. “For example, FUE transplants are very popular right now because of the minimal scarring. But it’s a totally different skill set than a traditional FUT (strip) surgery. And remember, if a surgeon focuses solely on hair transplantation, they’re typically more knowledgeable and experienced in it than a surgeon who does it almost as a sideline, which many do.”

Have specific questions for the consult. Dr. Varona says it’s critical for patients to get answers to questions about others involved in the surgical process. “Patients need to ask, ‘Who is doing the actual FUE extractions of grafts during the FUE procedure?’ “ he says. “If it is not the doctor doing the surgery, why not, and who is? And what are that person’s qualifications?”

Have a first-visit checklist. “The doctor should ask about medical history, and they should explain the entire hair transplant procedure, which technique is right for the patient and why, and examine the donor area,” Dr. Varona says. “You want to make sure the surgery being proposed to you is done with your best interest in mind, and not the bias of the clinic trying to sell you a surgery.”

Have realistic expectations. “Sometimes a patient’s ideal image is not a realistic image for their particular case,” Dr. Varona says. “Patients must realize that hair restoration is a limited procedure due to finite resources. Once hair is used, it cannot be reused, and more hair cannot be generated.”

“Surgical hair restoration is a very serious decision that should not be taken lightly,” Dr. Varona says. “The planning for such a procedure is perhaps one of the most important undertakings you will ever do.”

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Know Your Military

Medal of Honor: Army Pvt. John Towle

BY KATIE LANGE

You never know how service members will react in war. Will they freeze up, or push through the chaos?

For World War II Army Pvt. John Towle, it was the latter. The 19-year-old soldier single-handedly took out nine Germans and two armored tanks, saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, but losing his own.

Towle was born in Cleveland on Oct. 19, 1924. One of five siblings, he apparently quit high school early to help his family pay the bills.

Towle joined the Army in March 1943, a few months after he turned 18. He volunteered to become a paratrooper and was assigned to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the famed 82nd Airborne Division. He served in North Africa and Italy before being sent to Europe where the Allies had just gotten a foothold on the continent.

According to a 2015 article in Cleveland's The Plain Dealer newspaper, Towle wrote about training as a paratrooper in one of his letters home: "Well, the first jump is over, and I landed like a feather. You have no sensation of falling at all. I've seen some beautiful things in this world, but, oh brother, nothing can compare with that big, white, silk, beautiful chute," Towle said.

Parachutists jump from airplanes while dozens of others drift toward a field below.

Towle was only 19 when he made his one and only combat jump. On Sept. 17, 1944, he successfully landed in Holland with about 20,000 other Allied paratroopers as part of Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne operation in history. The goal — to take strategic positions from the Nazis in preparation for the invasion of Germany.

Towle and the rest of the 82nd Airborne spent the next several days battling their way through Holland. Eventually, they reached the town of Nijmegen, where they were able to secure the Nijmegen Bridge over the Waal River.

On Sept. 21, 1944, Towle's rifle company was in a defensive position on the western side of the bridge when about 100 enemy soldiers, two tanks and a half-track vehicle with wheels in the front and tank-like tracks in the back began to attack.

Towle, who was a rocket launcher gunner, knew it would be a disaster for his company and the entire bridgehead if the Germans broke through. So, without orders, he got out of his foxhole and moved 200 yards through intense fire to an exposed dike roadbed.

From there, Towle was able to fire his bazooka and hit both tanks. They weren't heavily damaged, but the strikes did make them withdraw. Towle then turned his attention to nine German soldiers who had fled into a nearby house for cover. He shot his rocket launcher, killing all nine.

Towle quickly reloaded his weapon and ran 125 yards through enemy fire to another exposed position where he could get the half-track in his sites. He took a knee and was prepared to fire, but he was hit by a mortar shell and killed.

Towle's devotion to destroying the enemy saved the lives of several of his fellow soldiers and was instrumental in stopping the enemy attack. For his dedication, Towle was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on March 15, 1945. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in his hometown.

In the decades since his passing, Towle's sacrifice hasn't been forgotten. The supply ship USNS John Towle and Fort Bragg's Towle Stadium were named in his honor. His name is also inscribed on a memorial beside a bridge built over the Waal River, where the 504th was said to have crossed during their trek toward Germany.

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The USS New York, a city on the sea

Its motto is simple and powerful: "Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget."

The U.S. Navy's USS New York, an instrument of freedom and peace, was commissioned Nov. 7, 2009, in New York City. Cutting through the water with a bow forged from 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel, the USS New York carries much more than just the name of the Big Apple wherever it travels.

Intrepid Mission

This sleek San Antonio-class landing platform, dock vessel has the primary mission of carrying Marines and equipment anywhere in the world. It can remain under the radar and place many Marines on the beach very quickly to build combat power ashore before the enemy is even aware.

The USS New York is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship that has much in common with its bustling namesake. And to the sailors aboard, it is their city on the seas.

• Length - 684 ft.

• Beam -105 ft.

• Speed - 22+ knots

Heavy Responsibility

The skipper may be in charge of any ship, but the USS New York or any other Navy ship doesn't sail without boatswain's mates.

Boatswains, or "bosun" and "boats" as they are known in the Navy, form the core of a ship's manpower. These sailors are in charge of how the ship runs by taking care of the entire ship, performing many of the crucial tasks required to put and keep it underway.

Boatswain is the original "rate," or job, from which all others diverged as sailors' duties became more specialized.

These crew members are still known for taking care of the overall ship from top to bottom and performing many of the crucial tasks to put and keep a ship underway.

Never Forget

Anyone who boards the USS New York will, as the ship's motto says, "Never Forget." Reminders of Sept. 11, 2001, extend beyond the ship's bow, built with 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel.

Even the ship's daily prayer ritual—the chaplain chooses the name of someone who died in the attacks to honor—makes it impossible to forget.

"You can't help when you walk around the ship to notice all the things meant to remind you of why you serve," says Command Master Chief Petty Officer Ben Hodges

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Bold and beautiful alliums for every garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Short or tall, big or small, ornamental alliums are a treat for flower gardeners and for butterflies, bees and other pollinators. Plant the bulbs in fall and enjoy months of colorful spring and summer blooms – this year, and for years to come.

Just like their relatives, onions and chives, ornamental alliums are easy to grow and trouble free. Pest, diseases and even deer don’t bother them. Most types are reliably perennial and winter hardy in zones three to eight. Alliums prefer well-drained soil and full sun, though they will also grow in partial shade.

You can choose flowers that are white, yellow, pink, purple or even blue. All are long lasting and combine nicely with other perennials. They are also excellent cut flowers. When alliums finish blooming, their foliage fades away quickly, so surrounding flowers can take center stage.

Alliums bloom at different times during the growing season, starting with early spring and continuing to midsummer. Consult Longfield Gardens’ allium bloom time chart (longfield-gardens.com) for help choosing which alliums you want to plant in various spaces around your yard and garden, or in containers.

Plant Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ for a burst of color just prior to peony bloom. These raspberry-violet globes measure 3 to 4-inches across and are held high on 3-foot stems that rise above most newly emerging perennials. The bulbs are inexpensive, so it’s affordable to create large displays. Plus, they multiply over time, so are a great choice for naturalizing.

Be sure to include some show stopping Globemaster alliums. These flowers are the size of bowling balls, on sturdy, three-foot-tall stems. Bloom time is the same as most peonies, which make excellent companions. The dried seed heads are striking when left in the garden and will usually last into early autumn.

Shorter but just as impressive, allium christophii has eight-inch diameter flowers atop 12- to 18-inch-tall stems. The spiky, violet–pink blossoms have a silvery sheen that adds to the stunning appearance. Plant the bulbs in flower beds, along pathways and in rock gardens where their late spring blooms can be admired close-up. Allow the dried seed heads to remain in the garden for months of added interest.

Plant the drumstick allium, Allium sphaerocephalon, amongst ornamental grasses or allow it to grow up through other perennials. The two-toned, raspberry and green flowers have long, slender stems and are a fabulous addition to early summer arrangements. Drumstick alliums will self-sow, so they’re ideal for naturalizing.

Add an exotic look to the late spring garden with allium bulgaricum, also known as Nectaroscordum siculum or Sicilian honey garlic. The sprays of dangling, cream and burgundy florets have a look that’s completely different from other alliums. Plant them in flower gardens, informal naturalized areas and cutting gardens. They will return to bloom again year after year.

Once you start growing ornamental alliums, you’ll find yourself looking for more varieties and more ways to include these beauties in the landscape. Their long-lasting, pollinator-friendly blossoms and easy-care nature make them a good choice for any gardener.

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From the files of the FBI

Employee at U.S. military base admits to accepting bribes and kickbacks

NEWARK, N.J. – A civilian employee of Picatinny Arsenal (PICA) and an employee of a defense contractor admitted their roles in conspiring with others to receive bribes and other gratuities in return for assistance with the awarding of government contracts, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Robert Dombroski, 64, of Branchville, New Jersey, a high ranking civilian employee at PICA, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Vazquez in Newark federal court to an information charging him with conspiring to commit wire fraud in order to accept or receive things of value in return for favorable assistance with government contracts and with making false claims against the United States.

Indra Nayee, 53, of Metuchen, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before Judge Vazquez to an information charging him with conspiring to give, offer or promise anything of value to a public official and to make false claims against the United States.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Dombroksi worked at PICA, a U.S. Army installation in Morris County, New Jersey, for more than 30 years. PICA conducts research, development, acquisition and lifecycle management of advanced conventional weapons systems and advanced ammunitions and provides products and services to all branches of the U.S. military. Dombroski admitted that from at least January 2010 through December 2017, he conspired with other employees at PICA, with Subsystems Technology (STI) – a defense contracting firm that works with PICA and specializes in advanced engineering, advanced analytics, management consulting and IT services, including cyber-security – and employees of STI. He conspired to seek and accept gifts and other items of value, such as Apple products, luxury handbags, Beats headphones, and tickets to a luxury sky box at professional sporting events, valued at least $150,000 to $250,000, from STI in exchange for assistance in obtaining and retaining government contracts and other favorable assistance at PICA. He also admitted that in order to cover up his crimes, he filed false statements to the Department of Defense by failing to list the items of value he received from STI on his annual confidential financial disclosure form known as an OGE Form 450.

Nayee, an employee of STI, admitted that from January 2012 through December 2016, he conspired with STI and other employees of STI to offer gifts and other items of value to numerous individuals employed at PICA in order to obtain and retain contracts and other favorable assistance at PICA. He also admitted that he and other employees at STI, and the company, submitted false bills to the United States writing off the cost of the bribes as “materials” needed on United States government contracts, when in fact the gifts and other items of value were for the personal use and enjoyment of the employees at PICA and not for any legitimate government purpose.

The conspiracy charge to which Dombroski and Nayee pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss associated with the offense, whichever is greatest. Sentencing for Dombroski is scheduled for Nov. 19, 2019, and sentencing for Nayee is scheduled for Dec. 16, 2019.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie in Newark; the U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, under the direction of Leigh-Alistair Barzey, Special Agent in Charge, DCIS Northeast Field Office; and the U.S. Army, Major Procurement Fraud Unit, Criminal Investigation Command, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge L. Scott Moreland, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty pleas.

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Corrections officer sentenced for scheme to smuggle opioids into MCI-Norfolk

BOSTON — A former corrections officer at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute facility in Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk) was sentenced in federal court in Boston in connection with a conspiracy to smuggle Suboxone strips into the facility for an inmate.

Steven J. Frazer, 29, of Cumberland, R.I., was sentenced by U.S. Senior District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. to 30 days in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered to pay forfeiture of $2,500. In May 2019, Frazer pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with one count of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

Beginning around Nov. 14, 2018, Frazer, who was working as a corrections officer, arranged with a cooperating witness to smuggle Suboxone strips into MCI-Norfolk to sell to inmates. Suboxone is a Class III controlled substance used to treat heroin addiction, but some people abuse it to get high. It is coveted as contraband in prisons across the nation and particularly in New England.

Around midnight on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, the cooperating witness met Frazer in a South Attleboro parking lot and provided him with 40 Suboxone strips, 24 pages of K2 (a synthetic cannabinoid, which is more powerful and more dangerous than marijuana), and $2,500 in cash. After the meeting – which was audio and video recorded by law enforcement – federal agents arrested Frazer.

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Leader of armed robbery crew sentenced to 41 years

TAMPA, Fla. — United States District Judge William F. Jung has sentenced Rashid Iman Turner to 41 years in federal prison for his involvement in a string of armed robberies of banks and retail stores. Turner was also ordered to pay $103,782.78 in restitution to the victims. A federal jury had found Turner guilty on May 29, 2019.

According to evidence presented at trial, in August and October 2017, Turner and co-defendant Petrie Addison robbed Family Dollar and Dollar General stores in Lehigh Acres. In both retail robberies, shortly after closing time, Turner and Addison held the employees at gunpoint, threatened to kill them and their families, forced them to open the safes, and stole cash from the stores. Co-defendant Dakiriya Lias served as their getaway driver for the Dollar General robbery.

In November 2017, Turner and Addison robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Spring Hill. And, in December 2017, co-defendant Zachary Gloster joined Turner and Addison and they robbed Seacoast Banks in Arcadia and Port St. Lucie. In each of the bank robberies, the defendants stormed through the bank’s front doors shortly after opening time, held the employees at gunpoint, looted the teller drawers, and fled less than two minutes later.

Addison, Gloster, and Lias pleaded guilty for their roles in this case prior to Turner’s trial. This morning, Gloster was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role. Addison and Lias are currently awaiting sentencing.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Ft. Myers Police Department, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Arcadia Police Department, the Port St. Lucie Police Department, and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael M. Gordon.

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Young serial bank robber sent to prison

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A 20-year-old resident of Wilmer has been ordered to federal prison for a significant amount of time after committing multiple bank robberies and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Markeist Daquon Reed pleaded guilty June 17, 2019, to a total of three counts of bank robbery involving three different banks and one count of brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Today, Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey handed Reed a 63-month sentence for the robberies. He also received an additional 84 months for the firearms charge which must be served consecutively to the other sentence imposed. The sentences will be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. In handing down the more than 12-year sentence, the court noted how people were put in significant danger as a result of Reed’s actions during each of the robberies.

The charges stem from a series of bank robberies that occurred Oct. 5, Oct. 19 and Oct. 25, 2018, at the BB&T Bank on Park Lane in Dallas, Value Bank Texas on South Staples in Corpus Christi and BBVA Compass Bank on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, respectively.

In each instance, a male - later identified as Reed - entered the banks and approached an employee demanding money. During the last robbery, Reed carried with him and pointed an AK-47 style rifle as he demanded the money from the bank employee. Reed was later arrested during a traffic stop. At that time, law enforcement recovered the rifle and items linking him to the robberies.

Reed has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

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Man sentenced for role in armed gas station robberies

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Washington, D.C. man was sentenced to 23 years in prison for his participation in a string of armed robberies.

“Williams is a violent criminal whose callousness was on full display during the series of armed robberies,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Our commitment to getting such violent criminals off of our streets is unwavering. I am grateful to our local and federal law enforcement partners who assisted in this investigation and whose diligence allowed us to prosecute the case successfully.”

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Kenya Preston Williams, 37, used a loaded semi-automatic handgun to commit eight robberies in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including the robbery of an Exxon gas station in Alexandria and two different robberies of the same Shell gas station in Falls Church. Williams’ co-conspirator, Steven Oneil Houston, 26, of Oxon Hill, Maryland, previously pleaded guilty to charges of brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that violent criminals in our community cannot evade the law,” said Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office. “The FBI Washington Field Office will work closely with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners through our Safe Streets Violent Crime Task Force to continue to aggressively investigate violent crime in our area.”

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office, and Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Fairfax County Chief of Police, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander E. Blanchard prosecuted the case.

The Alexandria City Police Department, Prince George’s County Police Department, and Metropolitan Police Department all provided significant assistance with this investigation.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office Safe Streets Violent Crime Task Force, which is composed of FBI agents and law enforcement partners within the National Capital Region.

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Traveling bandit sentenced to over 15 years in prison for national bank robbery spree

Jason Lee Robinson, 40, of Pikesville, Kentucky, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno to 188 months in prison, after previously pleading guilty to committing a string of bank robberies across the country.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made the announcement.

According to court documents, Robinson’s bank robbery spree began in South Florida on December 28, 2018, roughly one month after he was released from federal prison following a 2013 conviction for bank robbery. On December 28, 2018, Robinson robbed a Capital Bank in Aventura, Florida of approximately $1,900. On January 2, 2019, he robbed a SunTrust Bank in Arden, North Carolina of approximately $3,040. On January 4, 2019, he robbed a Mountain Commerce Bank in Johnson City, Tennessee of approximately $4,300. On January 8, 2019, he robbed a U.S. Bank in Mount Juliet, Tennessee of approximately $3,990. On January 10, 2019, he robbed a Trustmark Bank in Prattville, Alabama of approximately $6,560. On January 14, 2019, he robbed a Fifth Third Bank in Mount Vernon, Illinois of approximately $1,950. On January 17, 2019, he robbed a Wells Fargo Bank in Price Branch, Utah of approximately $2,269.

U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI in this matter. She thanked the FBI’s Field Offices in Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Memphis, Tennessee; Mobile, Alabama; Springfield, Illinois; Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado and Louisville, Kentucky, for their assistance. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa H. Miller and Michael B. Homer in the Southern District of Florida.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will My Husband’s Income Affect My Benefits?

Dear Rusty: Since it looks like a good option for me to retire at 62 and my husband (who is younger than me) to retire at 67, will the income he makes after I retire affect my benefit amount by way of income taxes if we continue to file jointly? Also, how would receiving an inheritance affect my benefit amount if I file at 62? Signed: Worried Spouse

Dear Worried: Your husband’s income won’t directly affect your monthly Social Security benefit payments at all, but it may affect the tax liability on your Social Security benefits. Only earnings from you working will affect your monthly Social Security benefits, but whether the benefits you receive become taxable income to the IRS depends upon the level of your “combined income” for your IRS filing status. “Combined income” is your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) as reported to the IRS, plus any non-taxable interest you may have, plus 50% of your yearly Social Security benefits. This is also known as your “modified adjusted gross income” or “MAGI.”

If you file your income taxes as “married – filing jointly,” and your combined income for both you and your husband is more than $32,000, then up to 50% of your Social Security benefits will become taxable income. If your MAGI is over $44,000 then up to 85% of your Social Security benefits will become taxable. What that means in tax dollars depends upon your normal income tax rate as defined by the IRS. For information, the MAGI clip levels are lower when filing as an individual - if filing “single” MAGI over $25,000 means that up to 50% of Social Security benefits are taxable and MAGI over $34,000 means that up to 85% of Social Security benefits are taxable. But the advantages of filing jointly versus filing single usually more than offset the difference (though you may want to consult a tax advisor to confirm that).

As to your last question, an inheritance won’t affect your monthly Social Security benefit (only your earnings from working will affect your Social Security benefit), but if that inheritance is taxable by the IRS, then the portion of your Social Security benefits which are taxable could be affected, as described above.

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Opioid use

Patients in the U.S. and Canada are seven times more likely to receive an opioid prescription after surgery than patients in Sweden. That's the conclusion of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, who also found that while the U.S. and Canada have similar opioid prescription rates, U.S. patients tend to receive higher doses of medication. “Our findings reveal stark differences in prescribing practices across the three countries and suggest real opportunities to encourage more judicious use of opioids before and after surgery for patients in the United States and Canada,” said researcher Mark D. Neuman.

Farm of the future

Veterinary researchers are developing a “farm of the future” that can help make U.S. pig farming more sustainable. A goal of the University of Pennsylvania’s Swine Teaching and Research Center is to reshape the environmental and social impacts of raising swine using humane conditions and efficient resource usage. At Penn's New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., for example, a model pig farm includes free-roaming sows implanted with RFID chips that allow them to receive personalized, pre-measured amounts of organic feed so that the animals do not have to compete with one another to eat.

Info gerrymandering

Social networks can impede the free flow of information. In what scientists have termed “information gerrymandering,” it’s not geographical boundaries that confer bias, but the structure of social networks, such as social media connections. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Houston conducted experiments with thousands of human subjects and analyzed a variety of real-world networks, finding examples of information gerrymandering on Twitter, in the blogosphere, and in U.S. and European legislatures. “People come to form opinions, or decide how to vote, based on what they read and who they interact with,” said Joshua Plotkin of Penn. “Information gerrymandering can induce a strong bias in the outcome of collective decisions. This tells us that we need to be cautious about relying on social media for communication because the network structure is not under our control and yet it can distort our collective decisions.”

It’s never too late

Ask any mother and she’ll tell you that birthing a baby is painful but a joy, nonetheless. Having twins, most would say, is twice the bliss and twice the hurt. But, the senior advocacy organization says the older the pregnant mother is, the more complicated and dangerous it can be. Apparently it didn’t faze 74-year-old Erramatti Mangayamma who gave birth to twins in India recently via a C-Section, making her the oldest woman on record to give birth to a baby — let alone twins. Her doctor said mother and daughters underwent the procedure without complications and are healthy and happy. Her husband, 80-year-old E. Raja Rao, who provided the sperm for Mrs. Mangayamma’s IVF pregnancy, is proof that you’re never too old.

What are the odds

An adventurous roller coast enthusiast at New Zealand’s Port Aventura theme park dropped his cell phone mid-ride and flew through the air. But, a passenger with quick reflexes riding in a car behind him managed to reach out and catch the phone as it flew through the air. The roller coaster, which was traveling at 80 MPH at the time, was equipped with a surveillance camera that caught the whole thing on video.

A “smart” move

Who needs a garage? As Hurricane Dorian approached Florida recently. Patrick Eldridge became concerned that its powerful winds could do major damage to his property-- particularly his car. Eldridge’s garage was overcrowded so he decided to bring his auto indoors and wound up parking it in his kitchen. Thank goodness it was small Smart Car.

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How to live life like you’re on a treasure hunt

Nearly everyone experiences it.

We get so caught up in our work or other day-to-day responsibilities that we overlook many of the world’s simple pleasures and intoxicating wonders.

But, when we pay attention, life can be an extraordinary treasure hunt that will lead us down paths we never imagined, says Sandra A. Miller (www.SandraAMiller.com), author of Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure.

“Sometimes I will see people walking through the woods and they are texting, not noticing all the beauty around them,” Miller says. “It makes you realize that it's getting harder to spend even an hour without technology.”

She certainly has made the effort to untether herself. Miller’s memoir is about a midlife crisis as experienced through armchair treasure hunting, a hobby in which a person or group buries a treasure and sets up a series of clues and puzzles that will lead treasure hunters to it. The game entails getting out into the world and possibly even digging in the dirt.

But Miller says such organized treasure hunts also serve as a metaphor for what everyone needs to do more of – leave the digital world behind and explore the abundant riches that the real one provides.

Miller says she has found that a few ways to live life like you’re on a treasure hunt include:

Start each day with a prayer of gratitude. This doesn’t have to be a religious thing. Miller says it means savoring and showing appreciation for family and friendships; for the joy a favorite song brings; for every experience that teaches you a little more about yourself and the world; and for any small thing that might be insignificant to others, but holds meaning for you.

Engage with people, even strangers. Technology makes it easy these days to become isolated from others. “The antidote to that is putting down our phones, looking someone in the eye and saying, ‘How is your day going?’ ” Miller says. “If they don’t want to tell you, they won’t. But chances are, no one else has asked them. Who knows what treasures these conversations will reveal?”

Look for clues and signs everywhere. “I try to stay open to the found things on my path; from words, to signs, to love that announces itself to us in hundreds of ways each day,” Miller says. “That bird. That baby in the stroller. An early spring daffodil. I feel pleased with where I am in my life, and I’m not looking for something else to make me happy. But I still stay aware of all these treasures around me.”

Expect to always be on a search. One of the great things about living life like you’re on a treasure hunt is that the hunt never ends. “There is so much to search for,” Miller says, “and now more than ever we need to stay awake and alert to the beauty around us.”

“I think so many of us reach midlife and say, ‘Now what?’ ” Miller says. “In many cases, we have built strong careers and have disposable income. Often we even have time to travel or do the things we love, but we are still plagued by a sense of longing, which is different for everyone. Stay open to all the possibilities because the treasure you’re looking for is almost never where you expect to find it.”

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Worried about saving for college? Here are the key points to consider

As students head back to college, millions of parents are hoping their younger children someday can do the same.

With the high costs of college continuing to rise and many students and families saddled with heavy debt, saving for college has become as important as ever. Many people started savings plans early, while others either could not afford to or procrastinated.

The bottom line, says financial professional Alexander Joyce, is learning all the options that fit with a family’s financial situation.

“It’s never too late, but most people wish they had started sooner, and many don’t know what investment option is best for their college funding needs,” says Joyce, president/CEO of ReJoyce Financial LLC (www.ReJoyceFinancial.com) and author of ReJoyce In Your Retirement: Everything You Need To Know To Get Everything You Want.

“Be honest and realistic about the college part of your family financials, and from there you can decide on ways to get there in discussions with a planner.”

Joyce says the following points should be explored and evaluated before going forward with a college savings plan:

Your risk tolerance level. Before committing to a college savings plan, it’s important to determine how much you can afford to risk. “Just like anything in life, the higher the risk, the higher the potential reward,” Joyce says. “If you start very early you likely can go higher risk somewhere down the road. At the same time, risk tolerance — and protecting your principal — is very important because college savings is a usually more conservative investment; it’s a targeted investment, meaning you need an amount of money by a specific date.”

The pros and cons of 529 plans. The 529 plan is an immensely popular college savings tool. Among the benefits are tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals when savings are used for qualified education expenses. And as of 2019, individuals can contribute up to $15,000 per 529 plan, per child annually without triggering a gift tax. However, there are some disadvantages, such as limited investment options and a 10 percent tax penalty applied when money in the account is used for non-qualified education expenses. “The 529 has traditionally been the way for many families, because you hear about it the most,” Joyce says. “But if you’re getting a late start on college savings, this may not be the plan for you. You may have to play catch-up by contributing larger amounts, and you also have a shorter window for seeing your investments recover from market volatility.”

Non-traditional college savings plans. “One of the best things some people can do is look outside the box of traditional planning vehicles,” Joyce says. “There’s a big argument for adding an additional level of equities — some say you would be better off buying a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) to fund college. For example, with some funds averaging 10-15% in the market the last 10 years, those who did exceptionally well took more market risk, exposing the principal to loss or gain. On the other hand, perhaps try a Roth IRA — it could double as a college savings account as well as a retirement account. There’s no 10 percent penalty when Roth IRA withdrawals are used for qualified higher education expenses, but ordinary income tax may apply to any earnings withdrawn before the age of 59½.”

“When drawing a conclusion on a plan of action, stick to it the best you can,” Joyce says. “Consistency wins the race.”

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

KNOW YOUR MILITARY

Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Capt. Everett Pope

BY KATIE LANGE

Marine Corps Capt. Everett Pope was a seasoned officer by the time he landed on the small Pacific island of Peleliu during World War II, but little prepared him for what it took to survive there. His leadership while fighting devastating odds earned him the Medal of Honor.

A Marine Corps major in full dress uniform wears the Medal of Honor around his neck.

Pope was born July 16, 1919, and grew up in Massachusetts, where he graduated from high school. He then attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and spent his junior year studying abroad in France. By October 1939, he returned to the United States fully aware of the increasing crisis in Europe.

"We could see what [war] could do. It was devastating, the world the French were living in at that point," Pope recalled in an interview with the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project. "I didn't want to hang around and be drafted."

So, four days after graduating from college in 1941, Pope joined the Marine Corps as an officer candidate. He got his commission just before the Pearl Harbor attacks and, a few months later, was sent off to the Pacific to fight.

"I was fluent in French, so of course the Marine Corps sent me to the southwest Pacific," Pope joked.

Several Marines in combat dress lay low on a sandy beach with bombed-out trees in the background.

The 23-year-old was part of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Regiment, 1st Marine Division, which first saw action in Guadalcanal in August 1942. There, Pope said, they learned jungle warfare skills they would need over the next two years. By September 1944, Army Gen. Douglass MacArthur, who fled the Philippines before their capture by the Japanese in 1942, was ready to return to the islands to retake them. But he needed to secure his right flank first.

That meant capturing the Palau island group. On Sept. 15, 1944, the 1st Marine Division was sent to Palau's Peleliu island to take it from the Japanese. Pope was in command of a rifle company sent to secure the island's airfield, which happened fairly easily.

Seizing the rest of the island was a struggle. Pope said the terrain was all coral, rocks and 300- to 400-foot hills that were filled with caves and Japanese defensive positions.

An aerial view of a small island in which bombs can be seen blowing up behind an airfield and near heavily wooded ridges.

"I landed with a rifle company of about 235 men. Four days later … there were about 90 of us left," he said.

Pope rallied his troops to keep moving. On Sept 19, they scaled a steep coral hill that was being hammered by cannon, machine gun, mortar and sniper fire, and they took refuge on a flat area about the size of a tennis court.

"We were on a plateau with high ground dominating it, really, to the south, and the Japanese were able to fire down at us [on three sides]," he said. "We held that hill overnight, trying to protect the troops that were below us."

Pope's Marines fiercely fought back, even with rocks and hand-to-hand combat. But their ammunition quickly ran out, and they had little water to drink in the 115-degree weather. By daybreak, Pope said, he could see they were about to be overrun.

"We were ordered to withdraw at about the same time I decided we were going to get out of there," Pope said.

Of the 70 men who went up the hill with him, only eight came back down.

"A lot of brave Marines died on that hill," Pope said. "I can never forget it."

Men and tanks move toward a bombed-out ridge. A small lake is to their right.

The Cost of Peleliu

The Allies won the Battle of Peleliu, but at great cost. What leaders thought would only take a few days to secure took more than two months. It was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Pacific, with a casualty rate exceeding all other amphibious operations in the region – 1,544 killed and 6,843 wounded, which accounted for 70 percent of Pope's 1st Marines Regiment.

"I was the only company commander in the regiment to come out of that island standing up," Pope said.

Nearly all of the 11,000 Japanese troops on the island were killed, too.

Pope's ability to lead despite the horrors of that campaign earned him the Medal of Honor. He was the first man to whom President Harry S. Truman presented the medal at the White House on June 15, 1945. He was also promoted to the rank of major.

A group, including four service members wearing Medals of Honor, stands on a lawn with President Harry S. Truman and their families.

Pope said he wore the medal to represent the heroes who didn't make it home.

"I was proud to receive the nation's highest award. I wasn't sure that I deserved it, but I was determined to wear it appropriately," Pope said. "It encouraged me to do serious things, to be helpful to my fellow Americans as best I could."

A Marine in dress uniform handles a folded U.S. flag with care as funeral attendees look on in the background.

After the war, Pope left the Marine Corps to raise two sons with his wife, Eleanor. He spent about three decades working as a banker in Boston before moving back to Maine to work at his alma mater, Bowdoin College.

Pope died July 16, 2009, on the morning of his 90th birthday and six months after his wife passed away. The couple was laid to rest together in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Medal of Honor: Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright

BY KATIE LANGE

On Sept. 2, 1945, Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, a Medal of Honor recipient, was among the few U.S. military leaders aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when Japan signed the surrender documents ending World War II.

Wainwright is lauded for defending the Philippines when they were overtaken by the Japanese and earned the nickname "Hero of Bataan."

Born in 1883 in Walla Walla, Washington, Wainwright was from a long line of military officers. He followed in his father's footsteps by joining the Army and graduated from West Point in 1906.

More than 30 years later, Wainwright was the 4th Army's commander in the Philippines when the U.S. entered World War II. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur — who was in charge of Pacific forces — was forced to flee the Philippine capital of Manila ahead of a Japanese invasion. So, in 1942, Wainwright became senior field commander of U.S. and Philippine forces and was tasked with defending the islands.

Army Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, thin and wearing a button-down shirt and khaki pants, sits at a small table in front of a microphone as he broadcasts a message surrendering to the Japanese. A Japanese man sits beside him, looking at papers on the table.

The battle for the Philippines was hard-fought and spanned several months. U.S. troops faced starvation, disease and rough jungle conditions after being cut off from supplies. Despite being advised to leave, Wainwright was authorized to continue the fight from the Bataan Peninsula. He fought alongside his men and often visited the front lines of battle.

The Philippines fell to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, but Wainwright and thousands of others survived and escaped to Corregidor, the last Allied stronghold in the island chain. There, they hid and dodged air bombardments for another month.

Wainwright finally surrendered the island to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. He and the remaining Allied troops were forced to join the Bataan Death March to prison camps in the Philippines and on other Japanese-held islands.

A soldier sitting in a chair at a table, signs the Japanese surrender document that ended World War II. Two other service members in dress uniform stand behind him near a microphone, and others stand off to the side.

Three years and three months later, in August 1945, Wainwright was released from a liberated prisoner-of-war camp. Two weeks later, he stood behind MacArthur on the USS Missouri when the general signed the Japanese surrender documents.

After that, Wainwright returned to the Philippines to witness the surrender of the local Japanese commander.

Wainwright considered himself a failure because he had surrendered, but in September 1945, he was promoted to four-star general and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received a hero's welcome when he returned to the United States.

A woman wearing a hat shakes a man’s hand behind a table with several tea kettles on it. A second man in uniform stands between them.

After the war, Wainwright commanded the 4th Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, before retiring from active duty in August 1947. He died in 1953 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was 70 years old.

In 1961, Alaska's Ladd Air Force Base, which had been an Army base during World War II, was returned to the Army and renamed Fort Wainwright.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Sgt. Grant Timmerman

BY KATIE LANGE

Marine Corps Pfc. Grant Timmerman had already served plenty of time abroad when he was discharged from the military in late 1941. But Pearl Harbor happened five weeks after he got out, so he decided to join right back up.

Timmerman shipped out again for his country a short time later, and he never returned. But the actions he took to save his fellow Marines will always be remembered. They're what earned him the Medal of Honor.

Grant Frederick Timmerman was born in Americus, Kansas, on 19 February 1919. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously upon his death on 8 July 1944 at Saipan saving his tank crew from an enemy grenade. Timmerman Street on Marine Corps Base Quantico is named in his honor.

Timmerman was born in February 1919 in Americus, Kansas, where he grew up playing saxophone, hunting and learning Russian and French. He went to college for a year before moving to California to become a welder.

A few months later, in October 1937, he joined the Marine Corps. Timmerman was shipped to China on the USS Henderson, where he served as a truck driver and motorcycle dispatch rider. An incident in Shanghai during this time earned him a letter of appreciation from a U.S. Navy commander. The commendation came after Timmerman and another Marine found a woman being surrounded by a menacing-looking group, so they dispersed the angry crowd and waited for police to show up. It turned out the woman was the Navy commander's wife.

Five Marines wearing combat helmets and holding guns stand in a foxhole with sparse trees in the background.

Timmerman enjoyed being overseas and extended his tour of duty, but he found himself back in the states by the spring of 1941 and was discharged after four years of duty that October.

However, just five weeks later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, catapulting the U.S. into World War II. Timmerman reenlisted two months later. By autumn, he was a 23-year-old sergeant being shipped to New Zealand to prepare for combat. He fought at the Battle of Tarawa during the conquest of Betio Island in the Gilbert Islands in November 1943. After getting some rest and relaxation and more training in Hawaii, he was sent back to the Pacific battlegrounds.

The Z-shaped Tarawa Atoll is seen from the sky with ocean all around it.

By the time the Marines landed in the Mariana Islands to fight for control of Saipan in June 1944, Timmerman was a tank commander with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division.

On July 8, 1944, Timmerman was moving his tank a few yards ahead of his infantrymen, steadily firing an antiaircraft machine gun during an attack on hostile positions. But their progress was impeded by a series of Japanese pillboxes and trenches.

Timmerman stopped the tank as he saw a target he could hit with the tank's 75 mm gun. He stood up in his exposed turret to warn the infantrymen around him of the gun's muzzle blast, telling them to hit the deck.

Marines hide behind sandbags during heavy combat beside a hill; one Marine’s hand is cocked backward, ready to launch a grenade into the distance. Sand is in the foreground; palm trees are in the background.

Four service members, two of whom are standing on a tank, look into the distance toward an island hill. Palm trees and sand surround them.

Right then, a Japanese grenade flew toward his open turret. Thinking quickly, Timmerman shielded the opening with his body and took the brunt of the blast to his chest. He was killed instantly.

By blocking the grenade, Timmerman saved the rest of the tank's crew. His sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor a year later, on July 8, 1945. The medal was presented to his parents in their home during a quiet, informal presentation they requested.

Timmerman was initially interred in a cemetery in the Marianas, but he was moved and reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

The USS Timmerman was named in his honor in 1946. Christened by his mother, the destroyer was used from 1952 to 1959. At Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Marines who have followed in his footsteps might recognize his name when they venture down Timmerman Street, behind the base commissary.

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How to make the mindset change that creates good habits — and success

Achieving success or struggling depends on many factors, but habits go a long way toward determining either outcome, research shows.

Breaking bad habits and cultivating good ones can be difficult, and willpower alone isn’t enough, says Ngan Nguyen (www.nganhnguyen.com), a leadership coach and author of Self-Defined Success: You Already Have Everything It Takes.

“You can’t create the life you want unless you replace bad habits, and that happens by developing a new mindset,” says Nguyen. “These are new thought processes that are linked to your new clarity of vision for your life.

“Usually, some sort of stimuli triggers our habits. Breaking a habit requires changing the action that we take when the stimuli appear. Repeated over and over, these new, more constructive thoughts and resulting positive actions automatically become the new habit.”

Nguyen offers the following tips to transform bad habits into good habits that lead to success.

Clarify your life vision. “Reassessing what we want out of life can provide a more efficient roadmap of goals and how to reach them,” Nguyen says. “Translate your longings and discontents into an actionable, crystallized vision that propels you forward. If you feel stuck, a powerful vision that’s in alignment with your core values is the most critical first step in liberating yourself and creating the results you want. Good habits flow from an energizing new life vision.”

Don’t let doubt or worry hold you back. “Distinguish between believing if you deserve to live your dream life, and whether or not it is possible,” Nguyen says. “You don’t want to talk yourself out of the vision you have crafted for your life based on whether or not you think it is possible. It is absolutely possible, because if you can imagine the outcome, then there is a way. Knowing that, your new habits stay consistent.”

Replace negative beliefs with positive, empowering thoughts. Nguyen says habits that hinder success often stem from negative thoughts. Some common ones are beliefs about ourselves, other people, money, and success. “People think, ‘I’m not good enough, not smart enough,’ or, ‘Other people will deceive me,’ and, ‘Money is scarce and hard to earn,’ ” Nguyen says. “Changing our beliefs to positive is what will allow us to access ideas and allow new positive perception to enter our consciousness. If we recognize that a thought doesn’t serve us, then we can choose to think differently when a stimulus to think negatively occurs. Over time, it becomes easier to think differently because new neural pathways are strengthened with our persistence.”

Analyze your stories. “Stories are how we live our lives,” Nguyen says. “The way we each live is guided by our beliefs, habits, values and emotions. It becomes destructive when patterns repeat in our lives that we do not desire, like always having problems with money or the inability to have a fulfilling relationship. If similar patterns play out that we do not like, we can identify what the underlying belief is by taking an objective look at the story.”

“It is when your beliefs, thoughts, and emotions completely align with the person who is living their new, clarified vision that the life they want becomes possible,” Nguyen says. “New, good habits become second nature, and while success is never automatic, good habits make it far more likely.”

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When tragedy strikes, should families of the accused also suffer?

When the most heinous crimes occur – murders, mass shootings, serial killings – much of the focus understandably turns to the victims and their grieving families who struggle to make sense of senseless violence.

But the perpetrators have families, too, who often are horrified and guilt-ridden by what happened.

Even the famous are not immune. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles revealed recently how agonizing it was to process the news after her brother was charged in a triple homicide. Biles tweeted that her “heart aches” for the victims and their families. But she also asked for respect for her family’s privacy “as we deal with our pain.”

“It’s an understandable request because the pain of an accused perpetrator’s family can be unbearable,” says Dr. Buck Blodgett, who wrote A Message from Jessie and founded The LOVE>hate Project (www.ligth.org) after his daughter was raped and murdered by an ex-boyfriend in her own home.

Even as he mourned his daughter and sought justice, Blodgett felt empathy for the parents of the young man eventually convicted in her death.

“They are good people,” he says. “They unquestionably provided a loving, caring, quality home environment for their children. They had nothing to do with the choices their son made. And they have been through a hell that few can imagine.”

Blodgett has a message for those caught up in either side of a tragedy – and for anyone who struggles to understand why the world is filled with such suffering:

Don’t lose faith in human goodness. Blodgett remembers during one court hearing when he and his wife passed the defendant’s parents and their family. They exchanged hugs, blessings and sympathies. Later, two members of the family approached him and thanked him “for the grace you have shown our family.” Blodgett says that touched him. “The fact that two families on opposite sides of a murder trial could show each other respect, empathy and love meant everything,” he says. “It brought faith in the goodness of people, and a small measure of healing back into our families.”

Understand who is really responsible. After his daughter’s murderer was sentenced, Blodgett approached the convicted killer’s mother, hugged her and told her she was a great mom. He imagined she must ask herself numerous questions, including “Could I have done something different?” Blodgett says that’s the wrong question, and says it’s better to ask: “Why did (the killer) choose to use his gift of free will in this way?”

Choose love over hate. Once tragedies happen they can’t be undone, and the grieving process may never end, but Blodgett is convinced people can create some good out of even the most horrible of events, regardless of which side of that event they fall on. In Blodgett’s case, he founded The LOVE>hate Project with the mission of ending violence against women and promoting love over hate.

“How do you overcome something like this?” Blodgett asks. “With love. With an open heart, an open mind, an open will. For me, the answer is refusing to let hate win; refusing to let it shape me, govern my actions, tell me who I am. Hate is not allowed in my heart.”

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Revive overcrowded and struggling perennials

By Melinda Myers

Fall is the best time to divide spring and summer blooming perennials that are overcrowded, dead in the center, failing to flower or flopping open. Wait until spring to dig and divide fall or summer blooming perennials that were not moved the previous fall.

These are guidelines that increase success, but most gardeners have found that the best time to divide is when you have the time and can provide good, proper post-transplanting care.

Use a sharp-edged shovel to dig the perennial, roots and all, out of the ground. Lift the clump out of the soil and use a linoleum, garden knife or drywall saw to cut the plant into smaller sections.

Some gardeners prefer to use two garden forks placed back to back in the center of the clump and then pry the perennial apart into two pieces. Continue the process until the desired size and number of divisions is achieved.

Discard and compost the dead center. Divide the remaining plant into four, six or eight pieces. The smaller the divisions, the longer it will take for the plants to reach mature size. Larger divisions may quickly grow, fill the space and need to be divided sooner.

You can plant one of the divisions back into its original location. Use the others to fill voids, expand existing gardens or start a new bed or border. Just make sure to match the plant with its desired growing conditions.

No matter how you plan on using the divisions you should prepare the soil first. Add compost, peat moss or other organic matter to the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. Plant the divisions at the same depth they were growing in the garden. Water thoroughly at planting and throughout the fall or subsequent growing season whenever the top few inches of soil starts to dry. Spread a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic mulch over the soil surface. Be careful not to bury the stems. Mulch helps moderate soil temperatures, conserves moisture, suppresses weeds and improves the soil as it breaks down.

Regular dividing can also help eliminate other garden tasks like deadheading, staking and replacement. Divide repeat blooming daylilies every few years to keep them blooming throughout the season. Do the same for threadleaf coreopsis.

Divide asters every year or two in the spring to keep them vigorous and control their spread as needed. Increase the vigor and compactness of Shasta daisies by dividing them every 2 to 3 years.

Peonies, on the other hand, seldom need dividing. They can remain in the ground undisturbed and blooming profusely for decades. Fall is the time to dig and divide peonies if you need to move or want to divide them to make more plants (propagate).

Don't be alarmed if your peony or other perennials fail to bloom the year after transplanting. The transplant often spends the first year establishing a healthy root system instead of flowering. Just be patient and you will be rewarded with flowers the following year.

Take advantage of the warm soil and cool air of fall to dig, divide and transplant overcrowded and struggling perennials. Your efforts will be rewarded with better looking and more floriferous gardens.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – When Will My Earnings Not Hurt My Social Security Benefits?

Dear Rusty: I will turn 66 in June of next year. I do not plan to stop working but I do plan on starting to collect my Social Security. How soon can I start to collect without having to give it back because my income is too high? And after I start collecting will I still have to pay into the program with deductions from my current salary, and if I do, will those payments from me help to increase what I will be able to collect from SSA? Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning Ahead: Social Security's earnings limit goes away when you reach your full retirement age (FRA), which for you is 66. So, if you claim Social Security benefits to start in June of next year you do not need to worry about your earnings causing Social Security to take back benefits - you’ll have reached your full retirement age (FRA) and the earnings limit disappears at your FRA. But, whether you can claim any earlier in the year without it affecting your benefits depends on your earnings level.

Starting next year, because that will be the year you reach your FRA, the usual earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019) will be about 2.5 times greater, or a little more than this year’s limit of $46,920 for those in their FRA year. So, if you claim benefits to start before June when you reach your FRA, you'll be subject to that higher 2020 annual limit and - depending on the month you claim - perhaps a monthly limit (the annual limit divided by 12). Exceeding the annual limit will cause Social Security to take back some of your benefits, and If you exceed the monthly limit you won’t be entitled to benefits for that month. However, if your income starting next year won’t exceed those limits you can claim earlier in the year without having benefits withheld. And if you don’t start your benefits before June of next year you won’t be subject to an earnings limit at all next year, nor for any year thereafter. And just to be sure you’re aware, you can apply for Social Security about 3 months before you want your benefits to start - but if you want to start benefits at your FRA just be sure to specify June 2020 as your benefit start month. For clarity, you can get benefits for the full month of June, the month you reach your FRA, regardless of the day of the month you were born.

As to your question about continuing to pay into the program, yes, for as long as you continue to work you will need to pay Social Security FICA payroll taxes - everyone who works and earns must pay that tax. But paying Social Security FICA, by itself, doesn't increase your benefit. What may affect your benefit is if your current earnings are more than the inflation-adjusted earnings in any of the 35 years used to compute your benefit when you start Social Security. Each year, Social Security will look at your annual earnings and, if an increase is appropriate because you have more recent higher earnings, they will automatically make that adjustment for you.

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3 ways you can benefit by giving your smartphone a rest

America is saturated in smartphones. A Pew Research Center survey reported 81% of Americans own the versatile — and some say, addictive — mobile device.

With the smartphone’s capabilities for internet access, social media interaction, running all kinds of apps, and texting, its screen has become the nation’s preoccupation — while face-to-face human conversation seems more of a second option.

“Everywhere you go, so many people are looking into their phone, not at each other,” says Johnny Welsh (www.johnnywelsh.com), author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure. “Will smartphones and social media be the biggest distractors of interpersonal communications in our lifetime?”

Welsh wanted to ensure that didn’t happen in his life, so he and his girlfriend embarked on a 16-day western U.S. road trip devoid of smartphones and electronic devices. A bartender for 25 years, Welsh had grown tired of seeing the social element of a crowded bar — lively conversation — often missing when people were glued to their phones.

Learning to live without the devices – or at least doing so for a couple weeks while vacationing — is a healthy reboot everyone should try, Welsh says. Reflecting on his unplugged road trip, Welsh shares what he gained from travelling without information-age technology — and how he thinks people can benefit by giving their phones a rest:

Enjoy real conversation. Welsh means meaningful conversation with strangers as well as with friends and loved ones. On their trip, he and his girlfriend enjoyed meeting people and they got to know each other better as well. It led to their engagement. “The art of one-on-one communication is getting lost,” he says. “But without phones to distract us, our communication between us was more fulfilling. I imagine this can be a challenge for many couples who are accustomed to being apart even while in the same room — because one or both are on their phones.”

Keep your head up, see and feel more. Simple observation of nature’s beauty was enhanced on Welsh’s trip. ”We felt a heightened sense of focus throughout our trip,” Welsh says. “We were free to absorb all that was around us without distraction. In the pre-internet days, kids on vacation looked out the window of cars with a sense of wonder. Every day was a new discovery. Unplugging today gives you that same sense of fresh discovery and in-the-moment living we were all intended to have.”

Re-learn how to relax. A vacation is supposed to be about relaxing. Welsh was reminded of that without his smartphone. “We recognized the reason we take vacations is to get away — and that means getting all the way away,” Welsh says. “Turn it off. Unplug. Be totally in the present. Too many people spend vacations and days off still consumed by social media, which can either add stress or steal the present time from you.”

“You’re robbing yourself of the full experience of a road trip if you don’t unplug,” Welsh says. “The same is true in life; you’re not getting nearly the most out of it if you stay glued to a screen and miss many of the moments and people around you.”

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How technology is reshaping and reinventing the real estate frontier

How you buy or rent property – and how others sell or lease it to you – is in the midst of dramatic change, the kind perhaps not seen in the real estate world since the birth of the skyscraper in the 19th century.

The reason: property technology or “PropTech,” which is a collective term used to define startups offering technologically innovative products or new business models for the real estate markets.

PropTech could even alter who wins and who loses in the real estate profession.

“Some who don’t embrace real estate technology will be dragged along, forced to up their game by vendors and clients,” says Aaron Block, co-author with Zach Aarons of PropTech 101: Turning Chaos into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation (www.proptech101.com). “They may discover one day that they are well behind the competition. Some of them won’t survive.”

Block and Aarons, co-founders of MetaProp, a leading PropTech venture capital firm, say that PropTech is creating far-reaching change for the real estate industry that’s comparable to what happened in the late 1800s when innovations in construction technology helped make building skyscrapers possible and profitable.

“The ways in which real estate gets bought, sold, leased, financed, appraised, designed and managed already have changed dramatically in recent years,” Aarons says. “And you can expect PropTech to drive even more changes, and at a fast pace.”

Block and Aarons say that’s a good thing for consumers, for the industry – and for those working in real estate who are willing to adapt. Some of the many changes and benefits PropTech is creating are:

Energy savings. One key benefit of PropTech is the potential cost savings involved with energy. “Detailed data about how a space is used, lighted, cooled, and heated, and the ability to automate or remotely control the built environment, make for a powerful combination,” Block says. “This sort of information and analysis moves landlords and management closer to the customer, allowing them to present real estate as a service, not a product, which increasingly gives them an edge over the competition.”

Availability of data. The growing transparency and availability of real estate data has a democratizing effect and makes providing good service more important than ever, Aarons says. “Much of the commercial brokers’ value used to lie in their relationships with other brokers and their access to information,” he says. “Residential sales agents were hired in part because they had deep local knowledge and exclusive access to a jealously guarded multiple-listing service.” As technology makes such information readily available, those who can differentiate themselves in such areas as good deal-making skills and smarter strategies stand to make more money, Aarons says.

Efficiency. In the past, commercial real estate brokerages had to spend a lot of time and resources gathering information and plugging it into spreadsheets. Now they can devote that time to deeper market analysis, planning, and strategy, Block says. Meanwhile, residential sales agents who are willing and able to adapt to innovations will have the means to replace their exclusive access to the MLS with perhaps something better – a forward-looking online advertising strategy, a suite of powerful digital tools, and a comparative marketing analysis that harnesses data in ways their competitors’ CMAs don’t.

“The fact that real estate managed to insulate itself from technological advances and innovations for longer than most industries only means that the pace of change is that much faster now,” Aarons says. “The good news is that, for those willing to embrace innovation, there is a future rife with opportunity.”

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True Grit

Ray Woolley is an exemplar for senior citizens. Woolley, saw action in World War II. It’s nearly 75 years since VE Day but Woolley’s sense of derring do is still intact. The 96-year-old veteran recently broke the record for the oldest scuba diver, diving to a depth of 138 feet off the coast of Cyprus to explore a sunken ship. But, it is not the first time for Woolley. The record he broke is his own, which he established in 2018 when he broke the record he set in 2017. In a documentary focused on his life, he explains it this way: “I refuse to accept the fact that I’m getting old,” according to the Reuters news service.

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Driver gives new meaning to the word “impulsive”

You can make book that next time this Welsh driver will call for a tow truck. But this time Glyndwr Wyn Richards decided to do it himself when he needed to transport a disabled automobile. He, somehow, managed to rest the inoperable vehicle on the roof of his own car. He was caught before he could get very far. Richards was, of course, fined for reckless endangerment after admitting that it was “a stupid thing to do.” Ya think?

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Ach du Lieber

Next time this German zookeeper will be more careful when trying to herd a determined rhinoceros. The rhino recently used its powerful horn to upend the zookeeper’s vehicle and then proceeded to toss it around. The battering virtually demolished the camouflaged car but the zookeeper escaped with minor injuries. It happened at the Serengeti Park in the town of Hodenhagen. The rhino is part of a breeding program.

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Planting bulbs this Fall? Protect them.

Bobbex, Inc.

With Autumn about to begin, you’re probably thinking about the shorter, colder days of winter rather than the beauty of spring flowers blooming from bulb planting. If you want to enjoy tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other beautiful blooms next spring, it’s time to plan for and plant bulbs!

Spring-blooming bulbs need to be planted in autumn, so they’ll have time to form strong roots before the ground freezes. The best time to plant is mid-September through late October when the soil temperature typically falls below 60 degrees. Bulbs need time to get established before winter’s freezing weather sets in.

Many winter hardy bulbs are left in the ground year after year and can provide multiple years of gorgeous color. To make the most of your time and money investments, be sure to give them a good start. A close up of food

Description automatically generatedTimely tips on planting bulbs

*When buying, look for bulbs that are plump and firm and avoid those that are soft, rotted, moldy, or dented.

* Once purchased, it’s important to get them in the ground as soon as possible to prevent them from drying out. If you can’t plant them right away, store them temporarily in a cool, dark place and plant as soon as possible. Storage must be cool, as temps near 80 degrees will damage-even kill -heat sensitive bulbs, like tulips.

*It’s always recommended to do a soil test prior to planting to be sure your pH level is 6.0 to 7.0, for most bulbs. Adding limestone can raise pH if necessary or if your pH is too high, add some sulfur. Your soil test results will reveal what amendments you might need.

Spring flowering bulbs can literally cover lots of ground. They not only bloom in a beautiful range of colors, shapes and sizes, they also thrive in a wide variety of conditions. As a rule, bulbs grow best when planted in areas that have well-draining soil, and where they receive full sun to light shade. Another good rule to remember is if you’re planting bulbs that bloom in spring, plant in fall. For bulbs that bloom early summer or later, plant in spring.

*When deciding where to plant, keep in mind that it’s often still cold and bleak when the first spring bulbs break ground. Consider planting them where they can be seen from inside the house–so you can enjoy living color from the comfort of home. Some other prime viewing areas are next to walkways and entry doors, under deciduous trees, in front of evergreens and in open flower beds.

Protect against bulb bandits

Bulbs are favorite food for garden varmints like squirrels, chipmunks and other critters who dig them up and eat them, dashing your chance for beautiful blooms in springtime.

You can protect your bulbs and the beauty they bring in spring by employing some timely tactics:

Working in wire: If critters are a problem in your yard, although cumbersome, try covering bulbs with wire mesh screening which will allow shoots to grow through the holes, while keeping critters out.

Plant resistant varieties: Small animal pests love tulips just as much as deer, but they’re less interested in daffodil, allium, scilla and some other bulbs as well.

Dip it: Use a proven effective repellent: One of the best and easiest ways to protect newly planted bulbs is with a third party tested, proven effective repellent like Bobbex-R Rabbit & Small Animal Repellent. This all-natural product repels rabbits, chipmunks and other small herbivores through smell and taste aversion.

To protect bulbs as you plant them, pour Bobbex-R into a small container and dip the bulbs in it prior to planting, following these simple instructions. Once the solution dries, it becomes water-insoluble, so it won’t wash off.

Come springtime, when your plants emerge, spray them with Bobbex-R to protect flowers and foliage.

Take it one step further and use Bobbex-R as a critter deterrent by spraying at the mouth of animal burrows.

Bulbs need protection from the minute they go into the ground. Protect them as you plant for best results for an early array of color and beauty that will kick start spring gardens and enhance your yard with the living color, we all crave!’

For more information on repellents, please visit www.bobbex.com

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Get the most out of your tomato harvest

By MELINDA MYERS

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and when they’re left on the plant five to eight days after the fruit are fully colored, the flavor only gets better.

Check plants regularly and keep harvesting, so the plants continue to produce throughout the fall. This also reduces problems with insects and disease attacking overripe or rotting fruit. Store the mature red tomatoes in cool, 45- to 50-degree, conditions with high humidity and they’ll last about 7 to 14 days.

Consider pinching off the growing tip of indeterminate tomatoes about a month before the average date of the first fall frost. These plants will keep growing and producing new flowers and fruit until the frost kills the plant. By pruning off the tip towards the end of the growing season the plant will direct its energy into ripening the existing fruit instead of producing more tomatoes that won’t have time to mature.

When frost is in the forecast be prepared to protect your plants and harvest. Cover plants with sheets, lightweight blankets or floating row covers in the afternoon. All but the row covers must be removed each day when the temperatures are above freezing. Since row covers allow air, light and water through to the plants while trapping the heat, they can remain in place until the end of the harvest season.

Once you grow tired of fighting the frost, consider picking any tomatoes that are starting to show some color and allow them to finish ripening indoors. The blossom end of the tomato should be greenish white or starting to show the color of the tomato variety you’re growing. Store green tomatoes in a cool 60- to 65- degree location to extend their storage life.

Spread out the tomatoes on heavy paper or wrap them individually in newspaper so the fruit do not touch. This prevents one rotten tomato from spoiling nearby fruit.

The green tomatoes will ripen over the next few weeks. Speed up the process by moving a few tomatoes to a bright, warm location a few days before they're needed.

Next season extend your enjoyment by growing a few tomato varieties that last longer than most in storage. Garden Peach, Golden Treasure, Long Keeper and Reverend Morrow’s Long Keeper are a few varieties you may want to try.

And don't let the rest of the green tomatoes go to waste. You can use them for frying, chow chow, green salsa and other tasty treats.

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New NFPA research report: 43% of U.S. fire stations are 40+ years old

As the condition of aging bridges, roadways, transportation resources, and grids across the U.S. has increasingly become the focus of discussion, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued Renovations Needs of the U.S. Fire Service, a new report on the fire service’s aging infrastructure. Two key findings within the report show that more than 21,000 firehouses across the country are beyond 40 years of age with total replacement costs estimated to be in the $70-$100 billion range.

The report draws on data found in the Fourth Needs Assessment for the U.S. Fire Service, a survey that compares what fire departments actually have with what existing standards, government regulations, and other guidance documents state as being required in order to be safe and effective. Relevant case studies were also considered as part of the research project.

The objective was to determine just how old firehouses are today, and what it would cost to rebuild current, compliant structures that keep first responders safe from harm at their workplace. The report identifies the number of stations that are over 40-years old; are not equipped with exhaust emission control; are without backup power; do not have separate facilities for female firefighters; and need mold remediation.

Findings from the report include the following:

21, 230 of U.S. fire stations (43 percent) are more than 40 years old, representing an 11 percent increase in aging infrastructure over the past 15 years.

The estimated cost to replace these stations is estimated at between $70 and $100 billion; costs depend on space needs, location, site condition, and department preferences.

Sixty-one percent of fire stations that are more than 40 years old are serving communities with less than 9,999 people.

A shortage of funding, tighter budgets, and a lack of grants are likely reasons for the large number of older stations.

29,120 fire stations (59 percent) in the U.S. are not equipped with exhaust emission control systems, which are critical for mitigating firefighter exposure to diesel fumes. These fumes can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, respiratory disease, and lung cancer.

Assistance to Firefighter Grants have helped reduce the number of firehouses without exhaust emission control systems from 66 to 59 percent.

Approximately 17,030 fire stations (35 percent) do not have access to backup power, which is critical for business continuity during an emergency event. When the power is out, firehouses without generators may run into issues with phones ringing, computers running, trucks being fueled, and garage bay doors opening. The cost to install backup generators runs between $850 million and $1.7 billion.

When fire stations were built 40-plus years ago, departments were exclusively male. Today, the most recent Needs Assessment estimates that 10 percent of career firefighters are female. The number of males and females in a particular fire department typically varies based on whether the fire company is career, volunteer or combination, as well as the size of the community. Further research is needed today to determine the number of stations that do not provide separate facilities for female firefighters and the estimated cost to renovate these stations.

The number of firehouses affected by mold is unknown, despite common perceptions that stations are susceptible given water damage, prolonged humidity, or dampness. All fire stations should allocate resources for mold prevention including dehumidifiers, proper ventilation, mold inhibitors, and mold-killing cleaning products to reduce the likelihood of seasonal allergy and pneumonia-like symptoms.

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3 ways to guard against letting someone’s betrayal define your life

Betrayal comes in many variations: a friend gossiping about a secret you shared in confidence; a relative taking advantage of your hospitality to steal from you; a spouse engaging in an affair.

But regardless of what form betrayal takes, the results share something in common.

“Betrayal destroys trust, and since trust is the foundation of all relationships, it’s no wonder that betrayal does such damage,” says Elaine Eisenman, PhD, co-author with Susan Stautberg of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing (www.bouncefrombetrayal.com).

These two successful business women say they themselves have experienced betrayal professionally and personally. But the good news, Stautberg says, is that despite the initial trauma, pain, and humiliation, most people survive and recover from betrayal and become stronger and wiser as a result.

“Recovery is not a single point in time; it is an ongoing process,” she says. “One day, you’ll discover there are simply more ups than downs. Hang on to that because it will steer you through darker moments.”

In the meantime, Stautberg and Eisenman offer a few suggestions on how to guard against letting someone’s betrayal define your life:

Listen to your gut. Your gut instinct is an incredible natural warning system, Eisenman says. “It can help you sense a betrayal before it becomes a reality,” she says. Instead of closing your eyes or creating excuses for someone else’s odd behavior, listen carefully to your uneasy feelings. Those nagging doubts can help you avoid a betrayal, or at the very least, lessen the impact of one.”

Hold onto your power. Even while you are navigating through a fog of deception and hurt, you do hold some cards. “You just need to step back and see them,” Stautberg says. For example, you alone decide whether or not to forgive your betrayer. “By recognizing and addressing the new challenges, making decisions about your next steps, and retaining your sense of self, you reclaim your power,” she says. “Those who recover best never relinquish power to the betrayer.”

Have the courage to move forward. It’s important to face the fact you aren’t in control of certain events and you will never create a perfect do-over that will fix everything, Einsenman says. “To begin the act of recovery look the nasty circumstances in the eye and see them for what they are,” she says. “The fallout from betrayal says more about the betrayer’s values than it does about you, so toss the bad stuff in the garbage and put a permanent lid on it.”

“Hurt, setbacks, and diabolical events touch all of our lives; there is no escape,” Stautberg says. “But inside all of us are the keys to unlock our courage and strength, and that’s how we move on and build a better future.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Confused About Survivor Benefits

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away in 2013 just a few days short of his 63rd birthday. I was 56 at the time and when I went into the Social Security office to notify them of his death I was told I would be able to get a partial draw when I turned 60. Two years after that I was told that I would never draw anything from his account as the rules had been changed, and since he had never drawn Social Security that his benefits were eliminated. I am 62 and intend to keep working but any information you have might be helpful. Signed: Confused Survivor

Dear Confused Survivor: You've certainly been given some conflicting information, so I’ll try to clarify. If your husband had accumulated enough quarter credits to be eligible for Social Security, you are eligible for a survivor benefit even if your husband was not yet collecting Social Security (SS) benefits when he passed. To be eligible for SS, your husband would have needed to work for about 10 years for an employer which participated in Social Security program (meaning, both your husband and his employer paid SS FICA payroll taxes on his earnings). Most U.S. employers participate in the Social Security program. However, if your husband worked his entire career as an employee of a state or local government which does not participate in SS, or if he worked for the Federal government under their “CSRS” program, or if he worked for any other entity which didn't participate in Social Security, he may not have had enough SS credits to be eligible. But if he contributed to Social Security for at least 10 years and had at least 40 credits (can earn 4 per year) then he would have been eligible for SS, and you would be eligible for a survivor benefit from his record.

The rules haven't changed for any of this. If your husband was at least eligible for SS (not necessarily collecting), you became eligible for a survivor benefit at age 60 although it would have been reduced by about 28.5% from what you would get at your full retirement age (FRA). You are still eligible for the survivor benefit but, if you take it now at age 62, it will still be reduced for claiming before your FRA, and since you are still working you'll also be subject to Social Security's earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019). If you exceed the earnings limit, SS will withhold from future benefits $1 for every $2 you are over the limit, which would mean you wouldn't get benefits for some months until they recover what is due. If your current earnings are high, it may not be prudent to claim early SS benefits even if you're entitled to them. The earnings limit changes annually, is considerably higher (by 2.5 times) in the year you reach your FRA and goes away once your reach your full retirement age.

For your awareness, the survivor benefit reaches the maximum amount when you reach your full retirement age (but is reduced if you claim it earlier). You have the option to restrict your claim to survivor benefits only, and you may want to do this if your own SS benefit from your lifetime earnings record will be more at age 70 than your survivor benefit will be at your FRA. Your goal should be to collect the highest benefit possible for the rest of your life. If you so choose, you can collect your survivor benefit first and delay your own SS benefit past your full retirement age, which would allow you to earn delayed retirement credits on your own benefit. That will increase it by 8% per year of delay, up to age 70 when your maximum Social Security retirement benefit will be reached, and at that time you would switch to the higher benefit.

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Tired of living with chronic pain? Know how to talk to your doctor

The opioid crisis has shown that the U.S. is a nation in pain — chronic pain. Over 20 percent of the country’s adult population — 50 million people — live with persistent or frequently recurring pain, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Living with chronic pain can adversely affect one’s quality of life on a daily basis, from performing simple tasks to work, relationships, and sleeping. While some people can’t find a remedy and learn to accept chronic pain, they may be missing out on a cure. How? Because they haven’t had a comprehensive discussion about the symptoms with their doctor.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a pain scale, like a blood-pressure monitor, that doctors can use to diagnose pain,” 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. “While talking to your health care provider about chronic pain can be difficult, it is a conversation worth having.

“Doctors will not know the location, timing, or intensity of your pain unless you tell them, and being specific is important for diagnostic purposes. Knowing how to talk with them can be a big step toward finding relief.”

An offers ways to communicate effectively with your doctor about your chronic pain symptoms:

Give details of your pain in writing. Putting down on paper the chronology of your pain provides a road map for the physician. “Writing down the description, timeline, location, frequency, and intensity of your pain can help get your care provider on the right track,” An says. “Make sure to include how the pain affects your daily activities, and go over your daily routine.”

Create a list of questions. Sometimes, people walk out of a doctor’s visit having forgotten to ask some key questions. Be prepared and that won’t happen. “The goal is to find the source of the pain,” An says, “so that should be the first question: ‘What causes my chronic pain?’ Have at least three questions you’re ready to ask, such as, ‘What are the available treatments, and what’s the best option for me? Does my daily diet and lifestyle contribute to the pain?’ ”

Point to the pain. “If your pain moves around, tell your doctor about all the areas that can be painful and the areas that hurt most often,” An says. “Your doctor needs to determine if the pain comes on more slowly and sticks around a long time before lessening, or if it comes on suddenly and sporadically, then leaves suddenly.”

Be assertive. “Tell the doctor what you want — be direct,” An says. “Do you expect to have tests to diagnose a cause? Do you want more in-depth information about your condition, and does the doctor know enough about it to be able to address it effectively? Have the doctor explain what the tools and tests are and why they would help. Doing everything in your power to explain your pain clearly and accurately gives you the best chances of being heard and treated appropriately.”

“Health care providers can’t feel your pain, so you need to communicate clearly and work together for a solution,” An says. “If you’re unsatisfied with their response or uncertain about how to move forward, referrals to other providers may be needed.”

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Stressed out at work? 5 strategies to reboot and refresh

Stress at work can adversely affect other areas of your life, such as relationships and sleep, studies show. And as stress in the workplace rises, having a stress management strategy is vital, say mental health professionals and experts in corporate culture.

It’s not just workers who suffer from stress. Employers feel the effects of stress in increased absenteeism and lost production, and some companies address work-related stress with policies and practices. But it’s important for over-stressed workers to develop their own tools to better deal with stress and not let it affect their job performance or quality of life, says Cynthia Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach and performance expert.

“Stress is the new normal and, to become resilient, you must practice strategies that will unhook you from the damaging, reactive nature of the stress reaction,” says Howard, the author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room. “One cannot think their way out of a stress reaction, and when you ignore what can happen, you leave yourself vulnerable.”

Howard offers these strategies to build a tolerance to work stress and perform at a high level even during stressful situations:

On a count of four, breathe. The goal is breathing with intention to shift the stress effect. Howard suggests taking four deep breaths — breathing in on the count of four, holding on four, exhaling on four. “Breathing is your first line of defense against the distraction of the stress reaction and being overwhelmed,” Howard says. “Most people today are in moderate to severe stress, multitasking, or in the throes of strong emotions. Breathing gets shallow and less effective in blowing off the buildup of carbon dioxide, leaving you more acidic — the opposite of what the body needs to stay energized.”

Take a moment: the three-second transition. Used at different parts of the day, such as before and after a meeting or difficult conversation, this strategy helps develop the feeling of being in the moment. “Be deliberate with three seconds,” Howard says. “Pause, breathe, and focus on what you are going to do — for three seconds. This slows down your mind and opens your awareness. With practice, it will also expand your situational awareness and lead to more enjoyment of your day.”

Practice everyday mindfulness. Because many people are distracted in a social media-filled world, Howard says, it’s hard for them to focus for long periods. Mindfulness can tune out distractions. “Mindfulness means directing your attention to what is happening in the moment without judging what is happening,” Howard says. “This practice improves the quality of your attention and decreases your reactivity to stress.”

Keep a journal. Howard suggests taking 10 minutes each day to write out thoughts. “This practice will increase self-awareness and build your ability to stay in the moment,” Howard says. “You will get to know yourself at a deeper level and, with that, get to the real motives that drive your choices and behavior. Set a time limit to do your journaling and have specific goals in mind — reflecting on a conversation, recapping your day, digging deeper into your reaction to something. Then go back and review your journal after every quarter. Have you made progress?”

“We tend to expend more energy than we renew,” Howard says. “Most people go through the day with constant interruptions, irritations, and other emotional triggers, all draining energy. It is essential to use some type of stress-relief strategy every day to keep our energy stores filled.”

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He’s still on the job

It’s not unusual these days for older Americans to keep working past the traditional retirement age of 65 to make ends meet. But this elderly grocery store “bag boy” is still on the job in New Jersey at the age of 98 because he enjoys it, according to the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC]. "Bennie" Ficeto flew B-25s during World War II. In an interview with CBS News he revealed the secret of his success: "You got to enjoy work, you got to enjoy what you're doing. I see people running around and saying, 'Oh, I have to go to work!' That's ridiculous." What can you say? How about, thanks for your service.

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The trout are biting

If you’re looking for a new, productive fishing hole you might try Lake Champlain in New York State. After all, it’s where fisherwoman Debbie Geddes recently landed not just any trout, but one with two mouths. Photos of her unusual catch posted on the Internet went viral around the world. Geddes released the fish so that future anglers might have a chance to reel it in again.

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Unjust deserts

It’s easy to see why there’s truth in the saying, no good deed goes unpunished, when you hear what happened to Officer McGinty of the Cambridge, MA police department. He spotted a skunk in distress and didn’t hesitate to come to the rescue. The skunk was struggling to dislodge an empty yogurt cup stuck on its head and McGinty ultimately managed to yank it off. Free, at last, the ungrateful stinker promptly sprayed the policeman and it was all caught on tape, as they say.

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How technology is reshaping and reinventing the real estate frontier

How you buy or rent property – and how others sell or lease it to you – is in the midst of dramatic change, the kind perhaps not seen in the real estate world since the birth of the skyscraper in the 19th century.

The reason: property technology or “PropTech,” which is a collective term used to define startups offering technologically innovative products or new business models for the real estate markets.

PropTech could even alter who wins and who loses in the real estate profession.

“Some who don’t embrace real estate technology will be dragged along, forced to up their game by vendors and clients,” says Aaron Block, co-author with Zach Aarons of PropTech 101: Turning Chaos into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation (www.proptech101.com). “They may discover one day that they are well behind the competition. Some of them won’t survive.”

Block and Aarons, co-founders of MetaProp, a leading PropTech venture capital firm, say that PropTech is creating far-reaching change for the real estate industry that’s comparable to what happened in the late 1800s when innovations in construction technology helped make building skyscrapers possible and profitable.

“The ways in which real estate gets bought, sold, leased, financed, appraised, designed and managed already have changed dramatically in recent years,” Aarons says. “And you can expect PropTech to drive even more changes, and at a fast pace.”

Block and Aarons say that’s a good thing for consumers, for the industry – and for those working in real estate who are willing to adapt. Some of the many changes and benefits PropTech is creating are:

Energy savings. One key benefit of PropTech is the potential cost savings involved with energy. “Detailed data about how a space is used, lighted, cooled, and heated, and the ability to automate or remotely control the built environment, make for a powerful combination,” Block says. “This sort of information and analysis moves landlords and management closer to the customer, allowing them to present real estate as a service, not a product, which increasingly gives them an edge over the competition.”

Availability of data. The growing transparency and availability of real estate data has a democratizing effect and makes providing good service more important than ever, Aarons says. “Much of the commercial brokers’ value used to lie in their relationships with other brokers and their access to information,” he says. “Residential sales agents were hired in part because they had deep local knowledge and exclusive access to a jealously guarded multiple-listing service.” As technology makes such information readily available, those who can differentiate themselves in such areas as good deal-making skills and smarter strategies stand to make more money, Aarons says.

Efficiency. In the past, commercial real estate brokerages had to spend a lot of time and resources gathering information and plugging it into spreadsheets. Now they can devote that time to deeper market analysis, planning, and strategy, Block says. Meanwhile, residential sales agents who are willing and able to adapt to innovations will have the means to replace their exclusive access to the MLS with perhaps something better – a forward-looking online advertising strategy, a suite of powerful digital tools, and a comparative marketing analysis that harnesses data in ways their competitors’ CMAs don’t.

“The fact that real estate managed to insulate itself from technological advances and innovations for longer than most industries only means that the pace of change is that much faster now,” Aarons says. “The good news is that, for those willing to embrace innovation, there is a future rife with opportunity.”

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E-cigarette danger

Using an e-cigarette even a single time can impact vascular function. A study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that vaping once from a nicotine-free e-cigarette temporarily reduced blood flow in the large artery that supplies blood to the legs. “The common belief is that the nicotine is what is toxic, but we have found that dangers exist, independent of nicotine,” said researcher Felix Wehrli. “Clearly if there is an effect after a single use of an e-cigarette, then you can imagine what kind of permanent damage could be caused after vaping regularly over years.”

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Economic slowdown

A recession is not in the country's near-term future, but "we are in a slowdown," said economist Jeremy Siegel of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. A recession is marked by declines in real gross domestic product, while a slowdown means the economy is still growing but at a reduced rate. “Are we heading for a recession? Will we eventually have one? Yes, of course. The question is, will it be within the next year, or year and a half?” he said. Developments in the U.S. trade war with China will be a critical factor, he said.

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Flu & the lungs

Most people bounce back after a case of the flu, but for some the infection causes lasting injury to the lungs. In a new study using a mouse model, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that a transplant of lung cells from a healthy animal improved healing in those that had a severe flu infection. The transplanted cells, known as alveolar type-two cells, act like stem cells when they are transplanted into injured lungs, multiplying and diversifying into another type of cell that improves oxygen levels in the blood. The researchers envision the approach one day being used in humans, who could “bank” healthy cells for later use in the event of a severe respiratory disease.

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Criminal justice reform

A movement to reduce mass incarceration and to recognize failures in the criminal justice system has found political traction. The Quattrone Center at the University of Pennsylvania Law School has leveraged data to find the weak points in the system and craft policy solutions, focused on making the entire system better by reducing the number of mistakes and the practical and human cost. “We’re getting different answers because we’re asking different questions, and we’re asking different questions because we’re bringing social science into an area that has typically been a legal domain,” said John Hollway, the Center’s executive director. “We’re actually changing the legal academy with this work.”

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Don’t let your body be a bummer, 5 tips to detoxify

As summer winds down, some people who ditched their New Year’s weight-loss resolutions may re-dedicate themselves to looking good.

Even more important, though, is what we put in our bodies. What we eat and drink not only impacts how we look, but how we feel.

And to properly set the tone for the inner body and good overall health, it’s vital to get the bad stuff – toxins – out, and keep them out, 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.

“People may want to look good, but being truly healthy on the inside is a year-round commitment,” Dr. An says. “And you need to start by detoxifying the body.

“Toxins can severely affect every part of the body. They’re in tons of every-day products. Being aware of them and avoiding them are essential to good health.”

Dr. An provides five tips for cleaning out the toxins in your body:

Reduce the toxins you’re taking in. The first step to cleaning out toxins in your body is to cut back – or completely eliminate – things you put into your body that contain them. “When something is hard for the body to digest, it can slow down your metabolism and cause toxins to accumulate in your body,” Dr. An says. “Avoid these groups: red meat, gluten, refined sugar, processed food, alcohol, and caffeine.”

Be careful with household products. Household cleaners, soaps, and beauty products all can contain harmful toxins that are absorbed through the skin. “Choose these products carefully,” Dr. An says, “and always make sure you know what’s in them. There are many great natural cleaners and products that can help reduce the toxins your skin and body are exposed to.”

Drink plenty of water. “Water has a multitude of benefits for your body, skin, and organs,” she says. “Drinking enough water is extremely important in getting rid of toxins in the body. It helps boost metabolism and can literally flush out the harmful materials that have built up in your body.”

Add plenty of dietary fiber and antioxidants to your diet. Eating foods with plenty of fiber, such as organic fruits, vegetables and whole grains, will help your body move the toxins out. “Antioxidants help to fight free radicals and help to further remove harmful materials,” Dr. An says.

Sweat it out. Sweating is a very effective way for the body to get rid of toxins. “Achieving this through exercise also keeps your organs and systems working properly, which plays a key role in releasing toxins,” Dr. An says. “Aside from exercising, hopping into a sauna or hot bath can help, too.”

“Removing toxins is key to living a healthy life,” Dr. An says. “Just like many of us do in our homes by procrastinating and getting sloppy, our body stores junk. Get rid of it once and for all.”

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Four questions to ask before fueling your outdoor power equipment this fall

Autumn is coming soon, which means fall leaves and yard work. Homeowners are opening up their garages and sheds and getting out their mowers, trimmers, blowers, power washers, and other outdoor power equipment to use for fall chores. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), an international trade association representing power equipment, small engine, utility vehicle, golf car and personal transport vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, provides these tips to get “backyard ready” for fall—starting with proper fueling of your equipment.

“You want your equipment available when you need it, and that starts with proper maintenance and fueling,” said Kris Kiser, OPEI President and CEO. “Always check which fuel you’re buying before filling up.”

Four questions to ask before you start fueling outdoor power equipment:

1. Have you read the owner’s manual for the equipment? Always follow manufacturer’s fueling recommendations and use the type of fuel specified.

2. Is the fuel in your equipment fresh? Fuel should not sit in the tank for more than 30 days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems and, in some cases, damage to the fuel system.

3. Did you purchase the correct fuel? What goes in your car or truck may not be the correct fuel to use in your outdoor power equipment. There are many choices at the pump today, and you should only use E10 or less fuel in any outdoor power equipment. Some gas stations may offer 15 percent ethanol (E15) gas or higher ethanol fuel blends, but any fuel containing greater than 10 percent ethanol can damage – and is illegal to use, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) –in small engine equipment not designed for it.

4. Are you using a fuel additive or the manufacturer’s fuel? Many manufacturers make fuel additives and fuels, sold at retail locations, to improve equipment performance and mitigate any fueling problems caused by ethanol-based fuels. Check with your manufacturer’s recommendations and make the best choice that will keep your equipment running strong all season.

“It’s also important to drain fuel tanks before storing equipment for the winter,” he said. “Fuel more than 30 days old isn’t good for machines. Also service and winterize your lawn mower, string trimmer, leaf blower, and other outdoor power equipment before storing so it’s ready to get jobs done.”

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Rethinking menopause: Turning the change of life into your best life

Menopause can be a physically challenging and emotionally trying time for a woman.

But with the right information and outlook, the so-called “change of life” phase can also become the bridge to the best time of a woman’s life, says Dr. Arianna Sholes-Douglas (www.tulawellnessmd.com), author of The Menopause Myth: What Your Mother, Doctor, And Friends Haven’t Told You About Life After 35, and the founder of Tula Wellness Center in Tucson, Ariz.

“It’s a myth that menopause is the beginning of the end,” says Sholes-Douglas. “Menopause is a journey toward your best, authentic self. Menopause is not a dirty word. It’s time we use it, reform it, and own it.”

A long-time OBG-YN, Sholes-Douglas says she missed her own perimenopause diagnosis, thus she dedicated her career to helping women through a difficult stage that she thinks is largely neglected by most of the medical community.

“Women are blindly struggling, and often, no viable solutions are offered by their medical providers,” Sholes-Douglas says.

Sholes-Douglas offers advice on how women can empower themselves to better cope with menopause and not let it diminish their quality of life:

Separate the myths from reality. “A common myth is that menopause doesn’t affect women until after menstrual cessation,” Sholes-Douglas says. “The reality is that perimenopause — one of the most emotionally and hormonally tumultuous times of a woman’s life — precedes menopause and starts as early as age 35. This journey is not only heralded by the fluctuations of hormones, but also by a ‘personal awakening’ that starts to occur. No wonder women have traditionally avoided the ‘M’ word like the plague. But this avoidance of information, resources, and conversations does a disservice to women and their families.”

Embrace the change. Feelings of dread and confusion often accompany the onset of menopause. “So many women start to focus on the signs of aging that we all experience,” Sholes-Douglas says. “But there is technology available to push back the hands of time. The real work, however, starts with the mental and spiritual. At midlife, we are forced to take inventory of our lives. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to do you; the best part of your life is waiting for you to show up, which takes courage.”

Have a real menopause conversation with your doctor. “Forty years ago, nobody really recognized perimenopause as a significant issue worthy of understanding, much less of research and conversation,” Sholes-Douglas says. “Women just dealt with it and suffered in silence. Unfortunately, the current healthcare model still doesn’t allow time for doctors to truly assess a woman’s physical and emotional symptoms. Fortunately, there is a new generation of women who demand understanding and validation of their bodies and their sexuality after midlife. We need to start the real menopause conversation and open it up so that it is destigmatized, demystified, and accessible to all women. It’s an exciting time because there are new therapies and options available so women can continue to lead vital, pleasurable, fulfilled lives.”

“The journey is ultimately about balancing the emotional, physical, and spiritual components of coming into your own,” Sholes-Douglas says. “Embracing and understanding it can have truly transformative effects on women’s lives.”

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September is National Preparedness Month: Plan for pets, too

From power outages to tornados, fires to floods, disasters for Missouri residents can often be unpredictable and unexpected. National Preparedness Month is this September – the perfect time to put a plan in place for the whole family, which means pets, too.

From a countless number of rescues in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and more, the Humane Society of Missouri’s Disaster Response Team knows how devastating it is to see pets exposed to the perils of natural disasters, as well as how critical it is to be prepared for the unexpected.

Follow these five tips from the Humane Society of Missouri’s Disaster Response Team, which could be the key to survival for your four-legged family members:

Make a plan

Create an evacuation plan that includes your pet and inform close friends and family. Different disasters require different courses of action; the sooner you create a plan, the more time you have to prepare.

Identify pet-friendly places to go in times of distress and make sure your pet has identification, including a collar with ID tags and an up-to-date microchip.

Build a disaster kit

Include medications, medical records, leashes/harnesses/carriers/bowls, current photos and descriptions of your pets, a week’s worth of food and water, and anything that will reduce your pet’s stress, such as their bedding and toys. Be sure to have a pet first aid kit as well.

If you evacuate, take your pet

Don’t assume your pet will be fine, even if you think you will only be gone for a short period of time. Never leave a pet behind if you evacuate.

Keep a sturdy, safe crate or carrier on hand, and have a pet-friendly place that you can keep your pet while the cleanup ensues. This could include a hotel that accommodates pets, boarding facilities or a family/friend’s home.

Have an emergency veterinarian

Identify a veterinarian outside of the disaster area ahead of time that you can take your pet to in case they appear to be injured or ill.

Listen for information

Whether it’s over the radio or on your phone, listening and following local news outlets is key to receiving updates on where to go and what to do during an emergency.

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Hackers covet your identity; 5 ways to thwart their efforts to steal it

Each day people take a virtual trip through the internet to do their banking, make hotel reservations, shop for a new car, or engage in a myriad of other activities important to them.

It’s so routine that it’s easy to forget that you need to be just as careful about protecting yourself on those virtual journeys as you would on an actual one.

“Hackers are creative about dreaming up new ideas for stealing your identity, so it’s important that you stay vigilant even if you already have taken action to guard yourself and your data,” says Chris Hoose (www.choosenetworks.com), an IT consultant who works with small businesses.

Hoose says a few steps you can take to protect your identity include:

Use a password manager. One problem with passwords is that people often use simple ones that are easy to remember, but also easy to hack. A password manager provides an encrypted database where you can store unique, long, complex passwords for each of your online accounts, and access them when you need them. “With a password manager, you can have better passwords that are harder to hack, and you don’t have to memorize them,” Hoose says.

Do your online activities with a VPN. Worried that your online browsing will lead identity thieves right back to you? One solution, Hoose says, is a virtual private network (VPN), which lends you a temporary IP address and hides your true IP address from every website or email you connect with. “It also prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location,” he says. “You just need to remember to connect to it when you want to use it.” A VPN usually costs about $40 to $50 a year, he says.

Be wary on social media. Most people check in on social media routinely to catch up on family news, connect with college buddies, or perhaps to share photos of a new puppy. Unfortunately, cyber thieves lurk in the background. “They know that social media platforms are an excellent source for personal information and information about your contacts, which makes identity theft that much easier for them,” Hoose says. To stay safe on social media, he suggests you check to see if you have already been compromised; avoid password reuse; update your security settings regularly; and limit your connections because the more you have, the more potential for a fraudulent or compromised account to send you a malicious link.

Keep tabs on your credit report. One way to make sure no one has taken on debt in your name, and damaged your credit in the process, is to request a full credit report from any of the three major agencies: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You can get a free copy from any of them through the site www.annualcreditreport.com. Also, it might be time to get off the mailing list for all those credit offers you receive that say you are pre-approved. “Those offers are a gold mine for identity thieves,” Hoose says. You can opt out of pre-approved credit offers by visiting www.OptOutPrescreen.com.

Be sure to install anti-virus/malware software. Your first and best line of defense against identity theft on your computer remains anti-virus software and anti-malware software, Hoose says. When choosing one, he suggests making use of the trial period most companies offer. “That way you can try them out and decide which one works best for you,” he says.

“The more people try to foil identity thieves, the more sophisticated those thieves seem to get in their methods,” Hoose says. “But by being watchful and attentive, you can stay safe and enjoy your time online.”

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How technology can make health care cheaper and more efficient

As the rising costs of health care remain a major concern for consumers, industry experts say new technology could help reduce costs and increase efficiency — a potential win-win for patients and providers.

The way advancements in technology could work for both involves the accumulation and distribution of patient data, says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (alexzlatin.com).

“Whether it’s related to doctors’ offices, specialists, hospitals or oral care, data is the foundation to curb costs,” says Zlatin, the author of Responsible Dental Ownership. “Data is the key to delivering accountable, affordable and informed care.

“While many have struggled to use data effectively, the time is ripe for the industry to become data-driven and, with that, align costs, procedures, and outcomes. Researchers and innovators are bringing medical care and the dental industry into a new era of trying to improve effectiveness and curb the cost of care. But it’s the responsibility of providers and their offices to stay current with data management practices to help make this all work.”

Zlatin offers the following points about technology’s impact on data accessibility, and the associated benefits, in health care:

Telehealth and consumer technology. These are playing larger roles in supporting new health care delivery models, with companies like Apple and Uber getting involved. Apple has developed mobile apps and Uber is launching a medical-transit program. “Both examples speak to another shift pushing the industry toward value-based care: consumerization,” Zlatin says. “Patients are bearing a larger portion of costs, and with more options for where to get care, they are becoming more discerning and demanding.”

Exchange of patient data. This is one technology evolution that’s already helping health care reduce costs and increase efficiency. “It allows doctors to better understand the context of a patient’s overall health,” Zlatin says. “Improving the integration of the electronic health record means labs, care plans, and medical histories from different sources are available quickly. Thus the provider can make a clear diagnosis and develop the most effective care plan in less time.”

Full digital office management systems. Having a digital system streamlines record-keeping. In dental offices, digital processes keep the provider and patient informed regarding hygiene appointments, future treatments and account balances.”Having a scheduling system, billing and personal information, charts and integrated X-rays all by digital means makes for a more efficient practice and enhances the patient experience,” Zlatin says.

Wearable devices and patient lifestyle. Information from wearable health devices incorporate valuable data about patient health behaviors, including heart rate, sleep patterns, physical activity and calorie burn. “Those different factors will integrate into decision-making for your health,” Zlatin says. “Expanded access to data also can help manage patients’ costs. Providers will have access to information such as current benefits offered by insurance providers, based on a patient’s health profile.”

More importance on data protection. Patient privacy must remain a priority for technologists and providers. “Advancements in technology and data integration heighten the importance of patient record protection,” Zlatin says. “Large volumes of data bring ethical concerns about proper use of patient information. There needs to be a regulatory component to ensure tools are used properly and to protect the patients. And choosing the right partner to manage data will become even more critical.”

“The future of health care includes technology that could seamlessly combine data on a patient’s medical history, real-time health, insurance coverage, and financial information,” Zlatin says. “All of that can support provider decision-making, improve patient health, and reduce costs.”

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Housecall

By Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

Q. My elbow began hurting but I have not injured it. What could be causing this?

A. Several things can cause elbow pain without an obvious injury, including repetitive motion and overuse, bursitis, arthritis, lupus and Lyme disease.

The elbow is a joint where three bones — one in the upper arm and two in the forearm — meet. Each bone contains cartilage on its end to absorb shock and assist in sliding against the others. The bones and cartilage are bound by ligaments, while tendons connect them to muscles.

Tendons damaged through overuse can cause tennis elbow (effecting the outside of the elbow) and golfer’s elbow (effecting the inside). Other wear-and-tear injuries can include trapped nerves, stress fractures or a small crack in a bone.

Bursitis, often caused by repetitive motions, occurs when the small, fluid-filled sacs used to cushion bones, tendons, and muscles swell with excess fluid. This usually will improve on its own in a few weeks.

If the pain does not subside with rest and ice or you have intense pain, problems bending the arm, swelling and bruising, or redness that increases, especially accompanied by a fever, you should see your physician.

Q. Is it true that some food and beverages can affect some medicines?

A. Yes. Before taking any medicine for the first time, ask your physician or pharmacist if there is any food or drink you should avoid. For example, grapefruit alters the way certain cells in the digestive system receive and distribute medicine through the body.

Those who take warfarin to treat and prevent blood clots should monitor how much vitamin K they consume as it can make the blood thinner less effective.

Dark chocolate can weaken the effectiveness of drugs designed to calm or aid in sleep but can strengthen some stimulant drugs. For those who take an MAO inhibitor for depression, it can make blood pressure dangerously high.

As for beverages, milk can make it more difficult for the body to process certain antibiotics and licorice contains a chemical that can weaken the effect of some drugs, including cyclosporine, prescribed to some transplant patients to prevent organ rejection. Coffee can weaken the effects of antipsychotic drugs but increase the effects, and side effects, of others like aspirin and drugs to treat serious allergic reactions. Alcohol makes certain drugs less effective and others stronger.

Q. How do I know if I am getting enough iron?

A. Iron is a mineral the body uses to make hemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen in the blood throughout the body. A lack of iron can limit that flow of oxygen and may lead to anemia. There are different types of anemia but iron-deficiency anemia is the most common. Poor diet or serious illness can cause iron deficiency.

Those most at risk are women, beginning with the onset of menstrual cycles, and older adults whose appetites have decreased. Others at risk are those taking treatments or medicines, like blood thinners that rob the body of iron, and those with chronic illnesses causing blood loss.

Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue; constant chills; paleness, especially around the eyes; dry skin; bruising; and feeling bloated.

Blood tests will confirm anemia but a physical exam and sharing medical history with a physician often leads to an initial diagnosis. When it is determined that diet is the cause, iron-rich foods such as spinach, red meat, peanut butter, kidney beans, dried fruits, pumpkin or squash seeds, and oysters may be recommended. The physician may also recommend an over-the-counter iron supplement.

Q. How does Epsom salt work?

A. For hundreds of years, people with pains and aches have been seeking relief by soaking in Epsom salt. Found in drugstores, the inexpensive material originates from a bitter saline spring in an English town of the same name.

In water, Epsom salt breaks down into magnesium and sulfate. The theory, while not proven, is that taking an Epsom salt bath allows the magnesium and sulfate to enter the body through the skin. However, simply soaking in warm water can help loosen stiff joints and relax muscles. Some researchers believe taking magnesium increases serotonin in the brain and is good for reducing inflammation in internal organs. Some doctors expect better magnesium absorption through the skin but there is no published research comparing it with taking magnesium by mouth.

Most people have taken Epsom salt baths as a home treatment for sore muscles but others have used it for ingrown toenails or insomnia.

Epsom salt is for external use only and those with health concerns should check with their physician. Epsom salt is bad for those with severe skin inflammation or infection and should not be used by those who have an open wound or severe burn.

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From the files of the FBI

Laser striker sentenced: Florida man among many prosecuted for aiming laser pointer at aircraft

Laser pointers can light your path or entertain your cat, but pointing a laser at an aircraft is dangerous and illegal. And a Florida man who pointed a laser at a police helicopter is now serving a prison sentence thanks to an investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement.

During an armed standoff in a Pasco County, Florida, neighborhood on December 5, 2017, the sheriff’s office called for a helicopter to assist deputies. As the helicopter hovered overhead, Ryan Fluke, 28, repeatedly aimed a laser pointer at the helicopter, momentarily disorienting the pilot.

The pilot recovered his vision, but had he not, the results could have been disastrous. While airborne, though, the pilot had been able to determine the house where the laser beam originated, and, after landing, went to the residence. Fluke, who was at the house and matched the description of the man captured on the helicopter’s video surveillance recordings, was arrested.

When confronted by law enforcement, Fluke apologized. “He said he didn’t know it was so bright,” said FBI Special Agent Katie Hill, who worked the case out of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office.

In November 2018, Fluke pleaded guilty to aiming a laser at a police helicopter; he was sentenced in March 2019 to 21 months in federal prison.

While pointing a laser at a helicopter or plane may seem harmless, the opposite is true. It’s dangerous—both to those in the air and on the ground—and it’s a federal crime.

“It’s very risky to point lasers at aircraft. Whether it’s a helicopter or a large commercial airliner, it’s very dangerous.”

Katie Hill, special agent, FBI Tampa

“It’s very risky to point lasers at aircraft,” Hill said. “Whether it’s a helicopter or a large commercial airliner, it’s very dangerous. It’s especially dangerous on takeoff and landing, which are critical times of the flight.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tracks these incidents and received 6,754 reports of laser strikes in 2017—a 250 percent increase since the FAA first started tracking laser incidents in 2010.

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Fake bail bondsman sentenced; man impersonated law enforcement, kidnapped victims

When Shane Ryan Hammond burst into an Ohio home in 2017 to apprehend a suspected bail jumper, he pointed an assault rifle directly at a man and his grandmother. He then handcuffed his target and drove him to West Virginia.

But Hammond wasn’t a police officer or sheriff’s deputy. He wasn’t even a licensed bail bondsman. Hammond was simply an admirer of law enforcement who pretended to be in their ranks—and his actions made him a danger to the public.

As a result of an investigation by the FBI, Columbus Police Department, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, Hammond is now serving time in prison.

For more than a year, Hammond, now 27, ran a company he called the Midwest Fugitive Task Force. He dressed in tactical gear and carried guns, a Taser, a badge, and a patch identifying him as an agent. At least eight times, he kidnapped people who had skipped bail and received payment from an actual bail bondsman for returning them. Hammond also falsely claimed on several occasions that he was a federal agent.

“He knew how to talk like a cop. He knew the lingo, and people believed him,” said Officer Roger Dickinson of the Columbus Police Department, who serves on the FBI Cincinnati Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

Bail bondsman licensing varies by state, and Hammond did not have a proper license to operate in Ohio. Hammond was an authorized employee of a private security company, but that license did not allow him to run his own operation.

Hammond wanted to imitate police officers but his behavior differed from that of legitimate law enforcement personnel. He carried an assault rifle, violated individuals’ rights, and demeaned those he interacted with, investigators said. Hammond even once pointed an assault rifle at a young child while trying to capture a fugitive.

“He knew how to talk like a cop. He knew the lingo, and people believed him.”

Roger Dickinson, task force officer, FBI Cincinnati JTTF

Hammond came to the attention of the JTTF after he falsely claimed to be a federal agent investigating terrorism. And although Hammond was a fake officer, he had a real body camera—and he had recorded hours of footage of himself kidnapping his victims.

“He wore a body recorder and captured all of these incidents. We had a lot of disturbing footage of him,” said Supervisory Special Agent Greg Naples of the FBI Cincinnati JTTF.

Hammond pleaded guilty last year to kidnapping, impersonating an agent of the United States, interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, and wire fraud charges. He was sentenced in May to 15 years in prison.

“Even though Hammond did not physically injure anyone, he did things that were unconstitutional and immoral,” said a Franklin County Sheriff’s Department investigator assigned to case. “Some of the people he encountered were traumatized. Someone absolutely could’ve been hurt.”

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A thief by many names: Atlanta man sentenced for aggravated identity theft

The headquarters of a large national bank had detected fraud on an account and sent word to an Atlanta branch to be on alert: If an individual comes in to pick up the new debit card linked to that account, call the Atlanta Police Department.

An alert bank employee did just that when Khoi Nguyen, 43, came in to the branch to claim the debit card. Officers arrived quickly to ask Nguyen about his identity and the name on the bank account. Upon questioning, Nguyen produced a Department of Defense identification badge and claimed to be in law enforcement.

The police weren’t buying it, so they called the FBI to investigate Nguyen for impersonating a federal law enforcement officer. It was soon discovered that he was not only impersonating a government official but more than a dozen different people in a sophisticated identity theft scheme.

“In his bag at arrest were 20 cellular phones, 13 different identifications, a number of credit cards, and about $11,000 in cash,” said Special Agent Marcus Brackman, who worked the case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.

Brackman said that Nguyen had some technical skills and likely purchased the stolen personal information he used to create fake documents and open fraudulent financial accounts off encrypted websites. “Criminals can buy identities for 50 cents on the dark web,” Brackman explained.

Nguyen pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft and was sentenced in October 2018 to two years in federal prison for his crime. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the financial institution and is facing additional state charges related to similar alleged activity in other areas of the country.

“In his bag at arrest were 20 cellular phones, 13 different identifications, a number of credit cards, and about $11,000 in cash.”

Marcus Brackman, special agent, FBI Atlanta

“Identity theft is very prevalent,” said Brackman. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 26 million people age 16 or older in the United States experienced some form of identity theft in 2016—with many of those cases involving the misuse of a credit card or bank account. Brackman said that it was gratifying to hold someone responsible for a crime that affects so many people and creates such a headache for victims.

Beyond the financial losses, the impact of identity theft extends to the time, stress, and worry involved in cleaning up the harm done to credit scores and financial standing. “It is just painful to do your job and raise your family while trying to deal with the aftereffects of someone stealing your identity,” Brackman sympathized.

While it is difficult to protect against all the ways a criminal can find your personal data, Backman said consumers should monitor accounts and credit reports regularly and safeguard all personal information by being diligent about online safety and security and ensuring mail and documents don’t fall into the wrong hands.

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Why AI is the new frontier in cybersecurity

With breach attempts and cyberattacks increasing, many companies say artificial intelligence (AI) is a necessity in identifying and thwarting threats, and they are devoting bigger pieces of the budget for AI’s role in cybersecurity.

“It’s a fundamental tool going forward due to the approaching reality of the 5G-enabled world, where massive amounts of data will need to be analyzed in real time,” says J. Eduardo Campos, co-founder with his wife, Erica, of Embedded-Knowledge Inc. (www.embedded-knowledge.com) and co-author with her of From Problem Solving to Solution Design: Turning Ideas into Actions.

“5G will empower machine-to-machine communications, and the new wireless technology will be faster, carry more information per second, and interconnect sensors, devices, and computers at large scale.

“With more data flowing at higher speeds, only AI solutions will be able to handle such high volume of transactions while monitoring applications and sensors at the edge of companies’ networks.”

Campos offers some reasons AI is an effective cybersecurity tool for businesses:

System-entry protection. AI systems can scan the retina and fingerprints for biometric logins, identifying small changes in patterns — a more secure point of entry than traditional passwords provide. “Hackers cracking passwords open Pandora’s Box,” Campos says. “Passwords are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and personal information such as credit cards are easily compromised. Changing passwords alone isn’t a solution. Biometric systems lower your risk of breaches because biological characteristics are hard to duplicate.”

Enhanced threat detection and attack prevention. Cybersecurity firms are training AI systems to detect malware and viruses by using special algorithms. “This enables AI to use pattern recognition, which helps identify malicious software and isolate them,” Campos says. “AI systems are being trained to recognize ransomware before it encrypts. The predictive analytics AI uses are much faster than a manual approach.”

Time and cost saving. The average overall time to detect threats and respond to breaches is reduced by up to 12%. “This time reduction occurs by repeatedly scanning for anomalies that show threat patterns,” Campos says. “AI used in fraud detection has saved some companies millions.”

Natural language processing. This is a subfield of computer science, information engineering and AI related to programming computers to process natural language data and narrow down the most pertinent information. “AI-powered systems can collect data for reference by scanning articles and studies on cyber threats, helping organizations prepare effective strategies,” Campos says.

“There is still no guarantee against a cyberattack,” Campos says. “But AI certainly takes cybersecurity a step further, and businesses of all sizes are taking notice at a time when threats are always knocking at the door.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Paying Income Taxes on Social Security Benefits

Dear Rusty: I understand that after I reach full retirement age, I no longer have a limit on how much I earn. I retired one year early (65), and am now 76, but I am still being taxed on a portion of my SS benefits. I am not working and making extra money. However, my wife is still working, and I get two small annuities per month. But when I file income tax I am told we made enough for me to be taxed on a portion of my Social Security benefit. I even checked to see if filing married but separate returns would help and it was not as good as joint returns. So maybe you can explain this to me. Signed: Taxpaying Senior

Dear Taxpaying Senior: I’m afraid you’re speaking of two different things. You are correct that once you reach your full retirement age there is no longer a limit on how much you can earn from working before your monthly Social Security benefit is reduced. But that is something totally different from paying income tax on your Social Security benefits.

Social Security’s “earnings limit” looks only at your earnings from employment (or self-employment) to decide if they should take back some of your benefits before you reach your full retirement age. However, whether or not your Social Security benefits are taxable income is determined by your “combined income,” which includes your adjusted gross income as reported to the IRS, plus any non-taxable interest you may have had, plus 50% of your total Social Security benefits for the tax year. This is often referred to as your “modified adjusted gross income” or “MAGI” and it’s how the IRS determines if, or how much, of your Social Security benefit is taxable income. As a couple filing your income taxes as “married – filing jointly” if your MAGI is over $32,000 then up to 50% of your annual Social Security benefit amount is taxable, and if your MAGI is over $44,000 then up to 85% of your Social Security income becomes taxable. Note that the combined income levels are different, and lower, when you file your taxes individually.

The “earnings limit” is a rule imposed by Social Security to recover some benefits paid if the limit is exceeded due to your earnings from working. Taxation of Social Security benefits is done by the IRS (not Social Security) and it’s the IRS who determines if your Social Security benefits will add to your income tax burden. And while the Social Security earnings limit goes away once you reach your full retirement age, there is no such relief from the IRS at any age when it comes to paying income tax on your Social Security benefits.

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 'Moon Shoes' sell for 50K

What do you do with a pair of smelly old sneakers taking up space in your closet? Apparently, you should put them up for sale. That’s what Dave Russell of Sacramento, CA did and he managed to make a $50,000 profit. It turns out these were not any old kicks; they were designed by Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, and only 12 pairs of what were called “Moon Shoes” were made in 1972. Eugene, OR was hosting the Olympic trials that year and Bowerman gave ten pairs to athletes trying out for the Olympic team and Russell was one of them. The Graduate Eugene Hotel, which is building a Nike Museum in Eugene, purchased the shoes. "They wanted something that would say, 'this is Nike town’," according to Russell.

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This centenarian has the right stuff

She’s 103 years old, but that didn’t stop her from showing that she has the right stuff. Seattle’s "Kitty" Hodges likely earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records when she jumped out of a plane at an altitude of 10,000 feet recently. She was strapped to an instructor, but it still took guts. Evidence of her feat has been submitted to the folks at Guinness to prove that she is the oldest woman to make a tandem jump.

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Squirrelly squirrels

New York City has a reputation for being a tough town and the newest warnings posted by the city’s Parks Department seem to prove that it’s not just muggers who pose a threat. The Big Apple has been putting up signs in several parks advising visitors not to feed the squirrels because they bite. The bushy-tailed creatures may look lovable and cute but lately they’ve become quite aggressive and pose a danger to those who might try to feed them. A local cameraman wanted to see for himself just how aggressive the squirrels in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park have become and he found out the hard way that some of them have become very angry critters. He was attacked as soon as he started filming.

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Ride-hailing apps

Transit use and environmental emissions have changed since ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have become widely available, according to studies being conducted at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the Universiy of Pennsylvania. Previously underserved, hard-to-access regions are seeing a burst of redevelopment with businesses like restaurants and bars, and, although that can benefit those areas, there are other repercussions to consider, such as possible increased emissions resulting from increased travel. EPA data measuring carbon monoxide, a common output from cars, highlight a clear correlation between the introduction of ride-hailing apps and greater emissions in more than a dozen cities in the United States.

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Portable EEG

Imagine if a coach could know when a certain player might peak or if a truck driver could know when he’d hit an unsafe point of mental fatigue. A portable EEG created by University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Platt and postdoctoral student Arjun Ramakrishnan can provide those insights by monitoring brain function. This new technology, which led to the formation of a company called Cogwear, LLC, has potential applications from health care to sports performance. “At its core, the advance we’re making here is the sensor technology.Then we can leverage those signals to make predictions about performance, user experience, customer engagement, all sorts of things,” Platt said.

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Rising temps

Increased outdoor temperatures are linked to known health risks, such as heat stroke and dehydration, but a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine has also found a relationship between potassium supplements and survival in heart failure patients during the hot summer months. Researchers found that taking supplemental potassium, a key nutrient that is lost through sweat, increased survival rates in this group of high-risk patients. Continued research on the relationship between the effects of prescription drugs and high outdoor temperatures will become increasingly important as climate change progresses.

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Water filters

More than 800 million people lack access to clean water, but current water filtration methods are too costly and cumbersome to be used in remote parts of the world. Engineers from the University of Pennsylvania recently published a study describing a novel “inverted” approach for creating nanoscale water filters that are flexible and robust, and they even have antimicrobial properties. These nanoscale water filters could someday be used to remove harmful chemicals from water more easily and cheaply than reverse osmosis.

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Brain insights

Brain-training games don’t work. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Neuroscience & Society found no effects on participants’ abilities other than on the specific tasks being practiced. Another study, this one on prescription drugs intended to treat ADHD, found that when these medicines are taken by normal, healthy individuals, they do not enhance cognitive abilities.

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How to throw out your phone on a summer road trip

When you go on your summer vacation, can you also take a vacation from your smartphone?

Can you give Facebook and Instagram a rest and enjoy conversing with the people around you rather than constantly scrolling, posting, and checking for comments from your legion of followers?

Critics of chronic users of smartphones and social media doubt people can go without them for long. In today’s digitally consumed world, taking a “digital detox” is difficult for many to do.

But Johnny Welsh (www.johnnywelsh.com), author of Paper Maps, No Apps: An Unplugged Travel Adventure, says vacation is the perfect time to disconnect — and that it may change your perspective, and your life, if you do.

“With this addiction to our smartphones, this obsession to be connected with the world, we fail to connect with the people sitting right in front of us,” says Welsh, whose book chronicles a 16-day road trip in the western U.S. that he and his girlfriend, Kristy, took while detaching from smartphones and social media.

“The disconnect in face-to-face interactions keeps growing; I see it happening more as smartphones get ‘smarter.’ I imagine what would happen if aliens landed on earth and observed us. They might think a smartphone is something we need to live, like an external nervous system.”

On his road trip, Welsh endeavored to experience “how different life could be without the constant seduction of the flat screen” — while also examining his own social media habits with a sense of humor. Likewise, he thinks others who ditch their phones on a getaway can better live in the moment while not being digitally distracted.

“Be present,” Welsh says. “Turn off your device and really live. Vacations should be a real break from our technology-soaked lives.”

Welsh gives five tips on how to disconnect from your smartphone and enjoy vacation without it:

Use paper maps. Welsh says this is the first big step to looking at what’s around you rather than looking at your phone. “Using the old-school way, you won’t have to go to Google Maps for navigation and have an excuse to keep using your phone,” Welsh says. “Plus, using your brain, your imagination fires up like when you were a kid, looking at the back roads on an old map and wondering where they all lead.”

Delete tempting apps. “Addicted to Twitter or other sites? Delete the app from your phone before you leave on vacation,” Welsh says, “and don’t reinstall it until you get back.”

Buy a disposable camera or a real one. “Rather than take selfies on your phone, and constantly posting pictures and agonizing over the perfect hashtags, you can capture memories the old-fashioned way,” Welsh says. “And this way you actually enjoy your surroundings without having your face in a screen most of the day.”

Check hotels with digital-detox discounts. “Yes, they’re out there,” Welsh says. “Some places offer room discounts for giving up your phone upon check-in. A reawakening starts with forced human interaction. We did that for thousands of years before.”

Read. “Remember that?” Welsh asks. “Rather than being entranced on your phone, bring a good book. The act of reading a physical book quiets and calms us, incorporates the sense of touch and smell, and allows us to become part of the story in a way that no pop-up headline can.”

“We’re relying too much on instant technology,” Welsh says. “There can be life — a higher quality of life — without these devices.”

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Know Your Military

Medal of Honor: Army Pvt. Wilburn Ross

BY KATIE LANGE

Few World War II veterans can say they earned not just America's highest medal for valor, but France's as well. Army Pvt. Wilburn Ross is part of an elite group who can.

Ross single-handedly took out nearly 60 Germans in a five-hour period in 1944, saving his depleted company from an elite German force.

Ross was born May 12, 1922, and grew up on a farm in Kentucky. When World War II broke out, he moved to Virginia to be a shipyard welder. Not long after that, in 1942, he was drafted into the Army and quickly sent to the Western Front as a machine gunner with the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

Ross saw combat in Morocco and Italy and took part in the mid-August 1944 invasion of southern France known as Operation Dragoon. It was a lesser-known invasion than northern France's D-Day, but just as important. During Dragoon, Ross's unit landed along the French Riviera, quickly secured the beachhead and pushed inland. According to the Seattle Times, Ross was injured by a grenade explosion to the cheek, but he recovered and continued on with his company, which regrouped with several other Allied armies in mid-September to begin the drive toward Germany.

Ross's division was moving east through the Vosges Mountains when he earned his Medal of Honor.

On Oct. 30, 1944, Ross' unit was fighting an entrenched group of elite German mountain soldiers, and they were losing badly — 55 of 88 men in his company had been lost by noon. But that didn't make Ross weary; instead, he pushed even harder to prevail.

Armed with a light machine gun, Ross managed to make his way to the front of the line, 10 yards ahead of the forward-most riflemen, so he could repel the attackers. It worked several times, despite the growing number of rifle and grenade explosions landing near him.

By the eighth German assault, most of the U.S. soldiers on the front line were out of ammunition. Ross continued to fire, single-handedly holding off the Germans as, one by one, his comrades crawled up to him to collect rounds they could use from his ammunition belt. As this was going on, enemy soldiers with grenades had crawled to within four yards of Ross, but he was able to repel them, too, hurling the grenades back at them.

Eventually, Ross also ran out of ammo. He was advised to withdraw to the company's command post, but he heard more ammo was on its way, so he declined.

Meanwhile, the Germans were desperately trying to take Ross out. After all, his machine gun was standing between them and a decisive breakthrough.

During the last German attempt, Ross' comrades were preparing for a last-ditch stand, fixing bayonets on their rifles as the enemy drew closer. But just before the Germans could swarm his position, the ammo to resupply them arrived. Ross reloaded and blasted his way through the enemy crowd, killing 40 and wounding 10 more. His efforts alone broke their will, and the Germans retreated.

During five hours of continuous combat, Ross killed or wounded at least 58 Germans. To ensure the remaining members of his unit survived, he stayed in position for 36 hours. His actions were an inspiration to his fellow soldiers.

On April 23, 1945, Ross was one of five members of the 3rd Infantry Division to be honored with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg, Germany — Hitler's once-thriving Nazi rally grounds.

After the war, Ross got married and had six children. He stayed in the military and served in the Korean War before he decided to retire as a master sergeant in 1964. Ross eventually settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he remained active in the veteran community.

In 2010 – 65 years after he received the Medal of Honor — Ross and a few other soldiers were presented with the French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration bestowed by France for military service, for their actions during Operation Dragoon.

The accolades have continued since. A Veterans of Foreign Wars post was renamed in Ross' honor in 2011, as was a nature trail in DuPont and a Kentucky highway near where he grew up. Ross was also one of 12 Medal of Honor recipients featured on postage stamps released in 2013.

Ross died May 9, 2017, at the age of 94. Clearly, he will be remembered.

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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Hijacked by emotions at work? Name, tame, and transform them

The workplace can make people feel a full range of emotions — sometimes more intensely and frequently than one experiences at home.

The difference is, people are often reluctant to show or acknowledge to themselves their full emotions while on the job. But burying those emotions can cause bigger problems, says Cynthia Howard, author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room.

“Emotions are part of your survival kit,” says Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach and performance expert. “But for too many, emotions are the black box in the aircraft. You look at them only when there has been a crash or a tragedy.

“In the workplace, emotions get ignored for a variety of old assumptions, such as they’re a sign of weakness. But the message that one can separate their emotions and still function well is a myth. Research shows that when you can identify your emotion, you are able to slow your reaction. Thus you can name it, tame it, and then can take the right action to shift those feelings.”

Howard suggests using a journal to evaluate the following common emotions experienced at work and turn them into positives:

Anger. “Get to know your anger,” Howard says. “When ignored, anger turns to rage, resentment, heart disease, and it shuts down your ability to be happy.” Anger alerts you to set boundaries and facilitate change. Ask yourself these questions: What happens as a result of experiencing anger? How does it affect other people and interfere with your goals? Who or what flips your anger switch on?

Anxiety. “Anxiety arises from thoughts,” Howard says. “It can catch you in an endless thought loop. Did I sign off on that contract? Did I forget something? Anxiety can also serve as a messenger to help you clarify a situation, so you can take action.” Use your phone to create lists or download one of the many aps that will help you stay organized and focused. Consider these questions: How does anxiety interfere with your goals? Who or what flips your anxiety switch on? What would you like to experience instead?

Sadness. This emotion often brings a desire to withdraw and the need to cry. “It’s a cue you need time to reflect and let go of things that are not working,” Howard says. “Sadness gives you a window into what you value. And when you can acknowledge your own sadness, you increase the ability to demonstrate empathy. You develop the courage and ability to do other difficult things.”

Discouragement. When left unchecked, discouragement can erode confidence, motivation and momentum. “Go from discouraged to determined,” Howard says. “Reframe it by identifying three things that are going well for you. Recognize that the discouragement is not permanent. Find a safe person to talk to, then let go of discouragement and focus on your big vision.”

“All these emotions tie into stress,” Howard says. “Chronic, unmanaged stress, often caused by an unwillingness to confront these emotions, interrupts the ability to think clearly, work well with others, and in general, perform. Identifying your emotions leads you to having more control over them.”

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Four ways to protect yourself from deadly superbugs

By Greg Frank, Ph.D.

Every year, drug-resistant bacteria and fungi known as "superbugs" infect 2 million Americans -- and kill up to 162,000 of those patients.

Sadly, that toll could soon skyrocket. Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi build resistance to medical treatments over time. Each time someone uses an antimicrobial -- think prescription antibiotics or antibacterial soaps -- those microorganisms have a chance to evolve into a drug-resistant superbug.

Superbugs are evolving faster than we're creating new treatments. It's up to everyday Americans to prevent this looming public health crisis.

Here are four easy steps to fight the spread of these deadly infections.

1. Avoid antibacterial products.

Soap and body wash that contain "antibacterial" ingredients sound healthy. But they aren't.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that antibacterial soaps are no better at preventing illness than regular soap and water. These added ingredients just turn people's bodies into breeding grounds for antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

Antibacterial cleaning products, meanwhile, leave behind chemicals designed to wipe out bacteria. However, these chemicals aren't 100 percent effective. The surviving bacteria may evolve to become resistant to antimicrobials -- posing a threat to humans' safety.

2. Take antibiotics appropriately.

When prescribed antibiotics, patients should always complete the full course of treatment, even if they feel better halfway through. Stopping treatment early allows some bacteria to live on and evolve.

Patients should also only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Many often clamor for antibiotics as soon as they catch colds, even though most colds -- along with the flu, bronchitis, and the stomach flu -- are caused by viruses, which antibiotics can't treat. Thirty percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to a study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. Only one in 10 sore-throat patients actually needs antibiotics, but six in 10 receive them.

By overusing antibiotics or not taking them as directed, Americans inadvertently accelerate the spread of superbugs. Patients can exercise caution and only use antibiotics as a last resort. For instance, folks should confirm they actually have strep throat before taking amoxicillin. Otherwise, they may increase their risk of resistant infections down the line.

3. Get vaccinated.

It's crucial that people stay up-to-date on their shots. A single vaccine prevents the same infections as a whole regimen of antibiotics.

Consider the bacteria responsible for many ear and sinus infections, Streptococcus pneumoniae. If every child in the world was vaccinated for that bacteria, the World Health Organization estimates it would prevent 11 million days of antibiotic use every year.

4. Tell Congress to support the DISARM Act.

In June, Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistance, or DISARM, Act. The bipartisan bill would incentivize doctors and hospitals to use newer antibiotics, instead of older less effective ones. The proposal would also require hospitals to start stewardship programs to monitor how and when they administer antibiotics. Such programs have proven effective at reducing the amount of unnecessary prescriptions that doctors write.

The DISARM Act is an essential first step in preventing the misuse of antibiotics. Americans can call or write their senators to advocate for the bill.

By taking small steps to prevent antibiotic resistance, everyone can help save millions of lives from the scourge of superbugs.

Greg Frank, Ph.D., is the director of infectious disease policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

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Plant a few edible and decorative containers for fall

By MELINDA MYERS

End the growing season with an extra burst of color and nutrition with a few fall containers. A pot of mums or asters can add color to your front steps and a container filled with kale and greens adds fresh flavor to your fall meals. But don’t stop there. Create attractive potted gardens by combining asters, mums, grasses, cool weather edibles and other fall beauties.

Spruce up an existing container by replacing weather worn annuals with fresh fall favorites. Pansies, sweet alyssum and dianthus are just a few annuals that hit their stride as cooler weather returns.

Or plant new container gardens for your fall landscape. Just select a pot with drainage holes and fill it with a quality planting mix. Or upcycle items like a wicker basket, small bushel basket, wooden crate or galvanized tub into a fun fall planter. Just add drainage holes before planting. Or scoop out a pumpkin and set a pot of pansies or ornamental peppers inside.

Use ornamental grasses, kale, black-eyed Susans and Swiss chard for vertical interest. Complement your plantings and containers with garden art, gourds, mini pumpkins and berry-covered branches. Add a mum or aster for a vibrant surge of color.

Include some trailing plants like golden moneywort, trailing lobelia and ivy. Fill any voids with snapdragons, ornamental peppers, colorful greens and coral bells. Just be sure to protect peppers and any other frost-sensitive plants on those chilly nights.

Grow a container of Bright Lights Swiss Chard, colorful leaf lettuce and pansies – the flowers are edible – for an attractive and edible combination. Make your fall centerpiece an edible part of your gatherings. Fill a metal colander or basket with red dragon arugula, red mizuna mustard, red sails lettuce, bull’s blood beets and other colorful greens in a metal colander or basket for your outdoor gatherings.

Test your container designs while shopping. Grab a cart and gather the plants you would like to grow. See if the colors and textures work well together. The bold leaves of plants like ornamental cabbage contrast with the fine leaves of ornamental grasses to create a focal point. Repeat colors from the flowers or leaves of one plant to another to unify your planting. For example, use a purple aster or pink mum to echo the colors of decorative kale, pansies or the colorful leaf stems of Swiss chard.

Set containers on the front steps as a colorful autumn welcome. Group several containers together for a garden of containers to display on the deck, patio or balcony. This collection of container gardens is sure to brighten your day when relaxing outdoors or enjoying the view from inside the house looking out.

Go one step further and create a stunning autumn display by combining fall planters with gourds, decorative squash and pumpkins. Use corn stalks or broom corn for vertical interest or as a backdrop. Then include bales of hay to elevate a few of the pots and pumpkins for multiple levels of fall beauty. Dress it up further with sprigs of American bittersweet, grape vines and other fall décor.

A few fall planters can go a long way to help celebrate the transition from summer to winter. The last blaze of color will warm you as the temperatures start to drop.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Medicare and Social Security

Dear Rusty: I know that when a person turns 65 he or she must enroll in Medicare. I have been informed that the charge for this would be deducted from the Social Security benefit, if it has been claimed. Otherwise, this will be another payment for my medical care, in addition to my existing coverage. Please explain the relationship between the two programs and considerations in timing the claim for the SSA benefit. Signed: Frugal Senior

Dear Frugal Senior: If you are already collecting Social Security benefits you will be automatically enrolled in Medicare about 3 months prior to your 65th birthday but, if not, enrollment can be done by contacting Social Security directly. You must enroll in Medicare at age 65, unless you have other “creditable” healthcare coverage (such as from an employer) or you will be subject to a late enrollment penalty for enrolling after expiration of your initial enrollment period (your “IEP”). Your “IEP” is a seven-month window which starts 3 months before the month you turn 65 and ends 3 months after the month you turn 65. You should check with your employer to make sure your existing coverage is “creditable” and, if it is, you can delay enrolling in Medicare until such time as that other coverage ends and thus avoid a late enrollment penalty for not enrolling in Medicare Part B during your IEP. When your employer coverage ends, you’ll enter a “special enrollment period” during which you can enroll in Medicare Part B (and Part D, which is prescription drug coverage) without incurring a late enrollment penalty.

Medicare Part A (hospitalization coverage) is free if you are also eligible for Social Security benefits (you don’t have to be collecting SS, only eligible). Medicare Part B provides coverage for doctors and outpatient services and there is a premium associated with it ($135.50 for 2019). If you have other creditable coverage you can avoid paying the Part B premium by not enrolling during your IEP. If your existing plan also provides creditable prescription drug coverage, you can also defer enrolling in a Medicare Part D plan until your employer coverage ends, at which time you will have 63 days to take a Part D plan without incurring a late enrollment penalty. FYI, you must be enrolled in Medicare Part A to collect SS benefits after you are 65 years old, and since Part A is free for anyone eligible for Social Security, there is little reason to not enroll in Part A at age 65 (unless you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), in which case there are special rules to consider).

Although you enroll in Medicare via Social Security, they are two very separate and distinct programs. Normally, if you are collecting Social Security benefits your Medicare Part B premium is automatically deducted from your Social Security benefit. But if you wish to delay collecting Social Security and want to enroll in Medicare Part B, you can do so and request alternate Medicare Part B premium payment arrangements, for which there are several options.

As for the timing of your claim for Social Security benefits, you should evaluate your need for the money, your current health and your expected longevity. If you don’t need the money now and expect to live to at least average life expectancy (about 87 for women and 84 for men) then delaying your claim for SS as long as possible will yield you the highest monthly benefit amount as well as the most in lifetime SS benefits. For each year you delay claiming Social Security beyond your full retirement age you’ll get an additional 8% on your monthly benefit, and you could get as much as 32% more (depending on your FRA) at age 70. Age 70 is when your benefit would reach maximum so you shouldn’t wait beyond age 70 to claim Social Security.

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Talk about firewater

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown and explosion in 1986 created a radioactive no-man’s land, a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone. Experts estimate that the exclusion zone won’t be safe for more than 100 years. But, entrepreneurial scientists at England’s University of Portsmouth have decided it is already safe enough to use the water and grain in the zone to make a powerful new Vodka, aptly labeled Atomik Vodka. The University issued a statement noting that “the only radioactivity the researchers could detect in the alcohol is natural Carbon-14 at the same level you would expect in any spirit drink.”

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Attention bacon lovers

A chain of West Coast restaurants has announced that it will pay a lucky aficionado of crispy bacon $1,000 for a day of non-stop taste-testing. The Farmer Boys chain posted a notice on its Web site describing how to enter the competition for the “bacon intern” position before August 20 and notes that the winner will be announced on August 27.

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Is she kidding?

Did revenge motivate the owner of the Manhattan Beach, CA “emoji house?” The speculation is Kathryn Kidd was indeed seeking retribution when she gave the exterior of her home a hot-pink paint job that has neighbors in an uproar. It features large, colorful emoji-like figures, one of which is sticking its tongue out. It seems the home owner was recently fined $4,000 for illegally renting rooms to short-term visitors, which is against the law in Manhattan Beach. On the contrary says the homeowner, "it's a message to me to be positive and happy and love life."

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Mass shootings

The lack of a clear, consistent definition for “mass shootings” makes it hard to determine exactly how much the frequency of such events has increased, said University of Pennsylvania criminologist Richard Berk. “It’s difficult to arrive at a consensus, but a very rough estimate is that during the past decade, there have been about 40 deaths per year attributed to mass shootings, ” he says. “Virtually all perpetrators were male—just as in most violent crime—and mass shootings associated with intimate partner violence were the most common type.” Broad gun control likely won’t work, he said, given the Second Amendment and the sheer number of semi-automatic weapons in the United States. Rather, more surgical interventions such as banning high-capacity magazines may be a better approach to fostering change.

Porn & privacy

New research shows that pornography websites have an overwhelming lack of privacy and lack of transparency about privacy. More than 90 percent of pornography websites share user data with at least one third party, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. Google alone was tracking users on nearly 75 percent of the 22,000 websites analyzed. And many of the sites’ privacy policies failed to mention the presence of third-party trackers while others lacked privacy policies altogether.

Early universe

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are part of an international effort to create the largest ground-based cosmic microwave background (CMB) observatory ever built. As members of the Simons Observatory collaboration, Mark Devlin and his team are building the sensor that will sit at the “heart” of this cluster of cutting-edge telescopes. Located in the high Atacama Desert in northern Chile, the Observatory will measure CMB, the residual radiation left behind by the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago, to learn more about the first moments of the early universe.

Alzheimer's

Using PET scans to image amyloid protein deposits in the brain is becoming a more common means for predicting Alzheimer’s disease and evaluating patients with symptoms of dementia in both clinical and research settings. However, recent studies have suggested that this measurement may not be directly linked to cognitive performance. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and Thomas Jefferson University found that measuring glucose consumption in the brain is a more effective and sensitive endpoint than amyloid protein deposits. “Our results support the notion that amyloid imaging does not reflect levels of brain function, and therefore it may be of limited value for assessing patients with cognitive decline,” said co-principal investigator Abass Alavi.

Memory motion

A familiar tune has the ability to take the listener to another time and place. In the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s Memory in Motion program patients with dementia reconnect with their past through the power of music. The program, housed under the Penn Memory Center, encourages patients with dementia and their caregivers to move and dance while listening to musical oldies. “So many studies show the incredible memories recalled in connection with music. They become completely different people,” said Colby Damon, a former professional dancer who leads the group. “It’s important for me to help people who are living with dementia still have a high quality of life, to find experiences that can enrich their daily lives.”

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KNOW YOUR MILITARY

'C-Rats' Fueled Troops During and After World War II

BY DAVID VERGUN

An old saying declares that an army marches on its stomach, meaning it needs food to survive, thrive and conquer.

Soldiers, sailors and Marines were often far from their mess halls, galleys and field kitchens during World War II, so they had to haul around heavy boxes of prepackaged food to survive.

The rations they carried were known as C-Rations, but were more often referred to as "C-Rats."

C-Rations on display.

C-Rations were developed in 1938 as a replacement for reserve rations, which sustained troops during World War I, and consisted chiefly of canned corned beef or bacon and cans of hardtack biscuits, as well as ground coffee, sugar, salt and tobacco with rolling paper — not much in the way of variety.

Researchers at the Quartermaster Subsistence Research and Development Laboratory in Chicago went to work to design food products that could be kept for long time periods and were more delicious and nutritious than reserve rations.

A soldier eats food.

The design they came up with consisted of 12-ounce tinplate cans that were opened with a key. At first, the meals were stews, and more varieties were added as the war went on, including meat and spaghetti in tomato sauce, chopped ham, eggs and potatoes, meat and noodles, pork and beans; ham and lima beans, and chicken and vegetables.

Besides these main courses, chocolate or other candies, gum, biscuits and cigarettes were added.

When three meals a day were consumed, C-Rations provided about 3,700 calories. They could be eaten cold, but tasted better cooked.

A soldier sits on the ground eating C-rations.

Troop feedback on C-Rations often went unheeded. For instance, the ham and lima beans entree was unpopular, but it remained in the C-Ration mix until well into the Vietnam War. Two other complaints were that the food selection was monotonous and the meals were heavy to carry into combat on foot.

In 1958, C-Rations were replaced by "Meal, Combat, Individual" rations. The contents were almost identical to C-Rations, so they continued to be called C-Rats until the early 1980s, when "Meal, Ready-to-Eat" replaced them. MREs came in packages instead of cans, so they were much lighter than C-Rations.

K-Rations used during World War II.

Besides C-Rations, K-Rations were also issued during World War II, but in a more limited number. These were distributed for missions of short duration, such as paratroopers participating in airborne operations.

K-Rations were lighter than C-Rations, and three meals a day netted only 2,830 calories. Soldiers complained about the taste and lack of calories, and so entrepreneurial leaders often found supplements such as rice, bread and C-Rations.

K-Rations were discontinued at the end of World War II.

Today, MREs are issued to troops. The early versions were disliked by many, so the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts, which does food research for the Defense Department, improved the taste of MREs over time.

However, many veterans who've eaten both C-Rats and MREs, still have nostalgia for C-Rats and prefer them over MREs.

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Four ways to protect yourself from deadly superbugs

By GREG FRANK, Ph.D.

Every year, drug-resistant bacteria and fungi known as "superbugs" infect 2 million Americans -- and kill up to 162,000 of those patients.

Sadly, that toll could soon skyrocket. Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi build resistance to medical treatments over time. Each time someone uses an antimicrobial -- think prescription antibiotics or antibacterial soaps -- those microorganisms have a chance to evolve into a drug-resistant superbug.

Superbugs are evolving faster than we're creating new treatments. It's up to everyday Americans to prevent this looming public health crisis.

Here are four easy steps to fight the spread of these deadly infections.

1. Avoid antibacterial products.

Soap and body wash that contain "antibacterial" ingredients sound healthy. But they aren't.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that antibacterial soaps are no better at preventing illness than regular soap and water. These added ingredients just turn people's bodies into breeding grounds for antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

Antibacterial cleaning products, meanwhile, leave behind chemicals designed to wipe out bacteria. However, these chemicals aren't 100 percent effective. The surviving bacteria may evolve to become resistant to antimicrobials -- posing a threat to humans' safety.

2. Take antibiotics appropriately.

When prescribed antibiotics, patients should always complete the full course of treatment, even if they feel better halfway through. Stopping treatment early allows some bacteria to live on and evolve.

Patients should also only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Many often clamor for antibiotics as soon as they catch colds, even though most colds -- along with the flu, bronchitis, and the stomach flu -- are caused by viruses, which antibiotics can't treat. Thirty percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to a study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. Only one in 10 sore-throat patients actually needs antibiotics, but six in 10 receive them.

By overusing antibiotics or not taking them as directed, Americans inadvertently accelerate the spread of superbugs. Patients can exercise caution and only use antibiotics as a last resort. For instance, folks should confirm they actually have strep throat before taking amoxicillin. Otherwise, they may increase their risk of resistant infections down the line.

3. Get vaccinated.

It's crucial that people stay up-to-date on their shots. A single vaccine prevents the same infections as a whole regimen of antibiotics.

Consider the bacteria responsible for many ear and sinus infections, Streptococcus pneumoniae. If every child in the world was vaccinated for that bacteria, the World Health Organization estimates it would prevent 11 million days of antibiotic use every year.

4. Tell Congress to support the DISARM Act.

In June, Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistance, or DISARM, Act. The bipartisan bill would incentivize doctors and hospitals to use newer antibiotics, instead of older less effective ones. The proposal would also require hospitals to start stewardship programs to monitor how and when they administer antibiotics. Such programs have proven effective at reducing the amount of unnecessary prescriptions that doctors write.

The DISARM Act is an essential first step in preventing the misuse of antibiotics. Americans can call or write their senators to advocate for the bill.

By taking small steps to prevent antibiotic resistance, everyone can help save millions of lives from the scourge of superbugs.

Greg Frank, Ph.D., is the director of infectious disease policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

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What is your definition of success? 5 tips to find it

While building and maintaining a thriving business may not be easy, experts in entrepreneurial endeavors say that building a personal brand first is key. In fact, some studies show that today’s consumers trust big brands less and prefer buying from a person they view as authentic and relatable.

But before building a personal brand, it’s important for an entrepreneur to define what constitutes their own brand of success, says Ngan Nguyen (www.nganhnguyen.com), an intuitive strategist and author of Self-Defined Success: You Have Everything It Takes.

“Fulfillment and extraordinary results only come when you strive to achieve your authentic success,” Nguyen says. “The key is figuring out what that is and navigating that path. The good news is that we each already have everything it takes to navigate that path. It is essential, because we each have unique gifts, passions, and talents that can create amazing impact in the world and differentiate ourselves and our businesses.”

Nguyen offers five ways to define your own brand of success that can lead to running a successful business:

Get unstuck by unleashing your inner self. “We feel stuck when there is a lack of clarity and the path in front of us is not aligned with our authenticity,” Nguyen says. “Stagnancy and negative happenings force us to look inside ourselves at who we really are and what we really want. Detail those things, and now you’ll have the blueprint to create change and growth. Getting clear on this enables us to lead ourselves and our business to forge ahead on a new path.”

Act on your new authenticity. “Our full potential comes out when we are fully committed to creating a result that fully expresses who we are and what we love,” Nguyen says. “Without that clarity and without acting upon our newly discovered authentic selves, there will always be a bit of reservation. And with that reservation comes lackluster results that are not a reflection of our true potential.”

Keep the vision in mind. Nguyen says much of our untapped potential lies in unused intelligence. “Leaders who leverage their vision can effectively navigate a path to success in a competitive marketplace,” Nguyen says. “Any vision that we can imagine, this infinite intelligence knows how to bring about. The question is how we go about influencing our subconscious in the right way so that it serves us. We do this by holding and keeping an image of a life we desire, and feeding it through repetition long enough that our mind goes to work to aid us in creating it.”

Make your passion your fuel. “The power to create extraordinary results requires this critical ingredient,” Nguyen says. “Passion is contagious, ignites the heart, and motivates the team. It energizes and sparks the pull forward through all barriers, uncertainty, and challenges.”

Have the will to make decisions that move toward your dream. Nguyen says the difference between those who make their dreams happen and those who don’t isn’t always a matter of intelligence but often is a matter of consistent will in decision-making. “You must have the intention to keep moving forward,” Nguyen says. “There is an energy shift that is experienced in the decision-making process, where a desire goes from wanting to being because you’ve concluded that the dream must come true no matter what.”

“Most of us are not accessing our full potential,” Nguyen says. “We need more people to bring their passion, humanity, wisdom and mastery into the world, and achieving this is easier than you may think.”

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What buying habits tell marketers about each generation

Each generation has unique experiences, lifestyles, and demographics that influence their buying behaviors, financial experts say. And studies show these distinguishing factors often lead to different spending habits between generations.

As a result, many companies are reaching out to consumers and trying to understand — and gain the attention of — these diverse buyers, says Gui Costin (www.guicostin.com), an entrepreneur, consultant and author of Millennials Are Not Aliens.

“This type of multi-generational marketing is the practice of appealing to the unique needs and behaviors of individuals within different generational groups,” says Costin. “In terms of finding and retaining buyers, companies cannot underestimate those generational differences.”

Costin discusses how the buying habits of different generations are influenced by environmental factors and how businesses must focus their marketing efforts accordingly:

Millennials. Now comprising the highest percentage of the workforce, this generation (born roughly from 1981 to 1995) receives considerable marketing attention. Many millennials grew up immersed in the digital world — a big difference from previous generations — and they think globally. “Attract this group early and earn its loyalty by appealing to their belief that they can make the future better,” Costin says. “Traditional mass marketing approaches do not work well with younger consumers. Be sure they know that your organization’s mission speaks to a purpose greater than the bottom line, e.g., globalization and climate change. Give them systematic feedback because they value positive reinforcement at accelerated rates and want more input.”

Generation X. Following the baby boomers and preceding the millennials, their tastes are different from previous generations. “Because they have greater financial restraints, they often shop at value-oriented retailers,” Costin says. “On the other hand, they have a reputation of being incredibly disloyal to brands and companies. Generation Xers like initiatives that will make things more useful and practical. They demand trust to the extent that if your organization does not follow through once, then you are likely to lose them.”

Baby Boomers. This demographic group, with many now in retirement or nearing it, includes those born from 1946 to 1964. Health is a major concern, and change is not something they embrace. “They appreciate options and want quick fixes that require little change and instant improvement,” Costin says. “They do not like bureaucracy — but give them a cause to fight for and they will give their all. Focus on building value and they will be less price-sensitive. While this group may be aging, they’re focused on breaking the mold of what 60 and beyond looks like.”

The Silent Generation. Born between 1925 and 1945, this group represents the oldest Americans and, Costin says, typically is labeled with traditional values such as discipline, self-denial, hard work, conformity, and financial conservatism. “It’s important to earn their trust,” says Costin, “as they believe that a person’s word is his or her bond. Patriotism, team-building, and sacrifice for the common good are appealing to this generation. As a group, they aren’t particularly interested in the information age; however, the younger members of this generation are one of the fastest-growing groups of internet users.”

“Communicating with customers in different generations can be challenging,” Costin says. “However, all generations appreciate honesty and authenticity. As environmental factors change, transparency and genuine interactions remain important to everyone.”

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Tomato Troubles

By MELINDA MYERS

You have waited all season for that first red ripe tomato only to discover less-than-perfect fruit. But don’t worry, you can still have a great harvest this year while improving things for next season.

Blossom end rot is a common problem. It’s due to a calcium deficiency often caused by fluctuations in soil moisture, often seen on the first set of fruit and those grown in containers.

Adjust your watering and mulch the soil to help keep it consistently moist. Have your soil tested before adding any calcium fertilizer. Further reduce the risk of blossom end rot by avoiding root damage when staking and cultivating your garden. Eliminating some of the roots limits the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. And, don’t use ammonium forms of nitrogen prior to or during fruit set.

Fortunately, it is safe to eat the firm red portion of the tomato. Since this is a physiological and not disease or insect problem, you can cut off the black portion and toss it into the compost pile.

Cracked fruit are also common in the garden. Fluctuating temperatures, moisture and improper fertilization result in irregular development of the fruit that results in cracking. You can’t change the weather, but you can reduce the risk of this problem with thorough, less frequent watering to encourage deep roots. And just like blossom end rot, mulch the soil to keep it evenly moist and be sure to avoid root damage.

Several fungal diseases such as early and late blight, septoria leaf spot and anthracnose, can cause spots on the leaves and fruit of tomatoes. Minimize the problem by rotating your plantings whenever possible. Move your tomatoes to an area of the garden where unrelated crops, such as beans, lettuce or onions, were grown last season.

Mulch the soil to help keep soil borne fungal spores off the plant. Water early in the day, and if possible, apply the water directly to the soil with a soaker hose, drip irrigation or a watering wand to reduce the risk of disease.

Properly space and stake or tower the plants for better air circulation and remove susceptible weeds and volunteer tomato plants to further reduce the risk of these and other diseases.

Always clean up and dispose of tomato and other disease-infected plant material in the fall. Cultural practices and growing the most disease-resistant varieties available are often enough to keep these diseases under control.

As a last resort you may choose to use a fungicide. Select one labeled for food crops and apply at the first sign of the disease. Repeat applications are usually needed. Be sure to read and follow all label directions carefully whether using organic, natural or synthetic fungicides.

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Little-known tax breaks that could save you big dollars

By CHRIS HEERLEIN

If you want to pay less in taxes, you must create a forward-looking plan. And it’s wise to start strategizing and implementing those tactics in 2019.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 gives us a lot to think about when crafting a financial framework. With the legislation scheduled to run through 2025, you want to be aware of certain provisions and exceptions in the tax-reform law and how you can take advantage of them.

State taxes. The tax-reform changes impose a $10,000 limitation on the deduction of state taxes. The IRS says that maximum does not apply to property taxes imposed on business property. For those of you with home offices, to the extent that you can allocate real estate taxes on your home to that office, understand that’s deductible outside or above the $10,000 limit.

Home equity lines of credit. If you take out a home equity line and use the proceeds to reinvest in your home, such as a new kitchen or a new wing in your bedroom, the interest remains deductible. But if you use those proceeds to, say, pay off college tuition or credit cards, there’s no allowable deduction. We see families borrowing money on their home to use for repairs, improvements, and sometimes even to cover retirement income and keep their tax bracket under control. Borrowing home equity can be good, but you need to keep track of what you’re doing with the proceeds because if they’re invested in the home, you can still take a deduction.

Charitable contributions. These are deductible, as they always were, but the reason to be concerned about this category is the doubling of the standard deduction. Prior to the new tax law, only about a third of people in the United States actually itemized deductions. And after this increase in the standard deduction, guess what? It goes down to less than 10% of Americans.

Think about that: 90% of people will claim a standard deduction. Now, why does that affect charitable contributions? Well, as you may know, you can claim a deduction for a charitable contribution only if you itemize. If you don’t itemize and take the standard deduction, you get no tax benefit for charitable contributions. But here are some workarounds:

For people over the age of 70 ½ — the age when you have required minimum distributions on your IRAs and 401(k)s — there’s something called a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), and you can take up to $100,000 out of your IRA each year and basically have it sent directly to a qualified charity. This is a wonderful strategy for families that give small amounts and large amounts. And you avoid all tax on that distribution that ends up at the qualified charity. You can claim the standard deduction and still avoid tax on the IRA required distributions, but remember, the first dollars you give to charity should be money out of your IRA.

What about those of you younger than 70½? Here’s what you might want to do. This is a little outside the box but it’s a powerful strategy. Bundle several years or so of contributions to your qualified charity. Let’s pull five years out as an example. You can actually bundle these contributions into a single year so that you will go over the standard deduction in that one year and claim a deduction for the excess contributions. A Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is when families put money into the fund, they get the full tax deduction for whatever goes into the fund that year, plus they can distribute that money over time, at their direction. I recommend this a lot of times to clients, especially those taking the standard deduction.

Entertainment and meal expenses. There are some big changes when it comes to entertainment expenses and meal expenses. The new tax law disallows any deduction for entertainment expenses period. Meals — an integral part of business dealings, of course — are a bit different. The IRS says you can still deduct the meal expense as long as you have a separate receipt. Going forward, make sure that your food costs for clients are separately stated on those invoices and receipts. That’s a big one and can add up fast.

Then there’s the very important SSA-44 Form. Let’s say you’re a high-wage earner and you are going to work half the year when you retire at 65. You get off the employer health care plan and go on Medicare. Well, the government dictates your Medicare premiums by how much income you report. If you go over these thresholds, you are going to get a letter in the mail that says, “You’re Medicare premiums are going up.” And I’m talking perhaps $500-plus per person more for the same coverage your neighbor is getting. The SSA-44 Form is something you would file with your tax return in a year that you retired and were over these income limits, and they’ll give you a once-in-a-lifetime exception around those limits.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – How Is My Benefit Amount Determined?

Dear Rusty: I am 60 years old. I have worked full time since age 22. I am thinking about working part-time ages 62-65. When I start collecting my social security benefit sometime after age 65, will my monthly amount be based on only the last few years of my working? Can you please explain how my monthly amount will be determined? Signed: Planning My Future

Dear Planning: I admire that you’re thinking ahead to your retirement years and I’m happy to clarify this for you. Your Social Security benefit, when you claim it, will be based upon the highest earning 35 years of your lifetime working career (not only the last few years). To determine your benefit, Social Security will take your entire record of lifetime earnings, adjust each year for inflation, and select the 35 years in which you had the highest earnings. After totaling those years they’ll divide by 420 (the number of months in 35 years) to determine your “average indexed monthly earnings” (AIME). They then break your AIME into several parts (using what’s known as “bend points”) and then take a percentage of each part and add it up to arrive at what’s called your “primary insurance amount” or “PIA.” The “bend point” values change each year, but for 2019 they are $926 and $5583. To compute your benefit, the formula will take 90% of the first $926 of your AIME; 32% of your AIME between $926 and $5583; and 15% of any amount of your AIME over $5583. The product of those three computations are added together to arrive at your PIA.

Your PIA is the amount you will get at your full retirement age, or your “FRA,” which for you (born in 1959) is 66 years and 10 months. If you claim any earlier than your FRA, your benefit will be reduced - about 29% less if claimed at 62. If you wait beyond your FRA the benefit will be more - 8% more for each year you delay, up to age 70 when maximum is reached. At age 70 your benefit will be about 25% more than it would be at your FRA. But a note of caution: any benefit estimates you have now from Social Security assume you’ll keep earning at your current level until you reach your FRA, so if you work part-time starting at age 62 your benefit amounts will be less than those shown in the current estimates.

Finally, the above applies to your own individual SS retirement benefit from your own lifetime work record. If you are married, and your PIA is less than 50% of your husband’s PIA, then you might also be eligible for a spousal boost from your husband. Or if you are the higher earner, your husband might be eligible for a spousal boost from you when you claim your Social Security benefit.

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History Matters

Feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, which took place on a farm in the town of Bethel, NY on August 15, 1969. Some parents may recall what a momentous event the three-day concert turned out to be, but many grandparents were probably among the more than 300,000 participants. Twenty-four rock bands performed, and their music — in time — partially defined the counter-culture movement of the 1960’s.

It was a significant episode in American history, one that is worth explaining to your children and grandchildren.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Three Day Summer, by Sarvenaz Tash.

It’s a rough patch of history, but the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, is an important lesson for young people to absorb.

It all started on August 17, 1998 when Mr. Clinton became the first sitting president to appear before a grand jury that resulted in a far-reaching investigation of his alleged inappropriate conduct and, ultimately — his possible — removal from office. That night, after months of maintaining his innocence, Clinton delivered a televised speech in which he confessed to an improper relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and his conviction failed to happen.

For more detailed information, read Famous Trials —The Impeachment of Bill Clinton, by Nathan Aeseng

The British army took its revenge for an American attack on the city of York [Toronto] during the War of 1812 by invading Washington, D.C. and burning down the U.S. Capitol on August 24 and 25,1814. The White House and much of the City of Washington D.C. were incinerated, but the Americans defeated the British in 1815.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Burning of Washington: August 1814, by Mary Kay Phelan.

One of the most important events that occurred during the Civil Rights Movement, was the March on Washington, on August 28, 1963. The movement had been underway almost ten years, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister and social activist, was well established as a leader in the struggle for equal rights. As a pre-eminent spokesman for the cause, King was selected to address the gathering of more than 250,000 supporters — men, women and children. He delivered a speech which he called I Have A Dream. It stirred the crowds and quickly became one of the most famous and important exemplars of oratory since Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

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So you’re not the boss? Here’s how you can still be a leader

Are leaders born or are they developed? It’s a subject that’s long been debated.

And in the workplace, can an employee who holds no supervisory job title be an effective leader — before being entrusted with managing people?

Grant Parr, a mental sports performance coach, says yes — and adds that it’s almost mandatory if someone hopes to be ready as a leader when promoted to a bigger role in an organization.

“Leadership is a choice,” says Parr (www.gameperformance.com), author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown. “It’s not a title, position, or rank. You don’t have to be a department head, manager or CEO to be a leader.”

“Leadership is a group of characteristics, and you can acquire them even if you’re not the boss. You’ll never be a leader when you assume that primetime role unless you have developed the qualities of leadership as part of your preparation for the next big step.”

Parr offers five ways to become a leader at a company without holding a leadership-type position:

Listen to others’ ideas. “Leadership is about others, not about the self, and it starts with listening,” Parr says. “Being a leader isn’t putting yourself above others, interrupting them, or acting like your ideas are more important than anyone else’s. True leadership brings out the best in others and your culture, and you do that by making them feel valued and giving them a voice.”

Be accountable for mistakes. “Own your errors,” Parr says. “It sets an example of accountability that is good for the culture. Too many people, when told of a mistake, assign blame and make excuses. A leader corrects constructively and surveys for solutions. As a subordinate, staying positive and offering ways to fix your mistake, and showing the humility of asking for help, is a path toward being a leader people can trust.”

Learn flexibility. “This applies in so many ways,” Parr says. “If you’re stuck on doing something one certain way, you’re headed toward being a micromanager who few would like and fewer would want to work under. Leadership is about tapping into your broad base of workplace talent, expanding knowledge, improving systems and raising the ceiling.”

Interact and network. Networking isn’t only about finding jobs, it’s about connecting with people in a way that enhances important relationships and the work environment. “As you learn to interact with different types in the workplace,” Parr says, “you’ll learn which relationships are most effective, how to help those people with their career, and show your ability to direct and lead.”

Develop a thick skin. To become a leader, Parr says it’s vital to rise above annoyances and petty slights from others and let them roll off your back. “HR isn’t the principal’s office,” he says, “and if you vent every time about someone doing something irritating, you’ll get the reputation of being a whiner. Don’t complain behind closed doors, gossip, or criticize people behind their backs. No one who does those things can be viewed as a leader.”

“People want to be led,” Parr says. “But they don’t want to be bossed around. Great leaders can learn this as underlings on their way to a management position. Then when they get there, they’re ahead of the game — and everyone’s in step with them.”

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KNOW YOUR MILITARY

These Social Media Scams Affect the Military

BY KATIE LANGE

Nowadays, you have to be cautious of everything you do online. Scammers are always trying to get money, goods or services out of unsuspecting people — and military members are often targets.

Here are some scams that have recently been affecting service members, Defense Department employees and their families.

Romance Scams

In April, Army Criminal Investigation Command put out a warning about romance scams in which online predators go on dating sites claiming to be deployed active-duty soldiers. It's a problem that's affecting all branches of service — not just the Army.

A Navy sailor holds up a smartphone, making visible a screen that shows a red circle with the words “scam alert” in it across a webpage that looks like a social media site.

CID said there have been hundreds of claims each month from people who said they've been scammed on legitimate dating apps and social media sites. According to the alleged victims, the scammers have asked for money for fake service-related needs such as transportation, communications fees, processing and medical fees — even marriage. CID said many of the victims have lost tens of thousands of dollars and likely won't get that money back.

Remember: Service members and government employees DO NOT PAY to go on leave, have their personal effects sent home or fly back to the U.S. from an overseas assignment. Scammers will sometimes provide false paperwork to make their case, but real service members make their own requests for time off. Also, any official military or government emails will end in .mil or .gov — not .com — so be suspicious if you get a message claiming to be from the military or government that doesn’t have one of those addresses.

If you're worried about being scammed, know what red flags to look for. If you think you've been a victim, contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.

DOD officials said task forces are working to deal with the growing problem, but the scammers are often from African nations and are using cyber cafes with untraceable email addresses, then routing their accounts across the world to make them incredibly difficult to trace. So be vigilant!

A man’s hands typing on a cellphone. The contents on the screen are undeterminable.

'Sextortion'

Sexual extortion — known as "sextortion" — is when a service member is seduced into sexual activities online that are unknowingly recorded and used against them for money or goods. Often, if a victim caves on a demand, the scammer will just likely demand more.

Service members are attractive targets for these scammers for a few reasons:

They're often young men who are away from home and have an online presence.

They have a steady income and are often more financially stable than civilians.

Because of their careers, they're held to a higher standard of conduct.

Military members have security clearances and know things that might be of interest to adversaries.

To avoid falling victim to sextortion, don't post or exchange compromising photos or videos with ANYONE online, and make sure your social media privacy settings limit the information outsiders can see — this includes advertising your affiliation with the military or government. Be careful when you're communicating with anyone you don't personally know online, and trust your instincts. If people seem suspicious, stop communicating with them.

Hands typing on a laptop computer at a white table.

DOD officials said sextortion often goes unreported because many victims are embarrassed they fell for it. But it happens worldwide and across all ranks and services. Here's what you should do about it if it happens to you:

Stop communicating with the scammer.

Contact your command and your local CID office.

Do NOT pay the perpetrator.

Save all communications you had with that person.

Service Member Impersonation Scams

Scammers love to impersonate people of authority, and that includes service members.

These people often steal the identity or profile images of a service member and use them to ask for money or make claims that involve the sale of vehicles, house rentals or other big-ticket items. These scammers often send the victim bogus information about the advertised product and ask for a wire transfer through a third party to finish the purchase, but there’s no product at the end of the transaction.

Lately, fake profiles of high-ranking American military officials have been popping up on social media websites using photos and biographical information obtained from the internet. Scammers often replicate recent social media posts from official DOD accounts and interact with official accounts to increase the appearance of legitimacy. As an example, there are impersonator accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These accounts are also interacting with Joint Staff account followers in an effort to gain trust and elicit information. The only Joint Staff leader with an official social media presence is Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, who is listed as @SEAC.JCS on Facebook and @SEAC_Troxell on Twitter.

A graphic shows the logos of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other popular social media sites.

Scammers are making these profiles to defraud potential victims. They claim to be high-ranking or well-placed government/military officials or the surviving spouse of former government leaders, then they promise big profits in exchange for help in moving large sums of money, oil or some other commodity. They offer to transfer significant amounts of money into the victim's bank account in exchange for a small fee. Scammers that receive payment are never heard from again.

Here are some ways to lower the chances of you being impersonated or duped by a scammer:

To avoid having your personal data and photos stolen from your social media pages, limit the details you provide on them and don't post photos that include your name tag, unit patch and rank.

If an alleged official messages you with a request or demand, look closely at their social media page. Often, official accounts will be verified, meaning they have a blue circle with a checkmark right beside their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram name. General and flag officers will not message anyone directly requesting to connect or asking for money.

Search for yourself online — both your name and images you've posted — to see if someone else is trying to use your identity. If you do find a false profile, contact that social media platform and report it.

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Business betrayals: Protecting yourself from workplace treachery

Betrayal in business can come in many forms.

A supervisor who gives specific directions for a project, then lays the blame squarely on you when things go awry. An employee who fails to inform you of a high-end client’s unhappiness, leaving you blindsided and feeling the CEO’s wrath when the client cancels a contract.

In such scenarios, the person betrayed can feel angry, devastated and perhaps unsure whether to ever trust anyone again, say Elaine Eisenman, PhD, and Susan Stautberg, co-authors of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing. These two successful business women say they themselves have experienced betrayal professionally and personally.

“In all relationships we trust others, believing that while they will look out for their own best interest, they will also respect ours,” Stautberg says. “Unfortunately, that’s not always so.”

In business, there’s no guarantee that even a good friend or family member deserves your confidence.

“Regardless of how well you know someone, treat any business arrangement with due diligence,” Eisenman says. “Motives can be hidden, even with the best of friends.”

So, how can business leaders and their employees avoid betrayals that can harm them and their organizations? And how should they handle the fallout if they are betrayed? Eisenman and Stautberg offer a few suggestions:

Learn to trust wisely. Blind trust can make you an easy target because you ignore the potential for human nature’s darker side, Stautberg says. But it’s also ill-advised to assume no one can be trusted ever. What you’re after, she says, is “wise trust,” which allows you to weigh each situation, assessing whether there is low or high probability of betrayal.

Listen to what your gut tells you. So-called “gut feelings” act as an early warning system. “Ignore those feelings at your own peril,” Eisenman says. She shares the story of a woman named Ingrid, a chief finance officer in the public sector who was involved in the recruiting of a comptroller who came highly recommended. Ingrid preferred to handle reference checks herself, but that was HR’s job so she backed off, even though something told her this job candidate’s credentials were too good to be true. She shouldn’t have ignored her instinct because after he was hired the comptroller was charged with white-collar crimes committed in another state. For Ingrid, this became a triple betrayal – by colleagues who tried to make her the scapegoat, by HR, who didn’t perform a thorough background check, and, of course, she was betrayed by the man she hired.

Don’t seek revenge immediately – if at all. Planning revenge continues to provide the betrayer with power over you rather than allowing you to take that power into your own hands. It’s more productive to distance yourself from the betrayal and shore up your emotions with rational thoughts. That will help you begin to derive lessons from the traumatic event.

If you are betrayed, there is no need to beat up on yourself. “It is critical to recognize that what you are feeling is completely normal,” Eisenman says. “If you blow the event out of proportion, exaggerating its impact on all aspects of your life, you’ll only postpone your recovery.”

“The key to moving forward is self-compassion,” Stautberg says. “Get yourself to a safe space, both physically and emotionally, and get some sleep. Being rested will help you think clearly and you’re going to need your wits to survive.”

Reactions to stress differ. So, don’t worry if your immediate reaction includes anger. Try to balance it and take the energy to hold onto your power. Surround yourself with friends. Have the courage to move forward and leave the past behind. Learn to pivot. Eisenman and Stautberg discovered that the formula for success is creating a new positive, self-confidence about work and informed risk taking. Learn how to BOUNCE – Be Bold, Optimistic, Undaunted, Nimble, Courageous, and Empowered.

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How early orthodontic evaluation can save your child a mouthful of problems

Oral diseases affect almost half the global population, and recent research indicates they persist because oral health has not been prioritized as much as traditional healthcare.

One factor, cited in research published in the Lancet Series on Oral Health led by University College London: Dentistry focuses more on technology and treatment than on prevention.

One avenue of prevention is early orthodontic evaluation – not necessarily to start orthodontic treatment, such as the application of braces, but to uncover any lurking bite problems and determine appropriate solutions. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that every child have their first orthodontic visit and evaluation by the age of 7.

“As dental professionals, we need to do a better job of educating the parents of young children — specifically as to why it’s important to monitor the development of their bite,” says Dr. Ana Castilla, an orthodontist and the author of the book Smile of Your Life: Everything You Need to Know for Your Orthodontic Journey (dranacastilla.com).

“Most children do not need early orthodontic treatment, but by the age of 7 there has been sufficient jaw development and enough permanent (adult) teeth have erupted for an orthodontist to be able to identify if there are any problems developing. When these problems are caught early, it helps to avoid more aggressive and more costly treatment later on.”

Castilla lists three ways in which early diagnosis and interceptive orthodontic can be effective:

Identifies specific oral problems early. By age 7, most children have a mix of primary (baby) and permanent (adult) teeth. Early tooth issues may include crowding or too much space between teeth, underbite, overbite, jaw abnormalities, missing teeth and protruding teeth. “Genetics, poor nutrition, poor oral hygiene and thumb- or finger-sucking can bring early onset of orthodontic problems,” Dr. Castilla says. “And while your child’s teeth may appear aligned and straight to you, there could be a problem that only an orthodontist can detect. They’re trained to identify subtle problems with jaw growth and emerging teeth while some baby teeth are still present.”

Utilizes different types of preventive measures. These vary depending on the situation. “If a child is a thumb-sucker or finger-sucker, an appliance can be inserted in their mouth that makes it difficult for them to continue a habit that can lead to a serious overbite problem,” Dr. Castilla says. “Appliances such as palatal expanders can widen the upper jaw to help resolve dental crowding, while night-time headgear may be advised to correct discrepancies between the sizes or position of the jaw.”

Provides long-term health benefits. Early intervention and treatment may prevent the development of more serious health conditions. “Additionally,” Dr. Castilla says, “it improves oral hygiene, helps the child avoid self-esteem issues and mocking by peers associated with neglected or misaligned teeth, guides permanent teeth into proper position, and directs jaw growth and development.”

“You can be completely unaware that a problem exists with your child’s teeth — simply because you can’t see it or don’t know what to look for,” Dr. Castilla says. “Early detection and treatment can resolve issues early before they become complicated and difficult to correct.”

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It gives new meaning to solo flight

The daring French man flew through the air with the greatest of ease and wound up in England. His name is Franky Zapata and he’s an inventor who built a jet-powered hoverboard that allowed him to stand up for the 20-minute flight across the English Channel. The hoverboard’s five jet engines are quite small and so about 22 miles after taking off from the French shoreline near Calais he made a brief, scheduled landing aboard a waiting boat to refuel and then landed near Dover.

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Believe it or not

Bad enough if you have to go to the dentist to have a tooth pulled but imagine having to undergo several hundred extractions in one sitting. Dental surgeons in India recently removed a total of 526 teeth from the mouth of a 7-year-old boy. Actually, the mass of tiny teeth was contained in what the surgeons called a "compound odontome," a benign tumor that had been growing in the child’s mouth for several years.

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Diamond in the rough

Who needs a diamond mine? Just visit Arkansas' Crater of Diamonds State Park and, if you are lucky, there’ll be a diamond waiting for you in plain sight. That’s how Josh Lanik found his 2.2 carat gem. He was visiting with his family and told Park authorities: “We took the kids to look for amethyst on Canary Hill, and I was walking through an area where it looked like a lot of water had washed when I saw it.” The officials told him that the gemstone was the biggest diamond found so far this year. But the biggest diamond ever found at the Crater of diamonds is the legendary Uncle Sam diamond that weighed in at 44.23 carats when it was found in 1924.

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Thumbtack names Arkansas top state for small business friendliness

Arkansas was named the number one state for small business friendliness by Thumbtack, the website and app that helps people find local professionals for any project.

“Since day one, my administration has worked to make Arkansas a business-friendly state,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “We do that in a number of ways, from lessening burdensome regulations and overhauling the tax structure, to building infrastructure and supporting workforce education. We’re proud to be recognized for those efforts.”

In Thumbtack’s 2019 Small Business Friendliness Survey, Arkansas received the top honors based on factors including licensing requirements, tax regulations, and labor and hiring regulations. More than 5,000 business owners were surveyed, making it the largest continuous study of small business perceptions of local government policy in the United States.

“We recognize that small business is the engine that drives the Arkansas economy, and we strive to make the state as business-friendly as possible,” said Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston. “With the unique obstacles small businesses face, we do all we can to help them overcome and be successful. We will continue to support startups and grow existing businesses, with more jobs, new technology and avenues to market their products across the state, the country and the globe.”

Small business owners gave Arkansas an A+ this year. Last year, Arkansas received an A- and ranked 16th. As a comparison, neighboring states Missouri and Tennessee both received C+ this year.

The professionals surveyed included a variety of small business owners including electricians, music teachers, wedding planners, and wellness professionals. The survey asked participants about the policies in their states and local communities toward small businesses.

“Small business owners are active, involved members of their communities and local economies,” said Kellyn Blossom, head of public policy at Thumbtack. “Our survey shows the economic impact of health care, housing, and transportation are top of mind for them. With 96 percent of small business owners planning to vote in the 2020 elections, they could have a big impact on the outcome.”

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National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day on Aug. 22

Any cat owner knows that a trip to the vet can be a struggle for both the cat and owner, so many pet parents find it easier to just skip making the appointment. Cats visit the vet far less frequently than dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Thursday, Aug. 22, is National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day – established to remind cat owners the importance of paying a visit to their vet. Although it may seem difficult, the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America shares five encouraging tips for making a fear-free trip with your feline:

Create a cozy carrier: The first step to a fear-free vet visit is understanding that your cat will need time to become familiar with the carrier that will be transporting them. Leave the carrier out in an area of your home where your cat spends a lot of time and place familiar bedding in the carrier along with a treat or toy.

Secure the carrier safely: Place the carrier on a nonslip surface or on the car seat when headed to the vet. The floorboard behind the passenger seat is the best location for a small pet carrier. Secure larger carriers to prevent sliding.

Visit a Cat Friendly Practice: If you have an extra anxious cat, consider a vet clinic that’s also a designated Cat Friendly Practice such as the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America (AMCMA). These places provide a more calming environment for you and your cat. Staff at these locations have made specific changes to help reduce the stress of the visit such as animal waiting areas and training on feline-friendly handling techniques.

Survey the new surroundings: Cats need time to adjust to new surroundings to feel safe. Wait in the vehicle or place your cat’s carrier on an elevated surface in the lobby so they can observe the unfamiliar space before letting them out.

Integrate your cat with other pets when arriving back home: Cats have very strong senses and unfamiliar smells can result in one cat no longer recognizing another. Leave the returning cat in the carrier to observe how all your cats react. If there is tension between the cats, keep the cat in the carrier and take it to another room until it regains the more familiar smell of home.

As a responsible owner, it’s important to provide good health care for your cats for longer, healthier lives. Routine visits to the vet play a major role in maintaining their overall health.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Survivor Benefits

Dear Rusty: I am looking for information on my benefits. I am 60 years and 5 months old, and still employed. My spouse died in 2017 and would have been 61 years and 9 months old on July 31, 2019. My husband was the more highly compensated employee and was employed longer than myself. Signed: A Survivor

Dear Survivor: You are eligible for a survivor benefit from your deceased husband because you are now 60, but that survivor benefit will be considerably reduced (by about 28.5%) if you take it now. The survivor benefit is reduced if taken before your widow’s full retirement age (which is 66 ½ for you). Taken at your widow’s full retirement age (FRA) you’d be entitled to 100% of the benefit your deceased husband had earned at his passing. But if you take the survivor benefit now - before your normal full retirement age (66 years and 10 months) - and you are working you’ll be subject to Social Security’s “earnings limit.” If you exceed the limit, it will cause Social Security to withhold some of your survivor benefits. The 2019 earnings limit is $17,640 and it will increase slightly each year until the year you reach your normal FRA, when it will increase by about 2 ½ times; then when you reach your normal FRA there is no earnings limit. What all of that means is that if you take the survivor benefit now and continue to work and earn, your survivor benefit will be reduced from what it could be, and Social Security will take back some benefits if you exceed the earnings limit (they’ll take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit).

Assuming you have earned the requisite 40 credits from your own career, you will be eligible for your own Social Security retirement benefit at age 62, though your own benefit would also be reduced if you take it early (the reduction for your own benefit at age 62 will be about 29.2%). Since at 62 you will have a choice to take either the survivor benefit or your own benefit, you may want to set a goal of getting the highest possible benefit for the rest of your life. To do that I suggest you determine whether the maximum benefit you can get on your own work record (at age 70) is more than the maximum survivor benefit you can get at your widow’s FRA, and then follow a strategy which yields the highest benefit. You can get those numbers by contacting Social Security directly and asking for your own Statement of Estimated Benefits, and also asking for what your maximum survivor benefit will be. You can get the statement for your own estimated benefits online by creating a “My Social Security” account, but you will need to contact Social Security directly to get your maximum survivor benefit amount.

Once you are 62, you will have a choice of which benefit to choose and when to choose it. So, if your own SS benefit on your own work record will be more at age 70 than your survivor benefit will be at your widow’s FRA, you should consider taking the survivor benefit first and delaying your own benefit until it reaches maximum, at which point you would switch to your own benefit. However, If your own maximum benefit at age 70 will be less than the maximum survivor benefit you can get at your widow’s full retirement age, then you may wish to wait until you reach your widow’s full retirement age (66 ½) to claim the maximum survivor benefit. If you wait until your widow’s FRA to claim the maximum survivor benefit, and you need additional income while you’re waiting, you can claim only your own SS benefit at age 62 but remember that if you do so the earnings limit will still apply to your own SS retirement benefit until you reach your normal full retirement age.

Hot stuff

Frying an egg on the sidewalk was not good enough for the National Weather Service in Omaha, NE during a recent heat wave. The weather forecasters there turned a car into an oven and baked biscuits. They put the biscuit batter on a tray and placed the tray under the car’s windshield as temperatures inside the vehicle reached 185 degrees. The result was a batch of biscuits that were described as somewhat doughy but edible.

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Special delivery

She loves Amazon. He loves her. And, so, when her birthday came around Waylon McGuire of Dunn, NC he had a local bakery cook up a special birthday cake for his wife, Emily. It was an exact replica of a delivery from the online retailer. The baker did such a good job of turning flour and icing into a realistic-looking USPS package that Emily says she thought it was a real box at first glance.

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The fish that didn’t get away

A pair of boys will have a spectacular fish story to tell their classmates when they return to school. They’ll have the video to prove that they indeed did catch a more than six-foot long sturgeon. Fourteen-year-old Owen Sanderson and 12-year-old Mac Hoekstra of Edina, Minnesota say they used a rope with a slip-knot to lasso and land their monstrous catch. They then released the fish back into Minnehaha Creek. The proud dad of one of the boys used his cell phone camera to record the event.

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House Call

By Dr. Daniel Knight

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Q. Are artificial sweeteners unsafe?

A. According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence that any sugar substitutes approved for use in the United States cause cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that more than 90 studies consider the sugar substitutes, including aspartame, saccharin and sucralose (Splenda), safe.

In the 1970s, lab tests in rats suggesting a possible link to bladder cancer led to having a warning label added to saccharin. More than 30 studies since have demonstrated that the results found in rats were not relevant to humans.

Aspartame is one of the most exhaustively researched food substances with more than 90 studies supporting its safety, according to the FDA. A 165-pound adult would need to drink 20 or more cans of diet soda or consume more than 107 packets of the sweetener daily to exceed the recommended level, according to the American Cancer Society. However, those who have phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare metabolic disorder, need to avoid aspartame because it contains phenylalanine, an amino acid found in large quantities in high-protein foods.

The highly purified extracts of stevia, a natural no-calorie sweetener from a South American plant, is also considered safe.

Q. What is the paleo diet?

A. It is based on eating like a caveman, and those following the high-fiber, high-protein paleo diet avoid foods that weren’t common until farming began, avoiding processed foods, grains, white potatoes, sugar, beans and dairy. Instead, grass-fed meat, seafood and eggs comprise 30% of the calories with another 30% coming from fresh fruits and vegetables and the remainder coming from nuts, seeds and healthy oils. The paleo diet includes an average amount of fat and small amount of refined carbohydrates. The premise is that modern processed foods aren’t healthy and lead to obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

Research suggests this diet works for weight loss but cuts out healthy foods like whole grains. To avoid consuming too much saturated fat, stick to lean cuts of meat. This diet may not be safe for those who have health issues like kidney disease and need to monitor how much protein they consume. Those who lead an active lifestyle may find the Paleo diet with its restricted carbohydrates leads to tiredness. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether to begin supplements to replace the calcium and vitamin D needed to prevent osteoporosis, rickets, bone fractures and inflammation.

Q. Is vaping a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes?

A. Many perceive electronic cigarettes or vapes to be safe, but a recent U.S. surgeon general report considers it a major public health concern, especially for teens. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that between 2011 and 2015, there was a 900% increase in e-cigarette use among high school students.

E-cigarettes, powered by a rechargeable lithium battery, vaporize a liquid in a heating chamber when the user inhales. The replaceable liquid cartridges contain nicotine mixed with a base (usually propylene glycol) and flavorings.

While e-cigarettes do not contain the more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke, they still include harmful chemicals like nicotine.

The highly addictive nicotine releases feel-good chemicals in the brain, leading to long-lasting chemical changes and addiction. It also causes rapid, shallow breathing, permanent lung damage, and a higher risk of lung disease and cancer. Nicotine raises heart rate and blood pressure, both which can lead to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Nicotine can also permanently reduce impulse control, lead to problems with thinking and attention, lead to mood disorders, and one study found that vaping can suppress hundreds of key immune genes.

Q. What are some of the warning signs of AFib?

A. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that raises the risk of heart disease and stroke. When the heart is functioning properly, the electrical signals of the contractions of the heart’s upper section (the atria) is followed by contractions in the lower heart (the ventricles) to move blood through the body. AFib causes the contractions to be off-kilter and impedes the blood flow.

Signs of AFib include feeling for a few minutes as though the heart is fluttering or racing instead of beating. Other symptoms include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, sweating and confusion. Those unsure of whether they are experiencing a heart attack should call 911 or their physician. AFib is diagnosed through blood tests, chest x-rays to rule out lung disease, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs or exercise stress tests.

Those with other heart problems, sleep apnea, overactive thyroid gland, long-term lung disease, and those taking certain medicines are more at risk. AFib, more common in those 60 and older, is treated through blood thinner medication, and lifestyle changes, and occasionally medical procedures, including surgery or installing a pacemaker.

Dr. Knight is chairman of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

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How to get your child socially and emotionally ready for the new school year

Reena B. Patel, a licensed educational psychologist and author, offers tips on helping to prepare kids for the start of a new school year

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of the summer, and the start of a new school year for most people. Many children experience anxiety at this time, being filled with the stress of what starting school again will entail. From bullying and being nervous about making friends and having a new teacher, there’s a lot that can weigh on a child. This stress can continue throughout the school year and have devastating consequences. According to the American Psychological Association, when children experience chronic stress it can contribute to psychological problems, as well as physical conditions. The good news is that there are plenty of things parents can do to help their child prepare.

“Kids don’t know just know how to handle their emotions, so it’s important for parents to take steps to help address them,” explains Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and author, who offer virtual workshops. “Parents who make emotional and social health a priority will help raise children who are more successful, stable, and experience less stress in life.”

There are many things parents can do to help prepare their children emotionally and socially for taking on a new school year. These include tips:

Teaching kids to embrace progress, rather than perfection. If they feel they have to get perfect grades, for example, they will have a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Setting your expectations for them based on your values. It’s important to let kids know what you expect for the school year from them, but that you realize there is room for error, too.

Taking the time to talk to your children about your own social mistakes, so they can learn from them. Let them know what mistakes you made and how you would have handled it differently if you could go back in time now.

Remembering that winning isn’t everything. Kids need to learn how to be a team member, and how to lose gracefully. Play games with them where they will lose at times, so they can learn good sportsmanship and resilience.

Discussing with them what “success” means. Teach them that we all learn through our mistakes on our way to success.

Kids need to know how to make friends, so discuss with them how to do that. Have your child pick five qualities you would want in a friend and then discuss the list with them. As social issues arise, refer back to that list of core values to see if the relationship is a good fit.

Having a family discussion about finding balance and discussing how much can be fit into one schedule. This is especially important when it comes to the number of extracurricular activities that can be taken on.

Making sure your kids know that it’s okay to ask for help.

Making a social media discussion a priority if your child uses it, ensuring that they use the T.H.I.N.K. acronym regarding what they post online. T (is it truthful), H (is it helpful), I (is it inspiring), N (is it necessary), and K (is it kind).

Having a discussion about bullying. Remind them that bullying is never okay and that they need to speak up if it happens. Discuss having boundaries, speaking up, being a good role model, and getting help when needed.

Teaching your child coping skills, which will help them be better prepared to handle stress and anxiety.

Letting kids know the importance of focusing on the positives in life. They can do this by keeping a gratitude journal, and having a positive affirmation that they repeat each day.

“Most parents are focused on the supplies that kids need for school, but those pale in comparison to the emotional tools they need,” added Patel. “By making sure kids have the emotional and social tools and skills they need, they will be more likely to enjoy the school year, get better grades, and be happier, all of which are good.”

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Forget YouTube fame; social responsibility is key to career happiness

American children and teens, when asked the age-old question of what they want to be as adults, lean toward careers that could bring personal fame or are just plain fun, rather than those that might contribute to the betterment of society or lead to scientific progress.

“While we’re focused on fame and fun, other countries are emphasizing discipline and a good work ethic,” says Dr. Steven Mintz (www.stevenmintzethics.com), author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.

The latest example came in a survey Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Lego, where American children ages 8 to 12 picked vlogger/YouTuber as their No. 1 career choice. Chinese children, in comparison, overwhelmingly chose astronaut.

The results are similar to a survey Chicago-based market-research company C+R conducted a couple of years ago. American teenagers were asked about career aspirations and the largest percentage, 20 percent, said they want to be an athlete, artist or entertainer.

Mintz says the emphasis on fame – combined with a trend of many employers trying to create a “fun” work environment for employees – is troubling.

“Is this really what success looks like in the U.S.?” he asks. “Can we reasonably be expected to compete with the Chinese in the 21st century by making the workplace fun when the Chinese, who will likely surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy within the next 10 years, have skyrocketed to the top through hard work and discipline?”

But eschewing fun for fun’s sake doesn’t mean employees can’t find happiness at work. Mintz says that is better accomplished by creating a socially responsible workplace, which he says meshes nicely with the passion millennials and Gen Z have for social causes.

Some ways to help employees find happiness and meaning on the job, he says, include:

Establish an ethical culture. Companies should strive to create an ethical workplace culture where employees are encouraged to serve the interests of the company’s stakeholders – customers, clients and suppliers – and to do so ethically, Mintz says. Creating an ethical workplace starts with ethical values: emphasize doing what is right not wrong; doing good things not harmful ones.

Coach employees on the workplace’s values. Company leaders should engage employees in regular discussions about workplace ethics and the procedures that are designed to uphold ethical practices, Mintz says. “Employers must coach employees so they do good by being good, which means commit to ethical values,” he says.

Tap into the social conscience many employees already have. A recent survey reports that nearly one in five business-school students would sacrifice more than 40 percent of their salary to work for a responsible employer. “Some will work for nonprofits where they are committed to the cause,” Mintz says. “Millennials especially seek out purpose in their employment. I believe that’s because each of us is searching for happiness and greater meaning in life and our jobs provide one of the best sources to enhance our well-being.”

“Although there are troubling signs in our society regarding attitudes about jobs,” Mintz says, “I am heartened by other surveys that show millennials and Gen Z really care about what a business does, whether its actions are ethical and trustworthy, and that a purpose-driven culture exists that puts benefitting society front and center in their mission statement.”

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Farmers count on neighbors to shop at markets

By Rhea Landholm

Center for Rural Affairs

Some family farms have been feeding our neighbors for more than 100 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Katie Jantzen is one such farmer. The fifth generation on her family farm, she grows produce, some of it to sell at farmers markets.

Farmers markets stimulate local economies, increase access to fresh, healthy food, promote sustainable farming practices that protect our water and soil, and preserve our farmland. However, none of these benefits are possible without farmers like Katie.

For many family farmers to succeed, particularly those new to agriculture, they count on their neighbors to shop regularly at market. Farmers markets provide one of the only low-barrier entry points for new farmers, ranchers, and food entrepreneurs, allowing them to start small and test new products.

According to a 2017 National Young Farmers Coalition survey, farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture represented the highest proportion of new and beginning farmers’ sales. This support is important, as there are currently 3.5 times as many U.S. farmers over age 65 as there are under 35.

At traditional food outlets, farmers and ranchers receive only 15 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend, according to the Farmers Market Coalition. At a farmers market, 100 percent of your food dollar goes to your local farmer.

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Pretty potholes

Pothole ridden streets are dangerous and unsightly but a local artist in Chicago may have come up with a way to give commuters a smooth and esthetically soothing ride. Jim Bachor is an accomplished mosaic artist who came up with the idea of filling the potholes with unique works of art on a trip to Pompeii. He uses a technique that employs shards of marble and glass just as mosaic artists did 2,000 years ago. Bachor says a tour guide in Pompeii inspired him. The guide pointed out that the mosaic works of art that adorn floors throughout the ancient city look just as they did when they were first created. “I still don't know if it's legal or not, but I have had discussions with [Chicago] police through the years, about a half dozen, and once they know what I'm doing they don't have an issue with it.”

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Feisty farmer

She was fed up with reckless drivers speeding on the open roads surrounding her village in Sefton, England, so 71-year-old farmer Edie Pope took matters into her own hands. The feisty farmer decided that if a scarecrow can deal with pesky birds that dine on crops, a “scarecop,” dressed like a police officer with radar gun, might help keep the roads around her farm a little bit safer. It’ll take time to see if her solution works.

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Boy oh boy

Police in Brigham City, UT recently received numerous calls about a young man -- a very young man -- had set up a roadside stand selling beer.Wwhen the police went out to investigate they caught the underage entrepreneur red handed. He was holding a sign with large block letters hawking “Ice Cold Beer.” But on closer inspection they saw the word “root” spelled out in very small letters between the words “Cold” and “Beer.” A very clever “marketing strategy,” said the police on the Brigham City Police Facebook page.

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From the files of the FBI

Inmate Sentenced For Murder-For-Hire Scheme

BOSTON – An inmate was sentenced in federal court in Boston in connection with a murder-for-hire scheme.

Mason Stickney, 21, of Byfield, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper to 90 months in prison and three years of supervised release. In March 2019, Stickney pleaded guilty to three counts of using a facility of interstate commerce in the commission of murder-for-hire. Stickney was indicted in November 2017; he is currently in state custody on unrelated charges.

In October 2017, Stickney, who was in custody at the Essex County House of Corrections, approached a fellow inmate and solicited his assistance in the murders of a police officer, a restaurateur from New Hampshire and a student. The fellow inmate reported Stickney’s solicitation to authorities. Thereafter, at the request of investigators, the inmate provided Stickney with the phone number of a would-be hitman, who was actually an undercover agent.

In recorded conversations between Nov. 3 and Nov. 8, 2017, both on the phone and in person at the jail, Stickney described to the undercover agent the individuals he wanted killed and how he wanted the murders committed. Stickney promised to pay the undercover agent $10,000 upon his release from jail, as well as to “get rid of three people for you guys.”

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Iowa man charged with making threats to Manhattan-based Jewish organization

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and James P. O’Neill, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced the unsealing of a complaint charging Garrett Kelsey with sending threats to a Manhattan-based Jewish organization (the “Victim Organization”) by email and phone. Kelsey was arrested in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was presented before a Magistrate Judge in the Northern District of Iowa.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Garrett Kelsey repeatedly conveyed obscenity-laden and hate-filled threats to a Jewish organization by phone and email. The alleged conduct is not protected speech. As charged, the conduct – making interstate threats – is a federal crime punishable by years in prison.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “The FBI will always follow threats that cross the line of free speech and threaten the safety of individuals and groups, especially when those threats are based on a religion or race. The fact that Mr. Kelsey allegedly continued his threatening behavior even after being informed that his previous actions were not protected speech makes his actions more abhorrent.”

Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said: “The investigative efforts of New York City law enforcement are relentless and far-reaching. Whenever individuals – wherever they are based – pose a threat, the NYPD and our partners will work tirelessly to keep people safe. I thank our colleagues at the FBI and the Southern District for their partnership.”

As alleged in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court[1]:

In late May 2019, Kelsey made violent threats by phone and email to the Victim Organization. On May 23, Kelsey called the Victim Organization and spoke briefly with one of its employees. A short time later, Kelsey called that employee’s number back and left a voicemail for the Victim Organization stating, “My people have fucking slaughtered your fucking people before and we will do it again. And right now, you are giving us incentive to do that . . . . Filthy fucking Jews.”

Later that same day, Kelsey sent the Victim Organization an email demanding that the Victim Organization remove a video about Nordic Neo-Nazis that the Victim Organization had uploaded to the Internet. Kelsey wrote: “Everywhere Jews go in the world they cause trouble. You have 3 days to remove this video and offer an apology to the Asatru community or we will be taking action against your organization full of degenerates.” “Asatru” appears to have been a reference to a religious movement recently linked to anti-Semitic and other racist groups.

The next day, Kelsey participated in a voluntary interview with law enforcement, during which he admitted to sending the threatening email and voicemail to the Victim Organization.

Approximately one week after his voluntary law enforcement interview, Kelsey changed the cover photograph associated with his Facebook account. The new cover photograph depicted Jewish residents of a ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, lined up facing a wall with their hands up. Those residents were detained after an uprising during World War II and ultimately were transferred to Nazi concentration camps.

Kelsey, 31, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is charged with one count of interstate transmission of threats to injure a person, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the New York City Police Department. Mr. Berman also thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. Mr. Berman noted that the case is ongoing.

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Former Bedford VA nursing assistant charged with making false statements;

Defendant allegedly lied about conducting hourly bed checks of patient who died

BOSTON – A former nursing assistant at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Bedford was charged in federal court in Boston for making false statements to federal agents in connection with an investigation of a patient’s death.

Patricia A. Waible, 52, of Nashua, N.H., was charged in an Information and agreed to plead guilty to two counts of making false statements. Waible will appear in federal court in Boston at a later date.

As alleged in court documents, on July 3, 2016, Waible, a nursing assistant, worked the overnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m. at the Bedford VA’s nursing home unit. During the shift, Waible’s responsibilities included conducting hourly bed checks to check on patients’ breathing. Early that morning, a patient who suffered from several serious medical ailments was found unresponsive and not breathing. The patient was transferred by ambulance to an emergency room, where he was later pronounced dead. During the ensuing investigation, on two separate occasions, Waible falsely stated to federal agents that she had conducted the hourly checks on the patient during her shift.

The charge of making false statements provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Shreveport investment advisor pleads guilty to bilking clients out of $3.5 million

SHREVEPORT, La. – United States Attorney David C. Joseph announced that Gregory Alan Smith, 55, a Shreveport investment advisor, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

According to information presented in court, Smith used his influence and status as an investment advisor to persuade multiple victims to “invest” approximately $3.5 million with Smith and co-defendant Kirbyjon H. Caldwell. The victims’ investments were purportedly in historical Chinese bonds, which are bonds issued by the former Republic of China prior to losing power to the communist government in 1949. These bonds are not recognized by China’s current government and, accordingly, have no investment value.

Smith began approaching existing clients and acquaintances in the spring of 2013 about what he described as an opportunity to invest in Chinese historical bonds. His usual sales pitch to investors was that Caldwell, the senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, was: (1) putting the bond deal together on behalf of investors, (2) had the bonds in his possession or was obtaining them and (3) was brokering a deal to sell the bonds. Smith also promised that by investing money with him and Caldwell, the victims would obtain a partial ownership of the bonds and would quickly receive exponential returns on their investments. The victims were not told of the true nature of the bonds nor were they informed that no previous investor had ever obtained the promised return on investment. The victims were encouraged to cash out any other investments they might have if they could not otherwise afford to participate.

After Smith made the fraudulent pitch, the victims were instructed to wire funds to various bank accounts under Caldwell’s control. The funds were then divided between Smith, Caldwell and others. Smith received $1.08 million of the total $3.5 million. He used it to pay down loans, purchase two luxury sport utility vehicles, place a down payment on a vacation property and maintain his lifestyle. After time passed and investors began to question why they had not received the promised returns, Smith and Caldwell offered excuses, defended the legitimacy of the deals and assured victim-investors that they would receive the promised returns.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Smith faces five to seven years in prison. He also faces a $1 million fine, restitution, forfeiture and five years of supervised release. Smith’s sentencing is scheduled for December 11, 2019. Caldwell’s trial is scheduled for December 2, 2019.

The FBI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth D. Reeg and C. Mignonne Griffing are prosecuting the case.

U.S. Attorney Joseph noted that this case was included in the Justice Department’s largest-ever nationwide elder fraud sweep, which includes hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors.

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Man charged with fraud conspiracy

A Brecksville, Ohio, man was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud after he and another man conspired to steal products from another company, relabel them and sell the product under false pretenses to various health care providers.

Ryan H. Tennebar, 38, was the Director of Operations at Healthcare Essentials Inc. (HEI), an Ohio company that primarily distributed negative pressure therapy systems, also known as wound care vaccums, which promote wound healing by delivering negative pressure to patients’ wounds.

Kinetic Concepts, Inc. (KCI) was a corporation whose parent company was based in Texas. KCI developed, manufactured, and distributed proprietary wound care vaccums. KCI maintained exclusive rights for sale and distribution of its wound care vacuums to its customers, which typically included nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

According to the criminal information filed in U.S. District Court:

Tennebar conspired with a person identified as co-conspirator number one, who worked for KCI at a facility in El Paso. Tennebar communicated with the conspirator between 2013 and 2016 to request KCI wound vacuums, which were illegally taken from KCI facilities, nursing homes, hosptials and rehabilitation centers. The conspirator continued to fraudulently acquire KCI wound care vacuums even after he was terminated as a KCI employee in 2014.

Tennebar and the conspirator fraudulently relabeled the KCI products with HEI labels. The original KCI serial numbers were often obliterated.

Tennebar then falsely represented to HEI’s prospective customers that HEI was an authorized distributor of KCI wound care vacuums.

Tennebar sent the conspirator approximately $619,000 between 2013 and 2016 for stolen wound care vacuums. The actions of Tennebar, the conspirator and others resulted in a loss to KCI of approximately $4.2 million, according to the information.

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Delaware man indicted on drug charges

MARTINSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA – Durrion Joshua Morrison, of Wilmington, Delaware, was indicted by a federal grand jury today on cocaine charges, United States Attorney Bill Powell announced.

Johnson, also known as “Nephew,” age 30, is charged with two counts of “Distribution of Cocaine Base” and one count of “Aiding and Abetting Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine Base.” Johnson is accused of selling cocaine base, also known as “crack,” and possessing more than 28 grams of cocaine base in July 2016 in Berkeley County.

Johnson faces up to 20 years incarceration and a fine of up to $1,000,000 for each distribution count. He faces not less than five years and up to 40 years incarceration and a fine of up to $5,000,000 for the aiding and abetting count. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

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Two more “Rip Crew” members sent to federal prison

McALLEN, Texas – Two men involved with a rip crew responsible for multiple home invasions and carjackings to steal narcotics in Hidalgo County have been ordered to prison, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Miguel Marin Cerda, 31, pleaded guilty to possessing with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, while his nephew - Alfredo Avalos-Sanchez, 27 - pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit Hobbs Act robbery.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez ordered Cerda to serve 130 months in prison, while Avalos-Sanchez received an 87-month-term of imprisonment. Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez are Mexican citizens who illegally resided in Mission. As such, they are expected to face deportation proceedings following their prison sentences.

In considering their violent crimes, Judge Alvarez stated the events forming the charges are incidents that have come to be expected in Mexico and other Central American countries which do not allow residents to feel safe. The court noted that even though some victims were often drug traffickers themselves, it does not excuse the defendants’ behavior. She furthered that drug trafficking is bad in itself, but is exacerbated when combined with carjackings and home invasions.

The defense argued their actions were mistakes, but the court concurred with prosecutors that these were intentional profit-driven actions. They continued to engage in conduct even after prior arrests for similar conduct and close calls with life and death events. Such instances included violent crimes involving totaled vehicles and multiple discharges of firearms which could have taken lives.

In imposing the prison terms, the court considered multiple offenses. As a result of the conspiracy, the organization terrorized local residents with multiple home invasions and carjackings as well as the distribution or attempted distribution of multiple kilograms of cocaine and hundreds of kilograms of marijuana.

Specifically, the court considered their involvement in a carjacking March 12, 2017, in McAllen in which co-conspirators took a car believed to contain a controlled substance. Another instance occurred in Pharr in April 2017 which involved the discharge of firearms in a residential neighborhood in efforts to steal approximately 14 kilograms of cocaine contained within two vehicles.

The men also were also part of a home invasion June 6, 2017, in McAllen. The organization actually entered the wrong residence and terrorized a family, including a pregnant female.

Cerda was further held partially accountable for an April 2017 home invasion in San Juan, in which other co-conspirators assaulted juveniles in efforts to steal multiple kilograms of cocaine.

Cerda and Avalos-Sanchez have been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Others who have also pleaded guilty in the conspiracy and are pending sentencing include Roberto Lee Rodriguez aka el Tio or Pica, 39, and Sergio Alejandro Gallegos aka Tovy, both of Mission; and Mexican nationals Jose Garcia-De La Torre aka Coco, 22, Carlos Guadalupe Aquino-Pacheco aka Tomy, 20, Gustavo Angel DeLeon-Covarrubias aka Tripa, 19, Jose Arturo Reyes-Sanchez aka Gordo, 19; and Cesar Alejandro Tovar-Guillen aka Nucho or el Sobrino, 31.

They all also remain in custody.

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Former South Carolina resident sentenced to federal prison for charity fraud scheme

COLUMBIA, S.C. — United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced that John Shannon Simpson, age 44, of Lee County, Florida, was sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to Wire Fraud. United States District Judge David C. Norton of Charleston sentenced Simpson to four years in federal prison and three years of supervised release to follow. This sentence will run consecutively with a nine-year state sentence that Simpson is serving in Florida. Simpson was also ordered to pay restitution of $141,709.44 to the victims of his fraud.

Evidence presented to the court established that in May 2014, Simpson founded a charitable organization entitled “Marines and Mickey” and served as the President. The purpose of the charity was to provide funds to selected United States Marines Corps (USMC) service members and their families to defray their costs of visiting the Walt Disney Resorts. The charity was also supposed to provide funds to the families of newly graduated Marines to defray the families’ costs of attending USMC boot camp graduations, including some held at Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, California.

The charity claimed in its promotions and requests for money that 100% of the donations went directly to Marines and their families through the charity’s programs. The charity actively solicited donations on and near the USMC base in Parris Island, South Carolina, and elsewhere. The remainder of monies raised by the charity were a combination of private and corporate donations to the charity, including by USMC recruits and recent boot camp graduates.

While acting as the charity’s President and in support of fundraising for the charity, Simpson falsely represented himself as a retired career Marine with as much as 20 years of service, a retired Master Sergeant, a former Drill Instructor, and a Recon Marine.

In fact, Simpson spent less than five years in the Marine Corps. He entered active duty on June 28, 1993. He was absent without leave (AWOL) from June 10, 1996, to June 19, 1997. The highest rank he achieved prior to going AWOL was Lance Corporal/E-3, and his operational specialty was Basic Disbursing Clerk. Simpson was found guilty at a Special Court Martial for violation of Article 86 (Absence without leave) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was reduced in rank to Private/E-1, and was given a Bad-Conduct Discharge, which was effective on May 5, 1998.

By misleading donors and volunteers about his military background, Simpson was able to add credibility to his solicitations for money.

The charity was in operation from May 2014 through 2016, and it received approximately $481,000 in donations during that time-period. However, despite Simpson’s claims that 100% of the donations would go to Marines and their families through the charity’s programs, only about $90,000—or about 19% of the donations—were used for charitable purposes. Simpson diverted the remainder of the monies in the charitable accounts, approximately $391,000, for his personal use and enrichment.

The primary victim of Simpson’s scheme was the mother of a United States Marine killed in the active shooter attack at a military center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 2015. Simpson fraudulently induced the Gold Star mother and others to give Simpson’s charity about $131,000, all in honor of the Gold Star mother’s son, including $75,000 of the Gold Star mother’s own money and $25,000 that the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga donated at the direction of the Gold Star mother.

The charity also held a fundraising benefit in New York to raise money for a Disney World trip for a Marine family whose minor daughter was terminally ill. The charity advertised all proceeds from the event would go to the minor daughter and her family for a Disney World trip, and to help pay for the family’s needs. Because the minor daughter died prior to the fundraiser, the trip intended for the minor daughter and her family, including her father who is an active duty U.S. Marine Corps Drill Sergeant, was donated to another family at the request of the minor daughter’s family. However, the charity, after paying all of the expenses of the fundraiser and sending the other Marine family to Disney World, still had about $3,200 of donations left over. Simpson kept that money for himself instead of giving it to the minor daughter’s family.

Additionally, during 2015 and 2016, Simpson made unauthorized withdrawals from the bank accounts of at least seven active-duty Marines who had recently graduated from boot camp. Simpson convinced them to allow him to make recurring withdrawals from their accounts in nominal amounts to support the charity. Instead, he used their debit card numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts in a combined total amount of more than $5,000.

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Bookkeeper sentenced to 18 months in federal prison

CHARLESTON, S.C. — United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced that Shirley Watson, age 43, of Georgetown, was sentenced in federal court for her role in a multi-year scheme to embezzle funds from her employer, two family-owned real estate businesses. United States District Court Judge David C. Norton of Charleston sentenced Watson, who has no prior criminal record, to 18 months in federal prison.

In January 2019, Watson pleaded guilty to a three-count Information, admitting to two counts of Bank Fraud and one count of Tax Evasion. She admitted that beginning in 2011 and continuing up through 2016, she used her position as a bookkeeper to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars in company funds to herself. She exploited her access to company accounts, writing checks to herself and forging her employer’s signature. She also admitted that she neither reported the income to the Internal Revenue Service nor paid any related taxes.

Upon her release from prison, Watson must pay restitution in the amount of $345,337.43 to the victims and $82,825 to the IRS. Watson will also serve a three-year term of court-ordered supervision.

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U.S. attorney files lawsuit against spinal implant company

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (“HHS-OIG”), announced that the United States has filed a civil healthcare fraud lawsuit against LIFE SPINE INC. (“LIFE SPINE”), MICHAEL BUTLER, the founder, president, and chief executive officer of LIFE SPINE, and RICHARD GREIBER, the vice president of business development of LIFE SPINE. The Government’s complaint seeks damages and civil penalties under the False Claims Act for paying kickbacks in the form of millions of dollars of consulting fees, royalties, and intellectual property acquisition fees to surgeons to induce them to use LIFE SPINE’s spinal implants, devices, and equipment. The lawsuit alleges that the surgeons who received these payments accounted for approximately half of LIFE SPINE’s total domestic sales of spinal products from 2012 through 2018. As set forth in the complaint, these payments violated the Anti-Kickback Statute and, as a result of this unlawful conduct, LIFE SPINE, BUTLER, and GREIBER caused hospitals and surgeons to submit false claims for payment to Medicare and Medicaid.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Life Spine and its senior management flagrantly ignored the law by paying surgeons millions of dollars in fees and royalties to get them to use Life Spine products during spinal surgeries. Kickbacks to doctors can alter or compromise their judgment about the medical care and services to provide to patients, and can increase healthcare costs. This office will continue to hold companies and the people who run them accountable when they make improper payments to doctors.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: "Cases like this are why patients sometimes distrust the care they receive because they don’t know if it’s what the doctor actually thinks, or if there is a company pushing a new drug or new device. People seeking medical treatment are dependent on the advice they get, they don’t have the expertise to question the doctors. The FBI does all it can to stop those companies who overlook the patient who is just hoping to get better, and only sees the dollar signs.”

HHS-OIG Special Agent in Charge Scott J. Lampert said: “Paying kickbacks to physicians as a means to boost company profits, as alleged in this case, compromises medical judgement and drives up healthcare costs. Our agency, working closely with our law enforcement partners, will continue to investigate such illegal activities.”

The following allegations are based on the Complaint that was filed in Manhattan federal court and unsealed:

LIFE SPINE is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Huntley, Illinois. LIFE SPINE designs, develops, manufactures, and markets medical devices and equipment primarily used in spinal surgeries performed by orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons, including implants and instruments (“Life Spine Products”). BUTLER is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of LIFE SPINE and is its majority shareholder. BUTLER was closely involved in overseeing the operations of LIFE SPINE. From 2012 to 2015, GREIBER was involved in selecting and approving surgeons who served as paid “consultants” for LIFE SPINE.

LIFE SPINE paid surgeons to induce them to use Life Spine Products during their surgeries. LIFE SPINE aggressively recruited surgeons who had the potential to use a high volume of Life Spine Products to enter into agreements to serve as paid consultants and/or to transfer their patents/patent applications to LIFE SPINE in exchange for payments and promised support to bring the surgeons’ new products to market. LIFE SPINE tied these agreements and the associated payments – as well as the company’s continued commitment to devote resources to the surgeons’ product development projects – to the surgeons’ usage of Life Spine Products. LIFE SPINE and BUTLER expected surgeons to commit to using Life Spine Products at a certain level in exchange for the consulting fees, royalties, and intellectual property acquisition fees paid to them.

LIFE SPINE, with the knowledge, involvement, and participation of BUTLER and GREIBER, entered into agreements with dozens of surgeons. These agreements included medical education agreements under which the surgeons were paid to provide training and/or educational services; product development agreements under which the surgeons were paid to purportedly provide input on new products and then would receive royalties on future sales of the product; and intellectual property agreements under which the surgeons were paid large up-front acquisition fees for their patents/patent applications and then would receive royalties on sales of any products developed based on the patents. Life Spine paid surgeons millions of dollars in consulting fees, royalties, and intellectual property acquisitions pursuant to these agreements.

BUTLER informed LIFE SPINE staff that he expected surgeons who were paid for their consulting services to commit to using Life Spine Products. LIFE SPINE’s senior management, including BUTLER, closely tracked surgeons’ usage of Life Spine Products to ensure that the payments to surgeons were generating sufficient sales revenues for the company and that the surgeons were fulfilling their “commitment” to use Life Spine Products. LIFE SPINE went so far as to generate a report that compared surgeon consulting, royalty, and intellectual property payments to surgeon product usage levels, and then calculated an “ROI” (return on investment) for each surgeon based on those figures. If a surgeon’s usage was too low, LIFE SPINE managers, including BUTLER, pressured the surgeon to use more Life Spine Products during his or her surgeries.

The kickback scheme was successful. Surgeons who received payments from LIFE SPINE accounted for approximately half of LIFE SPINE’s total domestic sales of spinal products between 2012 and 2018. Most of these surgeons substantially increased their usage of Life Spine Products after entering into agreements with LIFE SPINE. These surgeons used Life Spine Products during procedures performed on Medicare and Medicaid patients, which resulted in the submission of kickback-tainted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid.

The Government intervened in a private whistleblower lawsuit before Judge Jed S. Rakoff that had previously been filed under seal pursuant to the False Claims Act.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Collecting Spouse Benefits or Disability

Dear Rusty: My wife will be 62 in a few months and I'm still working (I am 59). Can my wife get any Social Security if I’m not yet retired? She's short quarters for her own Social Security from when she worked. She also worked under our State Teachers Retirement System as a substitute teacher, but she is short of getting any STRS benefits. She's a diabetic and has other health problems, so can she qualify for disability? Signed: Inquiring Husband

Dear Inquiring Husband: Your wife cannot collect Social Security spousal benefits from your record until you are collecting your own Social Security. To be eligible for Social Security on her own work record she needs to have at least 40 “quarters” of work credits - about 10 years of substantial earnings over her lifetime during which she and her employer both contributed to Social Security. Her employment with STRS didn’t give her Social Security credits since her State employer doesn’t participate in the Social Security program; however, if she doesn’t have a STRS pension then neither does she need to worry about that pension affecting her eventual Social Security spousal benefits when she can collect from you (if she had a pension from STRS her Social Security spousal benefit would be reduced).

As far as the possibility of your wife getting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, SSDI benefits can only be awarded based upon one’s own work record. Whether your wife qualifies would depend upon how many Social Security quarter credits she has and when they were earned. Your wife would need to have worked in Social Security covered employment for at least 5 of the last 10 years to be eligible for SSDI benefits, and her current health condition would need to render her totally disabled and unable to work (and that must be medically confirmed) in order to qualify.

If she hasn’t already done so, I suggest your wife obtain a Statement of Estimated Benefits and Earnings Statement from Social Security. She can do this online by setting up her own personal “My Social Security” account at www.ssa.gov or by requesting same from Social Security via phone. You can find your local Social Security office contact information by going to this link: www.ssa.gov/locator. Once you have obtained this information you will be able to determine exactly how many Social Security “quarter credits” your wife actually has to this point and the employment years for which she earned them (for SSDI purposes), and also if she is entitled to any Social Security benefits on her own from credits earned over her lifetime (SS credits don’t expire). Having all that information should help your wife fully understand if she has any claiming options other than waiting until you start collecting your own Social Security retirement benefit, at which point she can claim her spousal benefit.

Ambitious tech-tinkerers

The potentials of 21st Century technology apparently have no limits. Consider that tech-tinkerers are already able to make musical instruments and prosthetic body parts using their computers and 3D printers, according to the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC]. Enterprising tech-savvy parents can even turn their children’s make-believe crayon drawings into real toys. But, Sterling Backus’s kid was not interested in simple novelties. The boy asked his dad to use his 3D printing system to make a full-size, functional Lamborghini Aventador-- a luxury sports car that can sell for more than $400,000. And, Backus is well on his way to making his son’s epic challenge a reality and it has cost him just $20,000 so far.

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‘It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature’

If you are old enough, you may recall a 1970’s TV commercial that used the catch phrase “it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Well, the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] reports that a California start-up is doing just that. Perfect Day is the name of a nascent company that has found a way to manufacture dairy free protein to produce non-dairy products that look and taste like the ones Mother Nature has been making since the beginning of time. And, that includes ice cream that will allow the lactose intolerant to know how great real ice cream tastes.

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Pot luck?

It’s all in the pronunciation. For example, the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] says Kensli Davis of Milledgeville, GA blames her mother’s deep South drawl for the mix-up when she ordered her birthday cake. Mom asked for Kensli’s cake to feature icing with a theme based on her favorite Disney character, Moana. But when the cake was delivered, it featured a marijuana leaf and a horse smoking a joint, as they say. Kensli says, "I think they thought that she said 'marijuana' because we are from south Georgia and kind of have an accent. So, 'Moana,' marijuana?"

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will Social Security Go Bust?

Dear Rusty: I'm always hearing rumors of Social Security imploding - of people my age getting benefits but not the younger as they have time to do something else. I wonder if I file in December for 50% of my spouse's benefit, and later, before I turn 70 and change to my own benefits, if SS goes bust will I lose what I would have been able to claim under myself? I understand that you would only be guessing to answer that. From what I've read, it seems that 20% reduction will be necessary across the board. I do not trust politicians who love to play Santa to get reelected. Signed: Untrusting Senior

Dear Untrusting Senior: As of right now, Social Security (SS) has about $2.9 trillion in reserves in its Trust Fund. Beginning probably in 2020, SS income will be less than needed to pay all benefits, and money will start to be withdrawn from the Trust Fund to meet benefit obligations. Current projections are that the Trust Fund reserves are sufficient to pay 100% of benefit obligations until 2035, at which time SS will only be able to pay out as much money as it brings in. According to projections, that would result in about a 21% cut in benefits for all beneficiaries. But those dire predictions are only valid if Congress does nothing to resolve Social Security’s cash flow deficit expected to start in 2020.

The solutions for Social Security’s financial issues are very well known to Congress. What’s missing is a bipartisan agreement on the best way to resolve it. One side of the aisle wants to simply raise Social Security taxes (remove payroll caps and raise FICA contributions), while the other side prefers future program adjustments which deal with the reality that people are living much longer today than they did when SS was first enacted. Most pundits believe that Congress will eventually reach a compromise before the Trust Fund is depleted in 2035 requiring benefit cuts. After all, what politician who wishes to stay in Congress would want to be associated with reducing Social Security benefits for the very large and voting senior citizenry?

To get to your specific question: There is no real danger of SS going “bust,” as in not being able to pay any benefits at all, so you’ll never “lose what I would have been able to claim under myself.” The worst-case scenario is that your age 70 benefit (which will be about 32% more than your age 66 benefit) might be reduced, but it would never be totally eliminated. The best-case scenario is that Congress puts the current vitriolic atmosphere aside and does their job to fix the problem before it’s a crisis.

The last time Social Security had a crisis of this nature was in 1983, and the Democratic-controlled Congress and the Reagan Administration worked together to enact a fix which lasted for decades (until now). It’s my sincere hope, and indeed my expectation, that a similar bipartisan effort will eventually take place to resolve Social Security’s financial issues for many decades to come. The Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) has developed a common-sense Social Security Guarantee proposal which has been presented to multiple Congressional representatives for consideration, and which would solve Social Security’s financial issues for generations. If you’d like to see that proposal feel free to go to this link: https://amac.us/social-security/. Will Congress act on this any time soon? I’m afraid that’s impossible to predict, but if history offers any insight it’s that they will probably act only when the crisis can no longer be ignored.

Burp!

Joey Chestnut downed 71 frankfurters and Miki Sudo sucked up 31 of them to hold on to their titles in the 104th Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, NY on July 4th. The day before in Washington, DC a hungry Molly Schuyler took the title for the fifth time in the 10th Annual Z Burger Eating Championship event. She broke the burger eating record she set last year, consuming 32 of them in just ten minutes. Last year she put away 27 whoppers.

###

It’s all in the game

Perhaps “Jeopardy!” champ James Holzhauer might want to stick to word games; the professional gambler folded after playing 14 hands at this year’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Holzhauer still holds the record for the most wins on the TV game show. He took home more than $2.4 million with 32 consecutive Jeopardy wins earlier this year. He took the 454th place in the poker fest.

###

Another daring young man

An unidentified daredevil appears to be the first to climb the tallest building in the U.K. recently. He used no ropes or harnesses, just a couple of suction cups to make his way up the side of the 95-story tower known as the Shard. The British tabloid, the Mirror, says that police detained him briefly, but let him go.

###

A fishy story

Four years after he was divorced, Jason Rose of Newaygo, MI decided it was time to get rid of his wedding ring. Says Rose, his was an unhappy marriage and he became convinced the ring was cursed. So the charter boat captain decided to get rid of it the best way he knew how-- by throwing it overboard tied to the tail of a recently caught steelhead trout. “I am convinced that ring is cursed,” he told reporters after the story got out that another fisherman, Jim Nelligan caught the trout seven weeks later. It seems that Nelligan may also believe the ring is ‘cursed’ and, not wanting to tempt fate, is not inclined to keep the ring. He says that he’s been having boat troubles ever since he landed the fish.

###

A deadly truth

The owner of a new themed coffee shop in Bangkok, Thailand says his aim is to show customers that it’s best not to give in to greed. Customers of his Death Awareness Café not only get coffee, they get a chance to experience what it’s like to be laid out in a coffin. He believes the experience reinforces the benefits of a selfless life by showing them that you can’t take it with you when you die.

###

Hen pecked

Scotland’s women’s World Cup team recently came up with a unique way to vent when they lost their first match against England. They hoped the team would rally by getting het up in a rubber chicken fight that was caught on tape. The video shows enthusiastic teammates chasing each other on their training field wielding the squeaky rubber hens.

###

Asthma & summer heat

During summer months, high heat, humidity, and pollution levels can cause asthma attacks, flare-ups, and emergency room visits for the millions of people who suffer from this chronic condition. Patricia Takach from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine said the findings of the report emphasize the need for patients with asthma to work with primary care providers to develop a personalized approach. “The asthma action plan is a critical resource that allows patients to identify when their asthma symptoms are increasing, and what they need to do to treat it,” she said.

Toxins from the tap

Chemicals known as PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are gaining attention as they are increasingly being discovered in sources of drinking water. These compounds, used in everything from non-stick pans to clothing, are long-lived. In many areas, particularly near some military sites where PFAS-laden fire-fighting foam had been used in training exercises, water sources have been found to contain concerning levels of the chemical, which has been associated with harmful health effects. Howard Neukrug of the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a former Philadelphia water commissioner, said these emerging toxins often leave regulatory agencies and consumers with more questions than answers.

Nature Rx

Nature Rx, a new initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, aims to highlight relaxing and contemplative moments in nature as not just leisure but as therapy to help curb anxiety and depression among students. “The idea is that clinicians and health partners would write prescriptions for people to spend time in nature,” said Chloe Cerwinka, landscape planner at Penn. “It’s really simple. You can spend time in nature any way you want to. And there’s scientific research that shows spending as little as five minutes outside in nature can help improve your health.”

Facebook & illness

research from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Stony Brook University found that the language used in Facebook posts can help identify conditions such as diabetes, anxiety, depression and psychosis. Researchers analyzed the entire Facebook post history of nearly 1,000 patients who had their medical record data linked to their profiles. The study found that all of the 21 medical conditions the researchers assessed were predictable from Facebook posts alone. “As social media posts are often about someone’s lifestyle choices and experiences or how they’re feeling, this information could provide additional information about disease management and exacerbation,” said physician Raina Merchant of Penn.

Brands & social impact

Corporations are making social impact front and center in their business models as shoppers increasingly want meaning from their purchases. It’s a trend that is poised to continue, as consumers buy items that are consistent with and help expand upon their own values and beliefs. “I think brands are being pushed to have a social conscience,” said Patti Williams, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Brands are increasingly expected to have a social and moral perspective.” (EDITORS: Additional information)

###

Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Age Seventy hasn’t yet applied for Social Security

Dear Rusty: How can I maximize my monthly Social Security benefit? I'm already 70 years old – almost 71 now. Signed: Ready to Apply.

Dear Ready to Apply: You’ve already maximized your monthly Social Security benefit by waiting until age 70 to apply. Age 70 is when you stop earning delayed retirement credits, which have boosted your monthly benefit amount by 32% over what you would have received at your full retirement age of 66, and by 76% over what you would have received if you had claimed benefits early at age 62. Your maximum Social Security benefit is reached in the month you turn 70 years of age, so you shouldn’t delay any longer. Since you’re now actually more than 70 (almost 71), you should immediately claim your Social Security benefit and you should also ask for 6 months of retroactive benefits, which SS will give you in a lump-sum. You can claim your benefits by contacting the Social Security office (find your local office at www.ssa.gov/locator) and making an appointment to apply for benefits, or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov. To apply online, you’ll have to first set up your personal “My Social Security” online account at www.ssa.gov, and then complete and submit your application online. You should specify your “benefit start month” as six months before the date you apply to get the retroactive benefits.

If you are married, since you have not yet applied for benefits your wife is not yet receiving spousal benefits from your record. Assuming she has reached her full retirement age, her spousal benefit will be half of the benefit you were eligible to receive at your full retirement age, if that amount is more than she is entitled to on her own lifetime work record. If your wife was born on or before January 1st, 1954 she should contact your local Social Security office to file for her spousal benefit. If your wife was born January 2nd, 1954 or later, her spousal benefit should be automatically added to her own benefit when you claim, and she should not need to contact Social Security to apply. I encourage you both to claim these benefits as soon as possible, because each month you delay you are losing benefits which you are entitled to. This is true even if one or both of you are still working, because there is no penalty for working after you have reached full retirement age. And even if you’re still working and paying FICA taxes monthly, your benefit will not increase just because you are still paying into Social Security.

###

History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was arguably the most comprehensive civil rights law ever passed in the United States. It was proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and passed by his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on July 2, 1964, seven months and 10 days after President Kennedy was assassinated. The law prohibited segregation -- based on race--in schools and public places, and it made employment discrimination illegal.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation by Judy L Hasday.

The Fourth of July is one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year. It’s a day for picnics, barbecues and fireworks. But it has a more significant meaning. It is when we celebrate -- and remember -- America’s hard-won independence from British rule.

Recommended reading: The Declaration by Gemma Malley.

Hamilton, one of Broadway’s most popular offerings, has appealed to people of all ages. It almost guarantees an interest in learning more about the man and his times. He was killed on July 14, 1804 in a duel with his long-time political rival, Aaron Burr. Their complicated history is worth knowing.

The Grateful American Book Prize suggests that Judith St. George’s book, The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, is an attractive way to teach your kids a lesson.

###

Ransomware can put healthcare providers — and patients — in critical condition

A healthcare organization can find itself in critical condition if attacked by ransomware — a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their files unless a ransom is paid.

Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report discovered that ransomware accounts for 85 percent of all malware targeting the healthcare industry. Ransomware attacks have been numerous in hospitals and other health facilities recently, and the consequences can be dire for providers and patients, who are denied access to their files and cannot receive the care they need.

“Many healthcare offices are not prepared to combat cyber attacks,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems and author of Responsible Dental Ownership (alexzlatin.com). “It can be a life-or-death situation if they can’t access data. So, they are more likely to pay up.

“Healthcare organizations are prime targets because of all the patients’ personal information they have to offer cyber criminals. It’s imperative they get up to speed on how to prevent such a nightmare scenario and know how to deal with a ransomware attack quickly.”

Zlatin offers ways for healthcare organizations to prevent or reduce the risks of ransomware attacks, and how they should respond if infected:

If attacked by ransomware

Isolate the infected computer immediately. “Infected systems should be removed from the network as soon as possible to prevent ransomware from attacking network or shared drives,” Zlatin says.

Isolate or power-off affected devices. Those devices that have not been completely corrupted should shut down or be isolated. Zlatin says this can provide time to recover data and contain the damage.

Secure backup data or systems by taking them offline. “You’ll want to ensure backups are free of malware before using them to restore inaccessible data,” Zlatin says.

Change online account passwords and network passwords. “After removing the system from the network, do this, and change all system passwords once the malware is removed,” Zlatin says.

To prevent attacks and mitigate risks

Train employees on cyber hygiene. “This is a healthcare organization’s best defense against ransomware,” Zlatin says. “Cyber hygiene is not putting yourself in a situation where you're surrounded by malicious links — like surfing the internet for personal reasons, opening emails from unfamiliar sources, going on Facebook or checking your Twitter feed from a workstation.”

Keep all systems secure. To remain compliant with HIPPA regulations in the U.S. and Canadian ones like PIPEDA, PHIPA and Alberta’s IHA, all systems that contain protected health information are required to stay up to date. “To protect against a ransomware threat, a similar approach must be taken so that all systems are secured against any potential vulnerabilities,” Zlatin says.

Monitor network traffic and file access. “Data breaches can be discovered by monitoring for unusual behavior within the systems,” Zlatin says. “Detecting outbound connections can pinpoint the location of an infection.”

Back up all data. “If some or all of a system’s files get encrypted, restoring the files from a backup is the only recovery option,” Zlatin says. “Making sure that the backup restores properly is as important as having a backup from the get-go.”

Adopt additional protection. “Ransomware sometimes goes undetected by many antivirus tools,” Zlatin says, “and IT departments must apply safeguards to block suspicious emails and deploy additional filters that block potential harmful sites,” Zlatin says.

“Providers can’t just hope an attack doesn’t happen to them,” Zlatin says. “They must do everything they can to prevent it.”

###

Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will my Canadian pension affect my U.S. Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I worked for 15 years in Canada and for 20 years in the USA and I live in the USA. I will get Social Security from the US soon and I suspect that I can get a smaller (20% of US) pension from Canada as well. Does the US claw back (all or part) of a Canadian pension from the US pension amount? Is it possible it's a net loss to apply for Canadian pension? Signed: Dually Entitled

Dear Dually Entitled: The United States and Canada have a bilateral agreement which regulates benefits for people who have worked part of their career in both countries and are eligible for benefits from both. Under this agreement, your Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) benefit, earned independently in Canada, will affect your U.S. Social Security (SS) benefit amount based upon a rule in U.S. Social Security regulations known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (or "WEP").

WEP will not take effect until you start your Canadian pension but will then affect your U.S. Social Security benefit by using a special formula to compute (or re-compute) your U.S. benefit amount. Your U.S. Social Security benefit amount will be based upon your "average indexed monthly earnings" (or "AIME"), which is the inflation-adjusted monthly average for your years of lifetime significant earnings in the U.S. The AIME actually uses 35 years of lifetime earnings, and if you don't have a full 35 years of U.S. earnings they add in zeros to make it 35 years.

To compute your SS benefit, your AIME is broken into three parts, each of which is multiplied by a different percentage to arrive at an amount, which will become part of your "primary insurance amount" (the "PIA" is the amount you get at your full retirement age). If you have 20 years or less of significant U.S. earnings, the WEP formula will take 40% of first part of your AIME as the first of three numbers which will be added together to arrive at your U.S. Social Security benefit (without WEP, the normal formula uses a 90% multiplier). What that would mean, if you first become eligible for U.S. Social Security in 2019, is that the first $926 of your AIME, rather than adding $833 to your SS benefit amount, would instead add $370 (a reduction of $463; thus, your total U.S. Social Security benefit amount would be reduced by $463). But there are some additional things you should be aware of:

· WEP cannot reduce your U.S. benefit amount by more than 1/2 of your Canadian CPP/QPP benefit amount.

· WEP cannot and will not eliminate your U.S. SS benefit.

· If you have more than 20 years of significant U.S. earnings, the 40% multiplier increases by 5% per additional year, which would mean a smaller WEP reduction. The WEP provision does not apply to anyone with 30 or more years of significant Social Security earnings.

###

A fishy story

Four years after he was divorced, Jason Rose of Newaygo, MI decided it was time to get rid of his wedding ring. Says Rose, his was an unhappy marriage and he became convinced the ring was cursed. So the charter boat captain decided to get rid of it the best way he knew how-- by throwing it overboard tied to the tail of a recently caught steelhead trout. “I am convinced that ring is cursed,” he told reporters after the story got out that another fisherman, Jim Nelligan caught the trout seven weeks later. It seems that Nelligan may also believe the ring is ‘cursed’ and, not wanting to tempt fate, is not inclined to keep the ring. He says that he’s been having boat troubles ever since he landed the fish.

###

A deadly truth

The owner of a new themed coffee shop in Bangkok, Thailand says his aim is to show customers that it’s best not to give in to greed. Customers of his Death Awareness Café not only get coffee, they get a chance to experience what it’s like to be laid out in a coffin. He believes the experience reinforces the benefits of a selfless life by showing them that you can’t take it with you when you die.

###

Hen pecked

Scotland’s women’s World Cup team recently came up with a unique way to vent when they lost their first match against England. They hoped the team would rally by getting het up in a rubber chicken fight that was caught on tape. The video shows enthusiastic teammates chasing each other on their training field wielding the squeaky rubber hens.

###

Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Age Seventy hasn’t yet applied for Social Security

Dear Rusty: How can I maximize my monthly Social Security benefit? I'm already 70 years old – almost 71 now. Signed: Ready to Apply.

Dear Ready to Apply: You’ve already maximized your monthly Social Security benefit by waiting until age 70 to apply. Age 70 is when you stop earning delayed retirement credits, which have boosted your monthly benefit amount by 32% over what you would have received at your full retirement age of 66, and by 76% over what you would have received if you had claimed benefits early at age 62. Your maximum Social Security benefit is reached in the month you turn 70 years of age, so you shouldn’t delay any longer. Since you’re now actually more than 70 (almost 71), you should immediately claim your Social Security benefit and you should also ask for 6 months of retroactive benefits, which SS will give you in a lump-sum. You can claim your benefits by contacting the Social Security office (find your local office at www.ssa.gov/locator) and making an appointment to apply for benefits, or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov. To apply online, you’ll have to first set up your personal “My Social Security” online account at www.ssa.gov, and then complete and submit your application online. You should specify your “benefit start month” as six months before the date you apply to get the retroactive benefits.

If you are married, since you have not yet applied for benefits your wife is not yet receiving spousal benefits from your record. Assuming she has reached her full retirement age, her spousal benefit will be half of the benefit you were eligible to receive at your full retirement age, if that amount is more than she is entitled to on her own lifetime work record. If your wife was born on or before January 1st, 1954 she should contact your local Social Security office to file for her spousal benefit. If your wife was born January 2nd, 1954 or later, her spousal benefit should be automatically added to her own benefit when you claim, and she should not need to contact Social Security to apply. I encourage you both to claim these benefits as soon as possible, because each month you delay you are losing benefits which you are entitled to. This is true even if one or both of you are still working, because there is no penalty for working after you have reached full retirement age. And even if you’re still working and paying FICA taxes monthly, your benefit will not increase just because you are still paying into Social Security.

###

History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was arguably the most comprehensive civil rights law ever passed in the United States. It was proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and passed by his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on July 2, 1964, seven months and 10 days after President Kennedy was assassinated. The law prohibited segregation -- based on race--in schools and public places, and it made employment discrimination illegal.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Civil Rights Act of 1964: An End to Racial Segregation by Judy L Hasday.

The Fourth of July is one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year. It’s a day for picnics, barbecues and fireworks. But it has a more significant meaning. It is when we celebrate -- and remember -- America’s hard-won independence from British rule.

Recommended reading: The Declaration by Gemma Malley.

Hamilton, one of Broadway’s most popular offerings, has appealed to people of all ages. It almost guarantees an interest in learning more about the man and his times. He was killed on July 14, 1804 in a duel with his long-time political rival, Aaron Burr. Their complicated history is worth knowing.

The Grateful American Book Prize suggests that Judith St. George’s book, The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, is an attractive way to teach your kids a lesson.

###

Ransomware can put healthcare providers — and patients — in critical condition

A healthcare organization can find itself in critical condition if attacked by ransomware — a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their files unless a ransom is paid.

Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report discovered that ransomware accounts for 85 percent of all malware targeting the healthcare industry. Ransomware attacks have been numerous in hospitals and other health facilities recently, and the consequences can be dire for providers and patients, who are denied access to their files and cannot receive the care they need.

“Many healthcare offices are not prepared to combat cyber attacks,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems and author of Responsible Dental Ownership (alexzlatin.com). “It can be a life-or-death situation if they can’t access data. So, they are more likely to pay up.

“Healthcare organizations are prime targets because of all the patients’ personal information they have to offer cyber criminals. It’s imperative they get up to speed on how to prevent such a nightmare scenario and know how to deal with a ransomware attack quickly.”

Zlatin offers ways for healthcare organizations to prevent or reduce the risks of ransomware attacks, and how they should respond if infected:

If attacked by ransomware

Isolate the infected computer immediately. “Infected systems should be removed from the network as soon as possible to prevent ransomware from attacking network or shared drives,” Zlatin says.

Isolate or power-off affected devices. Those devices that have not been completely corrupted should shut down or be isolated. Zlatin says this can provide time to recover data and contain the damage.

Secure backup data or systems by taking them offline. “You’ll want to ensure backups are free of malware before using them to restore inaccessible data,” Zlatin says.

Change online account passwords and network passwords. “After removing the system from the network, do this, and change all system passwords once the malware is removed,” Zlatin says.

To prevent attacks and mitigate risks

Train employees on cyber hygiene. “This is a healthcare organization’s best defense against ransomware,” Zlatin says. “Cyber hygiene is not putting yourself in a situation where you're surrounded by malicious links — like surfing the internet for personal reasons, opening emails from unfamiliar sources, going on Facebook or checking your Twitter feed from a workstation.”

Keep all systems secure. To remain compliant with HIPPA regulations in the U.S. and Canadian ones like PIPEDA, PHIPA and Alberta’s IHA, all systems that contain protected health information are required to stay up to date. “To protect against a ransomware threat, a similar approach must be taken so that all systems are secured against any potential vulnerabilities,” Zlatin says.

Monitor network traffic and file access. “Data breaches can be discovered by monitoring for unusual behavior within the systems,” Zlatin says. “Detecting outbound connections can pinpoint the location of an infection.”

Back up all data. “If some or all of a system’s files get encrypted, restoring the files from a backup is the only recovery option,” Zlatin says. “Making sure that the backup restores properly is as important as having a backup from the get-go.”

Adopt additional protection. “Ransomware sometimes goes undetected by many antivirus tools,” Zlatin says, “and IT departments must apply safeguards to block suspicious emails and deploy additional filters that block potential harmful sites,” Zlatin says.

“Providers can’t just hope an attack doesn’t happen to them,” Zlatin says. “They must do everything they can to prevent it.”

Like a big pizza pie

There are a lot of ways to celebrate the Fourth of July. Some plan elaborate firework displays. Others plan extravagantly lavish barbecues. Still others try to set records, like the Outta Hand Pizza shop in Westfield, NJ. The daring Pizzaiolos [Italian for pizza makers] cooked up a 9-foot by 4-foot red, white and blue pie recently for the kickoff of the town’s Summer Movie Night event. The pizzeria issued a statement confidently stating that: "We will submit an application with Guinness Book of World Records for largest square pizza and for the largest Flag Pizza in the world."

###

Shaggy dog story

Petaluma, CA may be known as the Wrist Wrestling Capital of the World, but now has a relatively new boast, the home of the World's Ugliest Dog contest. Scamp the Tramp, a pooch that one wag said is cuddly, not ugly, took the honors this year and now is hailed as Scamp the Champ.

###

The long arm of the law

It happened in 1990 in Iowa. Fifteen-year-old Amy Rush was running away from home and hitched a ride. The driver who picked her up was stopped for speeding and the officer gave the runaway teen a $35 ticket of her own for not wearing her seat belt. Ms. Rush ignored the ticket lo these many years, but the law has a long reach and caught up with her, demanding she pay up. But she is offering resistance, declaring that she has no intention of paying the fine. She says the officer should have been more concerned with the fact that she was only 15 years old and running away from home.

###

Could A Better Diet Cool Your Inflammation? Avoid These 5 Food Groups

Chronic inflammation is associated with such diseases as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and can harm people in numerous other ways, from painful joints to dental problems and aging skin.

It can even disturb your slumber, since inflammation can impact the breathing airways during sleep, resulting in sleep apnea among other potential issues, says Dr. Lynn Lipskis (www.drlipskis.com), director of the TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre and co-author with her husband, Dr. Edmund Lipskis, of Breathe, Sleep, Live, Smile: Integrative Treatments for TMJ/TMD, Sleep Apnea, Orthodontics.

Yet, with all the potential complications, not everyone may realize that one effective way to combat inflammation is through better nutrition, Dr. Lipskis says.

“Inflammation can come from a variety of issues, but diet undoubtedly is one of the bigger factors,” she says. “Some people unwisely put dietary compliance at the bottom of their priority list. While some patients with better diets don’t have a lot of inflammation, others are so inflamed they can’t breathe at all through their nose.”

Dr. Lynn Lipskis and Dr. Edmund Lipskis suggest a list of inflammatory foods to avoid:

Gluten. Foods containing gluten can be some of the most inflammatory. “Generally,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says, “gluten is the protein part of a grain. A lot of people will react to gluten by experiencing increased inflammation. Gluten-free eating has become popular because so many people who adopt it find that they feel better. Symptoms of sensitivity to gluten include fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, achy joints and brain fog.”

Dairy. “Dairy products promote mucus production,” Dr. Ed Lipskis says. “That inflames tissue and mucous clogs the nasal passages. There are mixed reviews on whether people should consume dairy products and to what extent. I recommend an elimination diet to see how it affects you.”

Processed carbohydrates. These include a litany of foods people love, but the Lipskis team says the eventual harm outweighs the enjoyment. “It may mean saying good-bye to pasta, breads, cookies, candies,” Dr. Ed Lipskis says. “People often believe that whole wheat bread is better than white bread, but whole wheat is actually just as inflammatory because of the carbohydrate in wheat, known as amylopectin A.” Similarly, Lipskis says most people mistakenly believe brown rice to be a better choice than white rice. “But like whole wheat,” he says, “the husk of brown rice contains the allergens and proteins that can cause inflammation.”

Alcohol (red wine). “People who have sleep apnea are assured a bad night’s sleep after drinking alcohol,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “Red wine targets the nasal membrane, causing swelling and limiting the opening for air flow. This inflammation can last six to eight hours, ruining a full night’s sleep.”

Refined sugars. “Sugar is everywhere,” Dr. Ed Lipskis says. “While sugar is known for negatives – rotting teeth, packing on the pounds, providing no nutrition – the biggest reason you should say good-bye to sugar is that it’s one of the most inflammatory parts of many foods. And be careful with fruit, which is generally thought of as healthy but contains naturally occurring fructose. The less fiber there is in a fruit, the less healthy it is.”

“We should be eating a normal, balanced diet of real food – not processed foods,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “It’s tough to avoid the occasional bagel, bag of chips, or glass of red wine, but going off the wagon, so to speak, can lead to immediate inflammation and long-term problems. Listen to your body - it will let you know the effect that each type of food has.”

###

History Matters

On June 18, 1812, the United States Congress voted to declare war on Great Britain. Although America had won its independence from their rule less than 30 years earlier, this time, the cause was to stand up for our fledgling nation’s rights on the high seas. It was an audacious challenge, considering that Great Britain was arguably the greatest naval power in the world. Yet, a year and a half later, the war was over, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed in Belgium on Dec. 24, 1814. As a matter of pride, many in the U.S. began referring to the conflict as “the second war of independence.”

For more information, The Grateful American Book Prize recommends What Caused the War of 1812? by Sally Senzell Isaacs.

The 1960s was a decade of great change in the U.S. It was the end of the beginning of the struggle for equal rights -- for all. Volunteers from across America got involved in the crusade for civil rights. Some died for the cause, including three young activists, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner; they disappeared in Neshoba County, Mississippi. on June 21, 1964, but their bodies were not discovered until Aug. 4. Mississippi was then a heavily segregated state. The U.S Justice Department indicted 19 men on Dec. 4 for violating the civil rights of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney.

For more information, read The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell.

When General George Armstrong Custer led 250 cavalrymen against a Sioux Indian force of approximately 2,000-4,000 encamped near the Little Bighorn River in Montana on June 25, 1876, it became an event that has been retold through the generations. Custer and almost all of his troops were massacred; only one scout survived. But, it was the Indians who lost the most. The outrage over the humiliating defeat ramped up the government’s rage to drive the Native Americans off of their lands.

Custer’s famous--or infamous--defeat at Little Bighorn is a true story about America’s westward expansion. Young learners will benefit from a better understanding of this important event by reading CUSTER'S LAST STAND by Quentin Reynolds.

America’s electorate got younger on June 30, 1971. The ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution lowered the voting age in all elections from 21 to 18, and 11 million people were added to the eligible constituency.

Knowing the power of the ballot box teaches kids to become responsible, civically minded adults. The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Amendment XXVI: Lowering the Voting Age by Sylvia Engdahl.

###

Celebrate the Red, White and Blue While Making Sure Rover is Safe, Too!

Humane Society of Missouri shares Fourth of July pet safety tips

Independence Day celebrations would not be the same without the scorching sun and fireworks lighting up the night sky. For pets, however, heat and sudden loud noises can be more harmful and frightening than fun.

The Humane Society of Missouri encourages pet parents to keep their furry friends’ safety in mind as they celebrate the stars and stripes. And in case pets aren’t chipped already, the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America is offering $25 microchips the entire month of July to ensure pet owners can locate their pet in a worst-case scenario.

Follow these four tips for a safe Fourth of July for your pets:

Don’t Forget: 70 Degrees & Over, Don’t Take Rover!

When the temperature outside is 70 degrees or higher, the temperature inside a parked car can reach more than 100 degrees in just minutes, leading to death or severe injury in just minutes, regardless of whether a window is cracked or the car is located in the shade.

If you see an animal in an untended car, call the local police and the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Cruelty Hotline at (314) 647-4400.

When your pet is outside, provide them with a shady spot and a bowl of clean water, ensuring they are protected from the sun at all times of the day. Secure a plastic (never metal) bowl to the ground so the bowl does not tip over or get too hot.

Keep Track of Your Pet

If your pet is going with you to participate in any festivities, keep them on a non-retractable leash or in a fenced-in area. Also, be sure your dog has an up-to-date microchip.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. The Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America is providing discounted microchips for just $25 throughout the month of July!

Make Parties Pet Friendly

Human treats and leftovers can damage a pet’s sensitive stomach, so pet owners need to clean up after themselves and remove any dangers that may be laying around.

Keep fireworks, glow sticks, lighter fluid, sunscreen, insect repellent, citronella candles and other potentially dangerous items away from a pet’s paws.

Reduce Rover’s Anxiety

If possible, pets should be kept at home with a quiet, cool place to retreat where heat and sounds are less intense. Pets are more likely to relax in an interior room with access to clean, cool water – not on a chain or in a small crate.

Pets are more sensitive to loud noises, so close the windows and consider turning on the radio or television to mask the sounds. If your pet is extremely anxious with loud noises, visit your veterinarian to discuss anti-anxiety options, such as ThunderShirts®, nutritional supplements and prescription medications that can often provide relief.

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Housecall

By Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

Assistant professor Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

Q. Why should my children receive vaccinations against measles? Wasn’t this disease eradicated years ago?

A. Public health officials declared this highly contagious disease eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 but since then, there has been a reappearance of measles in the nation with an all-time high of 667 cases reported in 2014 and 349 cases confirmed in 26 states and the District of Columbia last year.

The increase is caused, in part, by people not having their children vaccinated. The disease is still common in many other countries and travelers can bring it here, spreading it to others who are unvaccinated, sometimes leading to outbreaks.

Measles can cause severe complications, including lung infections and swelling of the brain. It can even be fatal. Measles vaccine has been safe and effective since the mid-1960s, yet some people cannot get vaccinated because they are under a year old or have a weakened immune system.

It’s important for those who are able to get the vaccine to become vaccinated to provide “community immunity” for those who cannot. Prevention through the vaccine is the only way to fight the virus.

Q. I heard the HPV vaccination is not just for teens now. Who should get it and when?

A. Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States with about 20 million people infected. At least 50 percent of sexually active people will contract it at some point in their lives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all girls and boys age 11 or 12 get the two-dose vaccine series, along with those up to age 26, regardless of whether they are sexually active.

Most HPV infections do not cause symptoms and go away on their own but some can cause cervical cancer in women. Each year in the U.S., about 10,000 women get cervical cancer and 3,700 die from it. HPV is also associated with several less common types of cancer in both men and women and can cause genital warts. The HPV vaccine, introduced in the U.S. in 2006, can prevent most genital warts and cases of cervical cancer.

The vaccine doesn’t protect against all 100-plus types of HPV but is nearly 100% effective in protecting against two high-risk strains, HPV 16 and 18, which account for 70% of all cervical cancers.

Q. What is herd immunity and how can it protect my elderly mother?

A. When many people in an area are vaccinated, less germs are spread and fewer people get sick. This concept, known as community or herd immunity, protects others beyond the person receiving the vaccine, including older adults with chronic diseases or babies too young to receive a vaccination.

When a very high percentage of people in any one area have received vaccinations and the necessary threshold is reached, community immunity is achieved. For measles, 93 to 95 percent in the community need to be vaccinated.

Some people think they don’t need to be vaccinated if a disease, such as measles, has been eliminated from the U.S. But this leads to fewer people being vaccinated and allows the disease to be reintroduced by foreign visitors or Americans who have traveled outside the nation.

Community immunity is also important because vaccine protection can fade over time and when people’s immunity drops, new outbreaks of disease can occur unless more people continue receiving vaccinations.

Do not rely on community immunity for protection. Vaccines are still the best way to protect from diseases.

Q. I received vaccines as a child for various diseases, but what vaccines do I need as an adult?

A. Each year, thousands of adults in the United States contract diseases, many of which can be deadly, that vaccines can help prevent. Immunizations are one of the safest ways to protect your health.

Childhood immunizations can weaken over time and more vaccines are now available. Several factors determine what adult vaccines are necessary, including age, lifestyle, health condition, and vaccines previously received.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults be protected against the flu with an annual vaccine; whooping cough with a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine at least once for all adults and for women during each pregnancy; tetanus and diphtheria with a Td vaccine every 10 years; shingles with a zoster vaccine for those aged 50 and older; and pneumonia with two vaccines for adults aged 65 and older.

Ask your doctor what additional vaccines may be right for you and remember to protect yourself when traveling since vaccines can prevent diseases that are rare in the United States, like yellow fever.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Should I claim benefits early and invest them?

Dear Rusty: I am 64 years old and my wife is 62. We both have good paying careers. Our original plan was to wait until we each turned 70 before drawing our Social Security benefits. But I was talking to a friend who is a very successful small business owner who told me that he started drawing his SS benefits at age 62. He puts the funds in a mutual fund every month. He has “run the numbers “ and he is convinced that he will come out ahead rather than waiting to draw at age 70. I was shocked to hear this advice since I had never heard any expert advocate this option before. What say you, Sir? Signed: Questioning My Plan

Dear Questioning: I, too, have "run the numbers" many times. Although Social Security will say that it makes no difference when you apply (they say you get the same in total benefits no matter which age you claim) with average longevity today being in the mid-80's (84 for men; 87 for women) that may not be true. I have done numerous "break even analyses" and have found that if one claims at their full retirement age instead of at age 62, they will have collected the same amount of benefits at age 78 in either case. That means that by living longer than age 78, you will realize more in total cumulative lifetime Social Security benefits by waiting until your full retirement age to apply. Similarly, if you wait until age 70 to claim, you will break even (collect the same in total benefits) at age 82, and if you live beyond 82 you'll get more in cumulative benefits by waiting. If you live well beyond those ages, the extra benefits can be very substantial.

I wonder if your friend included in his analysis how the “earnings test” affected his early benefits. If you are still working and you claim benefits before you reach your full retirement age, you'll be subject to Social Security's "earnings limit" ($17,640 for 2019) which, if you exceed it, will cause Social Security to withhold benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. This applies to both you and your wife. The earnings limit doesn't go away until your reach your full retirement age, so when contemplating whether to collect benefits before your full retirement age you should assess the amount of benefit loss you will incur if your earnings exceed the earnings limit. Although at your full retirement age (FRA) Social Security gives you time credit for any months you don't received benefits because you exceeded the earnings limit, it will take you years to recover any withheld benefits because they only slightly increase your benefit at your FRA to compensate for withheld benefits from over-earning (you need to live long enough to recover those lost benefits).

And did your friend consider this: your surviving spouse will receive 100% of the benefit you are receiving at your death. If you claim before your full retirement age, your surviving spouse will get the reduced amount; if you wait until after your full retirement age to claim, your surviving spouse will get the full amount of your benefit increased by delayed retirement credits. Benefits are about 76% more at age 70 than they are at age 62.

Of course, the question of when to apply must always take into account your current financial needs, your current health and lifestyle, and your expected longevity (considering your family history). Whether to claim early and invest those benefits or wait until later is a choice only you can make. But you should consider the above points and compare the guarantee of increasing your lifetime benefit amount by 6% to 8% for each year you wait to claim, against the interest or growth rate you might expect from investing in the securities market.

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Ransomware can put healthcare providers and patients in critical condition

A healthcare organization can find itself in critical condition if attacked by ransomware — a type of malware that prevents or limits users from accessing their files unless a ransom is paid.

Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report discovered that ransomware accounts for 85 percent of all malware targeting the healthcare industry. Ransomware attacks have been numerous in hospitals and other health facilities recently, and the consequences can be dire for providers and patients, who are denied access to their files and cannot receive the care they need.

“Many healthcare offices are not prepared to combat cyber attacks,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems and author of Responsible Dental Ownership (alexzlatin.com). “It can be a life-or-death situation if they can’t access data. So, they are more likely to pay up.

“Healthcare organizations are prime targets because of all the patients’ personal information they have to offer cyber criminals. It’s imperative they get up to speed on how to prevent such a nightmare scenario and know how to deal with a ransomware attack quickly.”

Zlatin offers ways for healthcare organizations to prevent or reduce the risks of ransomware attacks, and how they should respond if infected:

If attacked by ransomware

Isolate the infected computer immediately. “Infected systems should be removed from the network as soon as possible to prevent ransomware from attacking network or shared drives,” Zlatin says.

Isolate or power-off affected devices. Those devices that have not been completely corrupted should shut down or be isolated. Zlatin says this can provide time to recover data and contain the damage.

Secure backup data or systems by taking them offline. “You’ll want to ensure backups are free of malware before using them to restore inaccessible data,” Zlatin says.

Change online account passwords and network passwords. “After removing the system from the network, do this, and change all system passwords once the malware is removed,” Zlatin says.

To prevent attacks and mitigate risks

Train employees on cyber hygiene. “This is a healthcare organization’s best defense against ransomware,” Zlatin says. “Cyber hygiene is not putting yourself in a situation where you're surrounded by malicious links — like surfing the internet for personal reasons, opening emails from unfamiliar sources, going on Facebook or checking your Twitter feed from a workstation.”

Keep all systems secure. To remain compliant with HIPPA regulations in the U.S. and Canadian ones like PIPEDA, PHIPA and Alberta’s IHA, all systems that contain protected health information are required to stay up to date. “To protect against a ransomware threat, a similar approach must be taken so that all systems are secured against any potential vulnerabilities,” Zlatin says.

Monitor network traffic and file access. “Data breaches can be discovered by monitoring for unusual behavior within the systems,” Zlatin says. “Detecting outbound connections can pinpoint the location of an infection.”

Back up all data. “If some or all of a system’s files get encrypted, restoring the files from a backup is the only recovery option,” Zlatin says. “Making sure that the backup restores properly is as important as having a backup from the get-go.”

Adopt additional protection. “Ransomware sometimes goes undetected by many antivirus tools,” Zlatin says, “and IT departments must apply safeguards to block suspicious emails and deploy additional filters that block potential harmful sites,” Zlatin says.

“Providers can’t just hope an attack doesn’t happen to them,” Zlatin says. “They must do everything they can to prevent it.”

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A horn to toot

Jeral Pope of Goodwater, Texas, earned the right to toot his own horn when he learned that the record keepers at Guinness picked his seven-year-old longhorn, Poncho, for what amounts to two world records. Pope’s steer has the longest horns of any living longhorn and he has the “largest horn spread on a steer ever.” Poncho’s rack measures more than ten and a half feet tip to tip giving this gentle giant a very intimidating look. But, according to Jeral’s son Dennis, "He's had so many people over the years stop by to see him, feeding him treats, that he’s turned into a wonderful big pet."

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Picking a name for your newborn

Some expecting parents might choose to use family namesakes when picking a name for their child. It’s an old fashioned method, but in this day and age parents-to-be might wish to find “unique” names and that can be a daunting task. So a pair of moms have established a startup company, Future Perfect, to make it easier for prices ranging from $100 to $350.

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Beethoven’s gift

The story goes that Beethoven had a pal who presented his wife with what was purportedly a lock of Ludwig’s hair. The famed composer set the record straight declaring that it was not snipped from his scalp, but from a goat. So, he replaced the bogus clipping with an authentic lock of his hair, which was auctioned off in the U.K. recently bringing in some $45,000.

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Ready to retire? 5 steps for getting a good night’s sleep after the paychecks stop

Those early days of retirement can be exciting as you are finally rewarded with a little rest and relaxation after all those years of toil.

But it can be a bit unsettling as well when the regular paychecks you counted on stop appearing in your bank account.

That’s why anyone who’s still a few years away from retirement should ask themselves: Am I ready for that moment both financially and emotionally?

The answer could come down to whether you have a solid retirement plan – or a plan at all.

“Regardless of how much you accumulate for your retirement, poor planning or lack of planning can put you at risk of exhausting your resources,” says Tad Hill, a retirement planner and author of Retire with Freedom: The Five Steps to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep After the Paychecks Stop (www.askfreedomfinancial.com).

Hill says people nearing the end of their working years should follow this five-step process for a more secure retirement:

Create your ideal picture of retirement. What is it you want out of retirement? Do you want to travel? Volunteer with a charity? Spend time with the grandkids? The first step isn’t about your financial portfolio, Hill says, it’s about forming a clear image of the big “why” of your ideal retirement. “Otherwise, even though your money may last the rest of your lives,” Hill says, “you may never achieve your dreams because you’re unclear on your dreams.”

Put your situation to the “stress test.” With the help of a financial professional, give your retirement plan a “stress test.” That can include reviewing how to best maximize your Social Security benefits and examining how your portfolio might perform under a variety of market scenarios. “Analyze all the factors that could affect your retirement plan over the next few decades and create a strategy for dealing with those risk factors with as much certainty as possible,” Hill says.

Design your plan. Designing a retirement plan, Hill says, is much like creating the blueprint for a house. “These blueprints identify the strategies available to help minimize risk, increase certainty, avoid excess taxes and ensure an adequate retirement income,” he says. Some of the concerns that need to be addressed include income planning, investment planning, health care planning, tax planning and legacy planning.

Build the plan. Once the design is agreed upon, it’s time to implement it. “That can mean making changes to your current structure, adding some things and getting rid of others,” Hill says. “Maybe risk-prone aspects of your current approach that we need to eliminate were discovered in the design step. We also often identify new strategies that you aren’t using that can really make a difference.”

Seek continued guidance. Even a great retirement plan may need tweaks and adjustments over the years. “Times change, people change and situations change,” Hill says. With his clients, he holds a regular yearly consultation to help ensure they are on the right pathway to retirement success at all times. “You need to look at whether there are things that have changed in your life that need attention,” he says. “Are there decisions you need to make about a pension or Social Security? Is your spending tracking at the amount you thought it would?”

“There are no guarantees of anything in life, including how your retirement will work out,” Hill says. “But taking action to create a solid and well-thought-out plan for this important part of your life is a critical first step.”

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5 ways states can unify behind marijuana and reap the benefits

Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states, but some have been slow to reap the economic benefits. Advocates say this is because of a long legislative and legal process that delays the rollout of legalization and results in numerous restrictions.

“How the states regulate marijuana varies greatly,” says Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish (www.sarahleegossettparrish.com), a cannabis industry lawyer. “Each state has to decide how much a patient can possess, where and how they can obtain it, and what medical conditions warrant a physician’s recommendation for its usage.

“The more permissive state regulatory systems result in more patients and usually in more dispensaries.”

Oklahoma, though regarded as a conservative or red state, is viewed as one of the most liberal when it comes to medical marijuana laws, Parrish says. And about a year after voters approved medical cannabis in Oklahoma, business is booming in the state.

Now comes Oklahoma’s “Unity Act,” signed into law in March. Parrish says it was designed to streamline state regulation of medical marijuana without impeding commerce and imposing too many restrictions.

“The Unity Act further develops Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program, an exemplary model for states that seek a more permissive regulatory scheme,” Parrish says. “There are compromises added for employers, but overall it benefits the patients and entrepreneurs. Oklahoma rolled out its medical marijuana program quickly and efficiently, wisely avoiding the quagmire of regulations that strangle the industry in other states.”

Parrish explains some key provisions of the Unity Act that promote the industry’s growth while ensuring proper oversight:

Sale of seeds. “The Act includes language allowing commercial growers to sell seeds or clones to other commercial growers, thereby providing a much-needed legal way for new growers to obtain seeds and clones,” Parrish says. “Language that would also have allowed the sale by growers to patients or caregivers was deleted.”

Patient confidentiality. “The Act preserves confidentiality of patients and caregivers, making the handling of all records subject to all relevant state and federal laws, including HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996),” Parrish says.

Employment Issues. The Act permits employers to refuse to hire workers for safety-sensitive jobs, examples of which are listed in the legislation. It provides that employers are not required to permit or accommodate the use of medical marijuana at the place of employment. “It also recognizes employers’ right to establish written policies about drug testing and impairment in accord with current Oklahoma law,” Parrish says.

Seed-to-sale quality and safety checkpoints. The Act requires a medical marijuana seed-to-sale inventory tracking system, and mandates quality testing by licensees. “This includes testing for contaminants and THC/CBD content,” Parrish says.

New licenses. The Act creates a medical marijuana transporter license, a testing laboratory license, research license, a caregiver license and an education facility license. “These components show how the Unity Act represents a concerted effort to create a working framework for regulation and oversight,” Parrish says.

“It’s encouraging to see both sides of the aisle work together to achieve a common goal,” Parrish says. “Oklahoma is on its way to becoming a thriving cannabis industry, and that’s good news for everyone.”

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Flower Care maintenance keeps gardens looking their best all summer long

By Melinda Myers

A bit of grooming and care will keep your flower gardens looking their best throughout the hot summer months and into fall.

Remove the flower stems of salvias, veronicas and similar flowers as the blooms begin to fade. Use a pruner or sharp garden scissors and cut just above the first set of leaves or above the side shoots where new flower buds are forming.

Cut back flopping perennials like Walker’s Low catmint, veronica and Salvia that have finished their second flush of flowers. New growth will be sturdier, more compact and eventually covered with blooms.

Plants like daylilies and balloon flower require a bit different care. Remove the individual blooms as they fade for maximum beauty. Once all the individual flowers have bloomed out, you can cut the flower stem back at the base.

Keep coral bells tidy and many varieties blooming longer with a bit of deadheading. Remove the whole flower stem, once blooms fade, back to the leafy base where it arises from the plant. And cut a few flowers to enjoy indoors in a summer bouquet.

Remove faded flowers for a neater and tidier appearance, but no additional bloom, on peonies, lamb’s ear and bergenia. Removing the seedpods of peonies as they form, back to a healthy set of leaves, helps keep stems upright and makes for a tidier plant throughout the summer.

Deadheading won't extend the bloom for columbine, but it will prevent reseeding - if that’s a concern for you. Prune the flowering stems back to their base in the foliage.

Removing spent flowers on perennials like bee balm, purple coneflower, salvia, veronicas, garden phlox and many others will encourage additional bloom. You may want to skip deadheading of any late blooming varieties. This allows them to form seed pods for a bit of winter interest.

Pruning your flowers can also impact the appearance, size, and flowering of plants. Prune Russian sage and upright sedums, like Autumn Joy, subject to flopping back halfway in mid-June to encourage sturdy growth. Pruning coneflowers and other late blooming perennials once, early in the season, can result in shorter plants that flower a bit later. Pinch asters and mums back to 6 inches throughout June and into early July in southern regions for compact plants and an attractive fall display.

Further improve your garden’s beauty by removing or trimming back discolored foliage with sharp scissors or a hand pruner.

Stake taller perennials in need of a bit of support. Use bamboo stakes and ties, twigs woven into stems or other attractive or virtually invisible supports. Then make a note on next year’s calendar as a reminder to put stakes in place in spring as plants emerge.

Spread a layer of shredded leaves, evergreen needles or other organic mulch over the soil surface. This conserves moisture, helps suppress weeds and improves the soil as they break down.

A bit of pinching and pruning now as various flowers fade will extend the beauty and your enjoyment throughout summer and into fall.

Melinda Myers is the author of more than 20 gardening books and is the host of The Great Courses’ How to Grow Anything DVD series. Her website, www.MelindaMyers.com, offers gardening tips and videos.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Confused about Working, Medicare and Spouse Benefits

Dear Rusty: I will reach my full retirement age (FRA) in September of 2020 at age 66. My wife will be 64 at that time and will start drawing her SS at 1/2 of my benefit because it will be more than hers, even if she reached her FRA. My question is, I know I will need to sign up for Medicare Part A this year at age 65 but do I need Part B at this time? Both myself and my wife work for the same company and have insurance through them. I will have insurance for one more year through the company until I retire at 66. Another question is when I retire at 66 and my wife retires at age 64 at 1/2 my benefit, will she be able to sign up for Medicare because she is drawing SS benefits? Or will she have to wait until 3 months before she turns 65? Signed: Planning Our Retirement

Dear Planning: Signing up for Medicare when you turn 65 is optional if you have creditable employer coverage. If you enroll in Part A, and you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) you and your employer must both stop contributing to it the month before you turn 65. Whether you should take Medicare Part B (coverage for doctors and other outpatient services) at age 65 depends upon whether your healthcare coverage through your employer is considered a “creditable” alternative to Medicare Part B coverage. Generally, if it’s a group plan with more than 20 participants it will be considered creditable, but you should check with your HR department to make sure. Assuming your employer coverage is “creditable,” you can defer enrolling in Part B until your employer coverage ends. At that time, you’ll enter a “special enrollment period” during which you can enroll in Medicare Part B (and Part D drug plan) without a late enrollment penalty. You can enroll in Part B (and Part D) a little before your employer coverage ends so as to avoid any lapse in health care coverage.

If your wife claims her Social Security benefit at age 64 when you claim your SS at age 66, her own benefit will be reduced, and her spousal benefit will also be reduced from 50% of yours because she is claiming the spousal benefit earlier than her full retirement age. Any time any Social Security benefit is claimed earlier than one’s full retirement age it is reduced. Taken 2 years before her FRA, your wife’s spousal benefit will be about 42% of yours, not 50%.

Your wife cannot enroll in Medicare simply because she is collecting Social Security; she’s not eligible for Medicare until she is 65 (she can enroll 3 months earlier for coverage to start the month she turns 65). If your wife retires from work before she is eligible for Medicare, she may use COBRA coverage until she reaches age 65 and her Medicare coverage begins. If your wife claims her Social Security to start when she retires at 64, she will be automatically enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B just prior to her turning 65 years of age, but if she continues to work and still has creditable employee (not COBRA) healthcare coverage from her employer at that time and wishes to delay enrolling in Part B (to avoid the premium), she can do so until her employer coverage ends. Then when her employer coverage ends, she should enroll in Medicare Part B (and Part D plan) during her special enrollment period so as to avoid any future late enrollment penalties.

Finally, you should both be enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospitalization coverage) because it is required to collect Social Security benefits after age 65. Medicare Part A coverage is free for anyone who is eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

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Life coach is trendy, but therapy is where you will find answers

Life coaching is a booming industry. Everyone from struggling sales reps to executives and celebrities is hiring coaches to help them maximize their professional and personal potential.

But for many people who seek life coaching, therapy might be a better answer because it often exposes the roots of problems that pose obstacles for people personally and professionally, says John Collopy, author of The Reward of Knowing (www.johncollopy.com).

“Being coached isn’t nearly the same thing as being in therapy,” says Collopy, a successful real estate broker and sales manager whose book reflects on his battle with addiction and ongoing recovery. “There’s a tremendous reluctance among people to seek help from a qualified doctor when it comes to emotional issues, because therapy is a slow, introspective process that drills much deeper than life coaching.

“A lot of people aren’t willing to go that deep because they’re afraid of the truth. And they worry what people will think about the appearance of taking therapy.”

Collopy gives five reasons he thinks therapy is a better solution for personal and professional problems:

There’s no quick fix in therapy. “Honestly, all this motivational stuff among life coaches is popular because it’s easy,” Collopy says. “But it’s not real. It’s a game, showbiz. It’s often a lot of rah-rah in a big room or in small groups. Motivational speakers and life coaches do offer advice on how to quantify the quality of your life, but they can’t answer your central question of ‘Why do I do these things?’ ”

Prompts introspection. “Asking what’s wrong, why you’ve been depressed, why you are constantly stressed, etc., are much deeper personal questions than why haven’t you made your sales quota,” Collopy says. “A good therapist can help you get to know who you really are with questions like, ‘How did I get here? What do I want to change, and how can I look for opportunities to grow and improve?’ ”

Real breakthroughs happen. “In therapy, you know you’ve made a genuine breakthrough when you have an ah-ha moment of clarity, of self-discovery,” Collopy says. “It provides an insight into a part of yourself you’ve never acknowledged or even been aware of. That’s the moment when change ‘takes,’ not the moment when the seminar crowd jumps up and says, ‘Yay!’ ”

Forces accountability. “Can having a coach be beneficial?” Collopy asks. “Of course. A coach demands accountability, and in sales, accountability is essential. But you’re going to find it easier to become accountable to yourself if you first find out who you really are, which you do through therapy.”

Ends underlying troubles that drag you down. “If you have personal problems in your life, your life coach really can’t help you with that,” Collopy says. “You can’t perform adequately in your career if you’re dragged down by underlying personal problems, because they’re going to distract and exhaust you.”

“Why would anyone not want to work with a professional therapist,” says Collopy, “whose life’s work is helping people uncover what’s holding them back?”

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Rethinking the American dream: 5 tips to live a simpler life

Millennials have been coined “the burnout generation.” Culture observers attribute the burnout to work, social, financial, and technological pressures that can leave a young adult overwhelmed and their coping mechanisms frazzled.

With so much life yet to live, what can millennials do to reverse or avoid burnout? Further, how can subsequent generations handle the pressures that consume millennials? Simple life and self-help guru Gary Collins says it comes down to simplifying their lives.

“Burnout is an undeniable fact among many millennials,” says Collins, author of The Simple Life Guide To Decluttering Your Life (www.thesimplelifenow.com). “They’re feeling the effects of complicated living. It’s no secret today that we’re bombarded by outside stressors that are unfamiliar to earlier generations of humans, and we’re struggling to deal with them.

“Decluttering is a popular concept today in terms of organizing your closet, garage, etc., but it’s also an effective mindset for simplifying your life. It’s about removing the unnecessary internal and external stressors in order to live the life you want.”

Collins offers five principles for decluttering your life – or living a simple life from the outset of adulthood:

Knowledge is power. People tend toward the quick fix in today’s fast-moving world, but Collins says it takes time to acquire the correct, in-depth information that helps someone make lasting, positive changes. “New habits are most effective when you know why you’re doing them,” Collins says. “Otherwise, you’re likely to be swayed by the next fad product that promotes the easy life but does not work long-term.”

Avoid extremes. People can be drawn to selling pitches such as, “Make millions in just a few hours per week,” but extreme claims rarely pan out. “A slow-and-steady approach with a well-thought-out plan that’s followed day-after-day delivers true change for the positive,” Collins says.

Keep it simple. “As a culture,” Collins says, “we’ve turned the concept of living a healthy, happy life into a confusing and overwhelming selection of products and gimmicks. But less is more. We love to overthink everything and make living the life we want far more complicated than it needs to be. Once you cut out the noise and clutter, everything comes into focus.”

Something is better than nothing. While overhauling an entire lifestyle can seem daunting, little changes and choices can add up. Examples are analyzing spending habits when short on money each month, or developing skills to find a job you enjoy rather than staying in a job you don’t like. “When it comes to doing nothing versus doing at least something, something is always the right choice,” Collins says. “Think of it like dropping a dollar into a piggy bank every hour of the day for years and years. Eventually, you’ll have a nice nest egg.”

Take action every day. “America is full of people who want to live a better and more fulfilling life,” Collins says, “but in reality very few ever take action to accomplish this. Happy, successful people take action — today and every day. Maybe that means getting up earlier to get to the gym, writing that novel you’ve talked about for the last 10 years, or selling that sports car you can’t afford and getting something more practical.”

“You must ingrain and practice positive habits to achieve positive outcomes,” Collins says. “Life gets hard, and making better choices is sometimes inconvenient, but today’s choices are under your control. Once it’s a habit, it gets easier.”

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A wing and a prayer

The Dutch airline KLM aims to make the future of air travel eco-friendly by building a plane with no fuselage. Instead, passengers will be seated inside V-shaped wings. KLM would use the Delft University of Technology’s Flying-V concept to execute its vision. The designers at Delft say the new configuration will enhance the airliner’s lift and significantly reduce drag. As one online observer put it: “This gives middle seat a whole new meaning.”

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This thief needed a bigger car

A doorbell camera recently caught an unprepared thief pull up to a Miami home and try to steal a rather large package that had been left at the home’s front door. He struggled to stuff the very big box into the back seat of his compact car. It didn’t fit, giving the home owner time to challenge the burglar who wasted no time to drive off empty handed.

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A very high-rise sand castle

It took international teamwork to build this high-rise sand castle on a beach in Northern Germany. The castle is so big that the experts at Guinness are calling it the world’s tallest. It stands 54.72 feet high and it took “builders” from five European countries, using more than 11 tons of sand, to complete the construction.

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How to reconcile the problem of chronic pain and opioid addiction

With about 2 million Americans suffering from opioid addiction, the nation’s healthcare system has tried to perform an extraordinary balancing act – help patients who suffer from chronic pain while also aggressively combating the opioid epidemic.

Part of the problem is too few patients and physicians consider options other than medication and surgery when it comes to dealing with chronic pain, says Dr. Bradford Butler, author of The Blueprint for Back Pain Relief: The Essential Guide to Nonsurgical Solutions (www.drbradfordbutler.com).

“Not only are drugs and surgery not shown to be effective, but the costs related to them are staggering,” Butler says. “Opioids block the symptoms, but not the causes of pain. They fail to address the underlying issues that cause so many people to suffer so much.”

Here’s just one example of a mistake that contributes to the problem: People who suffer from excruciating back pain in many cases don’t visit a chiropractor, who specializes in back-pain relief and nonsurgical solutions, Butler says. Instead, the patients make an appointment with their primary care physician.

“In the primary care world, doctors are simply trained to analyze and then treat symptoms,” he says. “Therefore, it should come as no surprise when they do what they are supposed to do for pain, which is give you a drug.”

The result, he says, is that too many patients face a false choice about how to handle their chronic pain, and that has led to an epidemic of abuse and addiction.

A few years ago, as America’s opioid crisis continued to rage out of control, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stepped in with pain-medication guidelines aimed at scaling back the over prescription of the drugs.

That created its own unwelcome situation.

The prescription pendulum swung too far the other way, leaving some patients suffering unnecessarily. So, the CDC recently issued a clarification to the guidelines, saying that doctors shouldn’t just stop a patient’s prescription cold turkey or switch to a lower dosage when a higher dosage is needed.

To Butler, the trouble is that drugs should not have become the first line of defense against chronic pain to begin with. He says anyone who is suffering and seeking medical attention for their pain should consider these points:

Education is the key. “You are responsible for your choices, not your doctor,” Butler says. “Question how the treatment plans he or she recommends will help you and how it will correct what’s causing the pain, not merely mask it.”

Time is of the essence. Butler says wasted time allows for conditions to get worse and makes it harder to employ treatments that really do work. “All that wasted time pursuing ineffective treatments could have instead been used to heal.”

Physical problems aren’t the only worry. The psychological costs of pain are immense, Butler says. Left untreated, chronic pain can lead to emotional issues, including depression. “In fact, many depression patients may be misdiagnosed,” Butler says. “It might be the psychological effect of chronic pain that was left untreated.”

“Your body can reach a point where so much damage has been done over time that drugs really do become the only answer,” Butler says. “And that is not a good answer.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Couple with Age Difference Planning Benefits

Dear Rusty: I am nearing my full retirement age of 66 and given the differences in age of my wife and I, and the retirement benefits we will each receive; I was wondering what the best options are for us claiming SS and when. I am 65 and will turn 66 (my full retirement age) in September and my benefit then will be $2347/month as per the latest estimate on the SSA website. My Wife is currently 58 years old. Her full retirement age is 67, which will be in January 2028. Her estimated SS benefit at full retirement age will be $2498/month. I have read some things regarding being able to defer one of the benefit payments and receive the other (higher) amount based on certain criteria. I’m not sure if it would apply or be of benefit to us but was wondering if it would. I am looking for the best options to receive the most in benefits that would apply to us. Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning: I think you’re referring to the “restricted application” which can be used to collect spousal benefits while allowing your own to grow, but I’m afraid that is not something you can take advantage of. It’s an option not available to your wife because her birth year is after the cutoff imposed for that option by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, and it’s not available to you because your wife isn’t yet eligible to collect Social Security on her own work record.

You have the option to take your full benefits in September at your full retirement age (FRA) or, if it’s financially feasible, you may also choose to delay past your FRA to claim. If you delay past your FRA you’ll earn Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) of 2/3rds of 1% per month of delay (8% per year of delay) up until age 70 when your benefit would be 32% more than it will be in September. Whether that’s a good choice for you depends upon how badly you need the money right now, and your health and expected longevity. If you enjoy at least average longevity (mid-80s) then you’ll get the most in cumulative lifetime benefits by waiting until age 70 to claim.

Your wife cannot collect Social Security benefits until she reaches age 62 in 2023. If she claims at that time she’ll be automatically deemed to be filing for both her own SS retirement benefit and any spousal benefit she might be due from your record. However, given the benefit estimates you’ve shared she’ll not be eligible for a spousal benefit from you (nor will you be eligible for benefits from her). Spousal benefits are only paid if 50% of the higher earner’s benefit at FRA is more than the lower earner’s FRA benefit amount. Since neither of you will be eligible for a spousal benefit, your wife should also consider delaying past her full retirement age if her personal and financial circumstances at the time permit. To do so, she will gain 24% more benefit at age 70 than she would get at her full retirement age of 67.

So, for both of you to achieve the most you can get, the longer you both delay past your respective full retirement ages the more your benefit will be, up to age 70 when the maximum is reached. Since your wife won’t reach her FRA until January 2028 but will be eligible to apply for benefits in 2023, be aware that if she applies before her FRA her benefit will be reduced (according to the number of months before her FRA that she applies), and that if she starts her benefits before her FRA and continues to work, she’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit. The earnings limit changes annually, so I can’t tell you what it will be in 2023, but it will be more than the 2019 limit of $17,640.

Cheese rolling, as sport

These downhill racers have no need for snow. After all, Gloucester, England is not known as a destination for Alpine skiers. But, Gloucester is well known for its annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling Competition. Participants from localities nearby and throughout the U.K. have been rolling cheese wheels down the hill’s 45 degree slope for centuries. In recent years, however, the race -- complete with tumblers rolling trippingly downhill -- has attracted competitors from all over the world. This year, it was rough rolling for a goodly number of them, much to the delight of thousands of spectators. The winner of this year’s cheesy race was 21-year-old Mark Kit from Toronto, Canada who says he’s been fascinated by the event since he first saw videos of the cheese rollers when he was a kid.

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Albino panda makes headlines

Pandas are an endangered species. With fewer than 2,000 of them known to be living in the wild in the mountains of China, they are at risk of extinction. These lovable black-and-white mammals are, in fact, a very rare species of bear. Even rarer are albino pandas. In fact, there has been no photographic evidence of the existence of an albino panda until now when a fully white giant panda was caught by an infrared camera in the Wolong National Nature Reserve in southwestern China.

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Let the competition begin

The Japanese may be known for their prowess in the Martial Arts and the sport of Sumo Wrestling, but perhaps they may soon gain fame for their skill as pillow fighters. A qualifying event was held recently in the country’s Shizuoka Prefecture for the All-Japan Pillow Fighting Championships. The first pillow fight competition was held in 2013 by a group of high school students and since then it has become one of the nation’s oddest “sporting” events.

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Names & the brain

Infants as young as 6 months old can typically recognize and respond to their own names. It’s an important skill for language development and social growth, one that children with autism spectrum disorder often struggle with. A team from the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wanted to understand what brain activity looks like when typically developing preschoolers and preschoolers with autism hear their name. As it turns out, children in both groups show a preference for their own name and exhibit neural patterns akin to those observed in adult brains experiencing similar stimuli. What’s more, this observation holds regardless of whether the child’s mother or a stranger is calling the name. “We want to get these results out there and get research going on this topic,” said researcher Leah Wang. “Our study is a really nice first step.”

Destructive pest

The spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect introduced to the United States in 2014, is poised to wreak havoc on farms, wineries, and forests. Lanternflies feed on a wide variety of tree species but have a particular affinity for ailanthus trees, also known as the “tree of heaven.” A researcher at the University of Pennsylvania is working to understand what other tree species are particularly attractive to these bugs as a way of helping property owners and land managers devise strategies to control the rapidly spreading pest. Working in The Woodlands, a historic cemetery in Philadelphia, graduate student Benjamin Rohr is trapping lanternflies on both ailanthus and other tree species to discern the lanternflies’ preferences, and to evaluate the effect of Department of Agriculture treatment aimed at reducing populations of the exotic insects.

Diversity training

Does diversity training work? New research from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania included a field experiment that measured actual behaviors rather than how people say they feel or what they say their attitudes are right after completing the training. The study was based on responses from 3,000 employees of a global company who work in 63 countries. Regarding gender bias, the study showed that women in the U.S. responded by seeking out more mentorship. “We expected actually the effect would be for everyone to try to help women more, instead it was women trying to help themselves,” said Katherine Milkman.

Climate change & banks

The heads of two major European central banks issued an open letter warning that climate change poses a significant financial risk to the global economy. The letter, co-signed by a group of 34 central banks, emphasizes that the economic effects of climate change are already being felt globally. Given that central banks are responsible for financial stability, there is a newfound focus on the issue. Severe financial disruption—including a new financial crisis—could be part of that mix, said Eric Orts of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

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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

Nearly five years after President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in Dallas, TX, his brother, Robert Francis Kennedy, was shot and killed on June 5th in Los Angeles, CA. Robert Kennedy, a former U.S. Attorney General, was serving as the junior senator from New York, and seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidency. The shooting took place after the celebration of his victory in the California presidential primary at LA’s Hotel Ambassador. His assailant, Sirhan Sirhan, was immediately arrested, convicted, and given the death sentence—which was reduced to life imprisonment.

In 1870, voting rights were granted to African Americans by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. Two years later, on June 6, 1872, a group of pioneering women’s rights activists, led by Susan B. Anthony, voted illegally in a Rochester, NY election. She was arrested and fined $100. It was reported that Anthony made this statement: “Friends and fellow citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.” It took 48 years and 14 years after her 1906 death for the 19th Amendment to pass, so that women could vote.

Until June 13, 1966, the police were not required to inform an arrested citizen about his rights. But, all of that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda vs. Arizona that everyone—including the accused—has the right to remain silent, or to refuse making a statement without the presence of an attorney. It was a landmark case, which deserves the attention of every American.

The calendar will tell you that the U.S. celebrates Flag Day on June 14th but many people do not know why. The reason: on that day in 1777, John Adams, who later became America’s second president, introduced a resolution in Congress that stated, in part, “the flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen starts, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.

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Don’t be like Cardi B and rush back; 5 tips for healing from plastic surgery

Healing time from plastic surgery varies, depending on the patient and type of procedure. But surgeons agree that following post-op instructions is key, and failing to do so can extend and complicate the recovery period.

Rapper Cardi B is proof of that; she cancelled three upcoming concerts because, according to her publicist, she was “overzealous in getting back to work and didn’t take the necessary time to fully recover” after plastic surgery.

“It can take several months to fully heal, but patients often minimize this fact and try to resume activities too quickly,” says Dr. Dennis Schimpf (www.sweetgrassplasticsurgery.com), founder of Sweetgrass Plastic Surgery and author of Finding Beauty: Think, See and Feel Beautiful. “It’s important to be patient and allow the healing process to occur.

“Most cosmetic plastic surgery procedures cause significant swelling, edema, and inflammation in response to the moving or tightening of tissue or the placing of implants. Thus there can be long periods of post-operative healing requiring resolution of symptoms. But while the patient’s age, health and type of procedure are factors in the healing time, the post-op care and the patient’s part in it is equally important.”

Schimpf recommends following these post-op instructions:

Use ice, not heat, for swelling. Heating pads or hot compresses should be avoided until the plastic surgeon gives the “all clear” to use them. “An ice pack applied to the area for short intervals can help reduce the inflammation,” Schimpf says, “but care should be taken when using ice packs. Since the area is numb following surgery, it can be difficult to feel the cold, and too much cold applied too close to the skin can actually cause injury. Use a towel or other material to protect the skin, and apply the ice pack for only limited periods.”

Take care with sutures. “Occasionally, small openings may appear along an incision site, and these require additional attention such as washing with soap and water, applying an antibiotic cream, or more frequent redressing,” Schimpf says.

Elevate — it’s key with some procedures. “Sleeping propped up against a pillow to elevate your face after a facelift is extremely important,” Schimpf says. “Elevation helps dramatically to reduce swelling and discomfort, especially when dealing with extremities.”

Be active, but not too soon. “In short,” Schimpf says, “if any activity causes significant pain, don’t do it. Moderate walking is encouraged, but strenuous activity or heavy lifting should be avoided following a procedure.”

Manage your wound dressing. All dressings should be removed before taking a shower. “Use soap and water in the shower, but don’t scrub the wound,” Schimpf says. “Pat the area dry, don’t rub it dry, after getting out of the shower, then replace the dressing.”

“While there are some issues that should be addressed with your surgeon — significant swelling, drainage, pain, or redness at the surgical site — the bottom line is that healing after most procedures is just going to take time,” Schimpf says. “Trust the process. And the better you understand the process as explained by your surgeon before the procedure, the less anxiety — and hopefully, the more patience — you will have during recovery.”

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Is work draining? How to cut distractions and boost energy

Have you ever left your office feeling drained from an 8-hour workday — but also frustrated because you got little accomplished?

Join the crowd. Many Americans struggle to get things done at work; over half spend less than one-fourth of their time in the office on priority, deadline-driven assignments.

The day gets away from us for a variety of reasons, studies show – everything from emails to meetings, project or customer issues, social media use, conversations and conflicts with co-workers.

It’s important to know what those time and energy drains are that lower productivity and to implement a strategy to minimize distractions and maximize work time, says Cynthia Howard, an executive coach and performance expert.

“There is a vicious cycle of distractions that fill the typical workday and interfere with getting the job done,” says Howard (www.eileadership.org), author of The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room. “People need to learn to focus in ways that get beyond the distractions and stress. It calls for resilient thinking.”

Howard offers four common workplace energy drains and solutions for them:

Shortage of time. ”Constant interruptions and the inability to concentrate compel many people to spend their energy and internal resources on the most urgent issues that show up,” Howard says. “This leaves the most important work sidelined. So you need a time strategy to manage interruptions. The best way is sticking with an operational plan that makes clear the time involved to do your job correctly or, if you’re a leader, a plan that details your team’s tasks and how time-sensitive those are. The less-important interruptions won’t be allowed to get in the way.”

Lack of priorities. Having too much work to do can make it difficult to establish priorities and easy to get sidetracked by everyone else’s issues. The solution, Howard says, begins with having clarity of your long-term goals and letting the priority list flow from there. “Visualize your work,” Howard says. “Use whiteboards to show the workflow. Also, limit your work in progress. Spreading yourself too thin results in errors and burn-out.”

Status quo. “Most organizations have their sacred cows — the untouchable subjects, protocols, or people who continue to operate within the system without any scrutiny,” Howard says. “This conditioning creates a mental default mode and change is resisted.” But you can get beyond the status quo and the resistance, she says, by asking yourself and/or your team three questions: 1) What if we … ? 2) What would it take …? 3) How can we …?

Office politics – i.e., drama. “Drama drains energy faster than anything else,” Howard says. “It’s what most people in the workplace complain about. Progress toward solutions starts with your own drama self-check. Ask yourself these questions: Do you compromise to avoid conflict and feel resentful? Do you use intimidation to get your way? Are you impatient when things don’t go your way? Do you take feedback as a personal attack? Do you feel your opinions don’t matter? Then what will you do differently to extricate yourself from drama, or to develop boundaries with those who engage in it?”

“Work has become a major stressor for people,” Howard says. “Making progress is a major motivator for most, but chronic distraction dulls momentum and demands a new approach for one to move forward.”

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Ask yourself 3 questions to help find a financial advisor you can trust

When it comes to financial planning, most Americans take a do-it-yourself approach.

In fact, various surveys and studies over the years have shown that anywhere from 60 to 70 percent or more don’t have a financial advisor.

But does that mean the remaining minority who do hire someone are more confident about what the future holds for them financially?

Maybe. But maybe not.

Most of those people say they don’t completely trust that their advisor is always acting in their best interests, according to a poll by the American Association of Individual Investors.

That distrust could even be part of the reason some people decide to forgo using an advisor at all.

“People see headlines about shady practices that exist in the financial word, and as a result they become leery of working with any financial advisor because they no longer know who to trust,” says Chris Hobart (www.hobartfinancialgroup.com), a financial professional and financial commentator.

It was the shady practices of one such advisor that put Hobart on the path to a career in financial services. His grandmother placed her trust in an advisor who “advised her right out of her life savings,” he says.

“I think it’s important for those of us in the industry to demand more of ourselves, because investors deserve more from us,” he says. “We must call out questionable practices when we see them.”

But what can the average person do to improve the odds that they are working with an advisor they can trust? Hobart suggests a few questions to ask yourself about the person you rely on to handle your finances:

Is your advisor honest when discussing how they are paid? Financial professionals are paid in a number of ways, but the financial industry hasn’t always been forthcoming about compensation, Hobart says. Some are paid on commission. Some charge fees. Some work based on a combination of commissions and fees. It’s important to know just what you are paying for the services. “Clients often are hesitant to ask how their advisors make money,” he says. “Don’t be. A trustworthy advisor will have an honest, open conversation with you about this.”

Does your advisor encourage questions? “Any good relationship is built on open, two-way communication,” Hobart says. “It’s your money. You deserve to know exactly how it’s being invested and why.” But a good advisor will do more than answer your questions, he says. They will also proactively provide information to your about your accounts, whether you ask or not.

Does your advisor know you? Everyone is different, with their own goals and dreams about the future. “The right financial plan for you isn’t the right plan for anyone else,” Hobart says. “Your advisor should offer personalized financial planning that fits your life, not cookie cutter advice that’s the same for everyone.”

“Now, more than ever, investors are demanding honesty from not only individual advisors but also larger financial institutions,” Hobart says. “There is no longer space within the industry for financial professionals who are motivated only by their own financial gains.”

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10 tips for safer generator usage this summer: Follow manufacturer’s instructions and ensure proper ventilation, says OPEI

Generators are critical during severe weather events, when the power can go out. They can bring power to remote job sites, aid in disaster recovery and assist homeowners in emergencies. During hurricane season, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), an international trade association representing power equipment, small engine, utility vehicle, golf car and personal transport vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, reminds home and business owners to keep safety in mind when using generators.

“Not having power when you need it is frustrating, so a generator can provide emergency backup power at a reasonable cost,” says Kris Kiser, President and CEO of OPEI. “It’s important to follow all manufacturer’s instructions, and never place a generator in your garage or inside your home or building. It should be a safe distance from the structure and not near an air intake.”

Additional tips include:

#1 - Take stock of your generator. Make sure equipment is in good working order before starting and using it. Do this before a storm hits.

#2 – Review the directions. Follow all manufacturer’s instructions. Review the owner’s manuals (look manuals up online if you cannot find them) so equipment is operated safely.

#3 - Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home. This alarm will sound if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide enter the building.

#4 - Have the right fuel on hand. Use the type of fuel recommended by the generator manufacturer to protect this important investment. It is illegal to use any fuel with more than 10% ethanol in outdoor power equipment. (For more information on proper fueling for outdoor power equipment visit www.LookBeforeYouPump.com). It’s best to use fresh fuel, but if you are using fuel that has been sitting in a gas can for more than 30 days, add fuel stabilizer to it. Store gas only in an approved container and away from heat sources.

#5 - Ensure portable generators have plenty of ventilation. Generators should NEVER be used in an enclosed area or placed inside a home, a building, or a garage, even if the windows or doors are open. Place the generator outside and away from windows, doors, and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to drift indoors.

#6 - Keep the generator dry. Do not use a generator in wet conditions. Cover and vent a generator. Model-specific tents or generator covers can be found online for purchase and at home centers and hardware stores.

#7 - Only add fuel to a cool generator. Before refueling, turn the generator off and let it cool down.

#8 -Plug in safely. If you don’t yet have a transfer switch, you can use the outlets on the generator. It’s best to plug in appliances directly to the generator. If you must use an extension cord, it should be heavy-duty and designed for outdoor use. It should be rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads. Make sure the cord is free of cuts, and the plug has all three prongs.

#9 - Install a transfer switch. A transfer switch connects the generator to the circuit panel and lets you power hardwired appliances. Most transfer switches also help avoid overload by displaying wattage usage levels.

#10 - Do not use the generator to “backfeed” power into your home electrical system. Trying to power your home’s electrical wiring by “backfeeding” – where you plug the generator into a wall outlet – is dangerous. You could hurt utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer. Backfeeding bypasses built-in circuit protection devices, so you could damage your electronics or start an electrical fire.

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8 tips to save on summer bills

PHOENIX – Summer is synonymous with fun in the sun, road tripping and unwinding by the pool. But climbing temperatures also mean higher electric bills – and increased strain on the monthly budget.

“Increased energy use during the summer can cause utility costs to skyrocket, deflating your plans to have fun or relax,” says Michael Sullivan, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency. “With a few simple changes to your routine, you can keep summer costs and stress to a minimum.”

Sullivan offers eight tips to reduce utility costs during the summer months:

Keep up with regular HVAC maintenance. Change the filter in your air conditioner once a month and have it inspected annually to identify any wear and tear that could cause performance issues.

Adjust your thermostat to meet your needs. When no one is home, consider setting temperatures 7-10 degrees higher. When you are home, set the thermostat at 78-80 degrees to keep comfortable.

Close up during the day. Add extra insulation against the heat by closing blinds through the day. On cool nights, open up windows to let in the breeze.

Consider running large appliances in the evening. Large appliances put off heat. Running them at night allows your air conditioner to work more efficiently during the day. Some energy companies provide lower rates for off-peak hours, providing guidelines to help you reduce your energy bill.

Wash your laundry in cold water and always wash full loads. According to General Electric, between 75 and 90% of your washer’s energy use goes to heating water. Reducing the number of loads you wash – and washing them in cold water – can make a major impact on your monthly bill.

Keep oven use to a minimum. Meal prepping and no-cook meals save time, require less energy usage throughout the week and keep your home cooler. You can also grill and cook outside while the weather is nice.

Set your water heater to 120 degrees. The default setting on most water heaters is 140 degrees. Turning your heater down 20 degrees is still plenty hot, and it can save 6-10% per year in energy costs according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s also smart to insulate your water heater to prevent heat loss and lower energy use.

Seal doors, windows and other openings. Replace damaged or missing weather stripping around doors and windows. Add insulation anywhere your home could be losing energy, such as openings around pipes. This keeps hot air from entering and improves air conditioner efficiency.

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Money tip for students: Forbearances may help student loan borrowers

Borrowers having trouble making their student loan payments may be able to take advantage of a loan forbearance program, according to KHEAA.

Forbearances allow people to stop making payments or make smaller payments for a period of time. A forbearance can be general or mandatory.

A general forbearance might be granted if a borrower is having financial problems or has to pay high medical bills. A mandatory forbearance would be granted if a borrower who belongs to the National Guard or Reserves is called to active duty.

Borrowers must request a forbearance from their loan servicer. The servicer can decide whether to grant a general forbearance. If a borrower meets the criteria for a mandatory forbearance, the servicer must approve it.

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 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To learn more about those services, visit www.kheaa.com.

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Have too many bad habits? Here are 6 ways to create good ones

It’s said that we become our habits. In some cases that is not a good thing; bad habits prevail among many Americans. One report found that over 70 percent of US adults have at least one unhealthy behavior associated with chronic health problems.

Breaking bad habits isn’t easy, but sometimes the best answer is replacing them with empowering new habits that bring positive changes to one’s daily life.

“We often have habits that hold us back, like smoking or eating food lacking in nutrition,” says Dr. Rob Carter III, co-author with his wife, Dr. Kirti Salwe Carter, of The Morning Mind: Use Your Brain to Master Your Day and Supercharge Your Life(www.themorningmind.com).

“A great way to start every day is with a series of empowering habits. Morning, in fact, according to some researchers is the best time to start making these kinds of changes in your life.”

Carter has six ways you can create new, empowering habits and make them stick:

Prioritize habits. “For each area in which you want to grow,” Carter says, “take some time to think about what kind of empowering habits you’d like to establish around that topic.” Areas to consider are health, wealth, social, relationships, job, hobbies, self-esteem, interpersonal skills, positive thinking, time management, and life purpose.

Focus on one at a time. “Because we have a limited amount of willpower in the morning, it’s very important how we use that energy,” Carter says. “By focusing on just one habit you would like to change – for example, eating a healthy breakfast – you can concentrate that willpower on the task at hand until it becomes a habit.”

Be reasonable with yourself. The time it will take to establish the new habit depends upon how much resistance a person has. And sometimes developing a new habit represents a long leap from where one currently stands. “That’s too daunting,” Carter says, “so break it down into more achievable steps. Incremental improvements add up to a big transformation and are often more powerful and sustainable.”

Commit specific time toward the goal. Carter suggests nailing down a detailed timeline and committing a full effort toward formation of the new habit within that time span. “Write down what you hope to achieve, how many times a week you will practice the new habit, and when and where you’ll do it,” Carter says. “Having a specific goal helps keep you accountable to yourself.

Reward success. Have a reward in place to celebrate performing your new habit. “It has to be something that will motivate you to complete your habit,” Carter says.

Stack habits. “The neural pathways of your pre-existing habits are well-travelled routes in your brain,” Carter says. “You can take advantage of this by building a new habit and associating it with an old one that is well-established. This is a quicker way to create new habits than if you were to start from scratch. For example, if you want to create a new habit of exercising in the morning, and you have a habit of reading the newspaper every morning, tie these activities together by exercising immediately before you read the paper. Reading the paper becomes your reward.”

“When you learn for yourself how simple it is to change habits,” Carter says, “you’ll want to make adjustments to all areas of your life.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Computing Benefits When “WEP” Applies

Dear Rusty: My wife is subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and I’m trying to calculate what her monthly Social Security payment might be. The circular provided by SS says that her earnings will be calculated by multiplying the first $895 of her average monthly earnings by 90%. According to the circular, since she doesn’t have 30 or more years of substantial earnings the 90% will be reduced to 40%. My question is this: How many months do they use to divide into the total earnings to determine the average monthly earnings? If I use the number of total working years, her monthly average is very low and getting lower the longer she works. For example, she has been working since 1973 (46 years/552 months). However, she only paid SS taxes in 20 of those years (240 months). She turned 62 last November, so if she waits to draw SS until her full retirement age she will add another 56 months to the average calculation and reduce her benefit accordingly. I can’t determine when it’s better for her to apply unless I know how many months they will factor into the calculation. Signed: Confused

Dear Confused: First, I need to clarify for you the basics of how SS benefits are determined (before the WEP computation). Social Security will look at your wife’s entire lifetime record of SS-covered earnings, adjust each year’s earnings for inflation, and find the 35 years in which she had the highest earnings. If she doesn’t have a full 35 years of SS-covered earnings, they’ll put zeros in to bring the number of years to 35. They’ll then total her earnings for those 35 years and divide by 420 (the number of months in 35 years) to arrive at her “average indexed monthly earnings” (AIME).

The WEP computation is done using her AIME. To arrive at the SS benefit amount, her AIME is divided into 3 parts, and a different percentage of each part contributes to her “primary insurance amount,” or “PIA” - the amount due at full retirement age. Normally, the first of the 3 parts is 90% of $895 (for her eligibility year, which was last year). But when WEP applies, a different percentage is used for the first calculation. If she has 20 or fewer years of SS-covered significant earnings, the first part is multiplied by 40% instead of 90%. If she has more than 20 years of SS-covered significant earnings, the multiplier will increase by 5% for each additional year, up to 30 years of SS covered significant earnings when WEP no longer applies. So, for example, if she has 24 years of SS-covered significant earnings then the WEP multiplier would be 55% instead of 40%, thus increasing her WEP-PIA and lessening the amount of her WEP reduction.

For each year your wife now works and has significant SS earnings, one of those zero years in the 35-year computation will be eliminated, thus increasing her “AIME” and “PIA” (as described above). If your wife now has 20 years of SS-covered earnings, then each additional year she now works in SS-covered employment will add 5% to the multiplier used when doing the WEP computation (thus reducing the WEP effect and increasing her net SS benefit amount). If your wife claims before her full retirement age (FRA), her WEP-reduced benefit amount will be further reduced because she is claiming benefits early. WEP reduces her PIA, which is her FRA benefit amount; claiming earlier than her full retirement age further reduces her benefit amount.

So, to your specific question, the number of months they factor into the benefit calculation is always 420 (35 years times 12). If she doesn’t have earnings in all 35 of those years working now will improve, not decrease, your wife’s Social Security benefit.

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It’s travel season! Tips for pet parents who want to road trip with their furry kids

Plan ahead. There are probably a few pet-friendly restaurant patios, hotels and even shops along your route, but they aren’t always easy to find. Sometimes you must call a business to find out if pets are allowed, and if so, if there are any size restrictions or fees associated with including them.

Ask for special pet treats. Some restaurants cater to pets on-the-go with treats like “pupuccinos,” plain hamburger patties and more. Just ask, you might be surprised by what’s out there! (Pro tip: be cautious with sensitive tummies and skip the treats if your dog is prone to car sickness!)

Pack some familiar dog items. Make your dog feel at home away from home by packing his favorite dog bed, blanket, chew bone, food/water bowls and toys.

Plan pet breaks. Remember, your pets need breaks from the car, too. Find a dog park along your route where your pet can play or take a walk around a public park during your pit stop to make long car rides more bearable. (Pro tip: keep the clean-up bags handy!)

Spend time in living landscapes with your pet. Pets benefit from time outside, just like people! Getting your pet out of the car for a run, a walk, or a leg stretch in green space can really help keep spirits high.

Keep their meal schedule consistent. Even on the road, you’ll want to keep your pet’s feeding schedule consistent. That means packing a bag that’s easily accessible with food, water and bowls.

Pack paper towels & stain remover. Even the best-planned trips can have issues! Always travel with clean-up supplies in an easy-to-reach spot just in case.

Be respectful. Most hotels and restaurants have very specific rules about allowing pets, like not leaving them alone in the hotel room.

Know and follow these rules to ensure a smooth trip. For more information about our living landscapes, go to www.SaveLivingLandscapes.com.

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A heavenly libation

The blessed beer brewers of Belgium will begin brew beer after a 224 year hiatus. The monks at a monastery in the town of Grimbergen north of Brussels had been brewing beer since the 13th Century. French troops raided the abbey and put them out of business in 1795. Father Karel Stautemas told Reuters, “For us, it’s important to look to the heritage, to the tradition of the fathers for brewing beer because it was always here.” The news agency explained that: “Grimbergen’s monks will follow the rules of Belgium’s Trappist beer makers, even if they are not a Trappist order, requiring them to brew within the abbey walls, control the brewing and steer profits toward maintaining the abbey and supporting charitable causes.”

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“In there stepped a stately Raven,” as Poe put it

They are breathing a sigh of relief in Great Britain. Four raven chicks were born recently in the 1,000 year old Tower of London, the first in some three decades. The lack of newborn raven chicks over such a long period of time raised the specter, in some circles, that the Tower and the Kingdom would be doomed. Ravenmaster Christopher Skaife told reporters the black birds would secure the future. “After all, legend tells us that should the ravens leave the Tower of London it will crumble into dust and a great harm will befall the kingdom.”

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These thieves really cleaned up

It must have been pretty scary when Nate Roman and his five-year-old son returned to their Marlborough, MA home recently.They found the back door wide open. It was pretty obvious that someone had broken in while they were away and, indeed, it was a clear-cut case of breaking and entering, which the police are taking seriously despite the fact that nothing had been taken. In fact, not only was there no damage or loss from this particular home invasion, whoever the culprit was, he or she or them must have had only the best intentions. It seems they cleaned the Roman home. In Nate’s own words: "You could smell the cleaning chemicals. I could tell something was wrong so I started looking around the house, and I found that my bathrooms had been cleaned." The only clue the police found when they searched the property was an origami rose fashioned out of toilet paper.

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Political echo chambers

After the 2016 presidential election, a flurry of news coverage focused on the idea that social media echo chambers led to political polarization and amplified existing biases. But new research from Damon Centola at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and Joshua Becker, a postdoctoral student at Northwestern University, found that social bubbles actually aren’t bad. In fact, collective intelligence—peer learning within social networks—can increase belief accuracy, even in politically homogenous groups. “Remarkably,” Centola said, “our new findings show that properly designed social media networks can even lead to improved understanding of contentious topics.”

Threats to plants & animals

A million plant and animal species face imminent extinction due to human activity, according to a report from the United Nations. Despite the dire news, experts at the University of Pennsylvania say there are simple steps nearly anyone can take to stem the threat of mass extinction and biodiversity loss. Julie Ellis, a researcher in the Penn School of Veterinary Medicine, recommends planting native species, decreasing plastic consumption, and voting. Dan Garofalo, director of Penn Sustainability, suggests reducing your travel footprint and paying attention to the foods you eat. “There’s no silver bullet, and there’s no secret lever that will protect ecosystems from our collective impact,” he said, “but there are actions that we can take.”

Unknown virus

Most viruses are discovered because they cause a new disease, but researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine have identified a previously unknown viral family, which turns out to be the second-most common DNA virus in human lung and mouth specimens. Frederic D. Bushman and Ronald G. Collman led the team that uncovered the new virus, called Redondoviridae. “New sequencing techniques have helped us uncover a world of new viruses,” says Bushman.

Late-day cancer screenings

Patients who visit their primary care doctor later in the day are less likely to be offered cancer screenings than patients who see their doctor in the morning. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and Wharton School attributes this decline in cancer screening rates to both “decision fatigue,” the cumulative burden of screening discussions made earlier in the day, and doctors falling behind in their busy schedules. “Our findings suggest that future interventions targeting improvements in cancer screening might focus on time of day as an important factor in influencing behaviors,” says lead author Esther Hsiang.

Cognitive enhancers

According to recent surveys, the general public largely views the use of cognitive enhancers, such as Adderall, as an acceptable practice when used by adults in the workplace, but not for students or athletes. Cognitive enhancers are increasingly misused by adolescents and adults—millions use them to boost productivity or alertness, even in light of negative side effects such as dependence and, in some cases, cardiovascular issues. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine found that people were more likely to be accepting of the practice when it’s framed positively, for example using the analogy of “fuel” rather than “steroids.” The study sheds light on the attitudes of the public which may help understand and address the misuse of these medications.

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Expectant mom didn’t expect this

Ask any cop and he or she will tell you that drug tests don’t lie. But, there’s a new mom in upstate New York who will attest to the fact that the results of such tests can get it wrong. Elizabeth Dominguez had a drug test while in labor and was told she tested positive for opiates. Even though she gave birth to a healthy daughter, who tested negative for drugs, she and her baby were separated. Elizabeth’s husband recalled that she had a bagel for breakfast that morning and it was covered with poppy seeds, which are used in many foods, including breads. But, they are also the source of opium. Her baby was finally returned to her, but the frustrated Mrs. Dominguez told one reporter: "All of this could have been so easily prevented. Expectant moms are warned not to eat all kinds of things -- why don't they warn about poppy seeds?"

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Family reunion long time in coming

Ever wonder what good testing your DNA can do? Back in the 1940s when a pregnant woman put her newborn up for adoption, she would not be allowed to see her baby when it was born. And so, 90-year-old Elizabeth Pullen never saw her newborn when she gave the child up for adoption 70 years ago. But fate apparently intervened when Pullen’s granddaughter, Wanda LeBlanc, got a DNA test kit for Christmas from her mom, Lynne Wray, who turned out to be Mrs. Pullen’s long lost daughter. LeBlanc told reporters for the TV show, Inside Edition, that when her mom gave Wanda and her sister the kits she told them: “this is gonna be the gift that keeps on giving.” In fact, it was the key to reuniting a family when they used their DNA test results to discover their heritage.

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Gorillas in the mist

You can’t easily scare a gorilla, but Mother Nature can. The Zookeeper at South Carolina’s Riverbanks Zoo and Garden recently posted a video on Facebook showing a family of gorillas seeking shelter from a rainstorm. The video was captioned “Gorillas are magnificent, majestic creatures full of grace and beauty... except when it rains.” The video has had millions of views.

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Pokémon & the brain

Images of Pikachu and other characters from the original Pokémon video games activate a particular and unique region in the visual cortex, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University. The study, which incorporated 11 Pokémon experts and 11 novices, sheds light on the brain’s organizational structure. “Pokémon nowadays does not look like the original Game Boy graphics, so this was a trip down memory lane, and it yielded some interesting results,” says Penn doctoral student Michael Barnett, one of the study’s co-authors. “Our message isn’t that video games change your brain. Everything changes your brain.”

Uptick in allergies

Bad news for allergy sufferers: climate change may exacerbate your symptoms. Warming temperatures, which extend the growth cycle of plants, causes trees, grasses, and weeds to pollinate earlier and to die back later. New research from the University of Pennsylvania found that pollen loads and durations have been increasing on three continents during the past two decades as average temperatures have increased. Taken together, this means increased exposure to more allergenic plants, said Michael Phillips, director of allergy programs at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and an author on the study. “Some plants don’t grow very well in cold climates,” he said. But as temperatures warm, they can thrive further north. “And since we haven’t been exposed to these plants before,” Phillips said, “they can be potent allergens.”

Circadian rhythms & cancer

Chronic disruptions of circadian rhythms, or internal body clocks, can lead to an increased risk of cancer, but the mechanism of how this occurs is not well understood. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine found that disruptions to circadian rhythms trigger an increase in cell proliferation that stimulates tumor growth in mice. Results also suggest that “chronotherapy,” or timing the delivery of treatment to match circadian rhythms, can make the drugs that inhibit tumor growth more effective.

Cultural health interventions

The rates of non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, are on the rise in South Africa, with many South Africans being overweight or obese due to poor nutrition and lack of physical activity. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication found that participating in a culturally-relevant health intervention program resulted in better eating habits and increased physical activity among youth. “The results of the study are impressive,” says John B. Jemmott III, lead author of the paper. “One six-day intervention creating behavior change that lasts for 4.5 years is quite promising, and I’d like to see additional research to better understand how we can encourage healthy behavior.”

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Sign up for Medicare and estimate Medicare costs

By Phylis Dills

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Affordable medical coverage is something everyone wants, especially as people age. Luckily, our nation has safeguards for workers as they get older. Millions of people rely on Medicare, and it can be part of your health insurance plan when you retire.

Medicare is available for people age 65 or older, as well as younger people who have received Social Security disability benefits for 24 months, and people with certain specific diseases. Two parts of Medicare are Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medicare Insurance). You are eligible for premium-free Part A if you are age 65 or older and you or your spouse worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least 10 years. Part B usually requires a monthly premium payment.

You can apply online for Medicare even if you are not ready to retire. Use our online application to sign up. It takes less than 10 minutes. In most cases, once your application is submitted electronically, you’re done. There are no forms to sign and usually no documentation is required. Social Security will process your application and contact you if we need more information. Otherwise, you’ll receive your Medicare card in the mail.

You can sign up for Medicare at www.socialsecurity.gov/benefits/medicare.

If you don't sign up for Medicare during your initial enrollment window that begins three months before the birthday that you reach age 65 and ends three months after that birthday, you'll face a 10 percent increase in your Part B premiums for every year-long period you're eligible for coverage but don't enroll. You may not have to pay the penalty if you qualify for a special enrollment period (SEP). If you are 65 or older and covered under a group health plan, either from your own or your spouse’s current employment, you may have a special enrollment period during which you can sign up for Medicare Part B. This means that you may delay enrolling in Part B without having to wait for a general enrollment period and without paying the lifetime penalty for late enrollment. Additional rules and limits apply, so if you think a special enrollment period may apply to you, read our Medicare publication at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/, and visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at Medicare.gov for more information.

Health and drug costs not covered by Medicare can have a big impact on how much you spend each year. You can also estimate Medicare costs using an online tool at https://www.medicare.gov/oopc/.

Keeping your healthcare costs down allows you to use your retirement income on other things that you can enjoy. Social Security is here to help you plan a long and happy retirement at www.socialsecurity.gov.

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Self employment and Social Security

By Phylis Dills

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Many people enjoy the independence of owning and operating their own small business. If you’re a small business owner, you know that you have additional financial responsibilities when reporting your taxes. A part of this is paying into Social Security.

Most people who pay into Social Security work for an employer. Their employer deducts Social Security taxes from their paycheck, adds a matching contribution, then sends those taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and reports the wages to Social Security. Self-employed people must do all these actions and pay their taxes directly to the IRS.

You’re self-employed if you operate a trade, business or profession, either by yourself or as a partner. You report your earnings for Social Security when you file your federal income tax return. If your net earnings are $400 or more in a year, you must report your earnings on Schedule SE, in addition to the other tax forms you must file.

You must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain length of time to get Social Security benefits. The amount of time you need to work depends on your date of birth, but no one needs more than 10 years of work (40 credits).

In 2019, if your net earnings are $5,440 or more, you earn the yearly maximum of four credits — one credit for each $1,360 of earnings during the year. If your net earnings are less than $5,440, you still may earn credit by using an optional method described below.

We use all your earnings covered by Social Security to figure your Social Security benefit, so, report all earnings up to the maximum, as required by law.

Family members may operate a business together. For example, spouses may be partners or run a joint venture. If you operate a business together as partners, you should each report your share of the business profits as net earnings on separate self-employment returns (Schedule SE), even if you file a joint income tax return. The partners must decide the amount of net earnings each should report (for example 50 percent and 50 percent).

You can read more about being self-employed and how that affects your Social Security benefits including optional methods of reporting at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10022.pdf.

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Understanding Social Security benefits

By Phylis Dills

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security touches the lives of nearly every American, whether at the birth of a child, the loss of a loved one, the onset of a disability, or the transition from work to retirement. For more than 80 years, our programs have contributed to the financial security of the elderly and the disabled. Social Security replaces a percentage of a worker’s pre-retirement income based on their lifetime earnings. The amount of your average wages that Social Security retirement benefits replaces varies depending on your earnings and when you choose to start benefits. If you start benefits after full retirement age, these percentages are higher. If you start benefits earlier, these percentages are lower. Most financial advisers say you will need about 70 percent of pre-retirement income to live comfortably in retirement, including your Social Security benefits, investments, and personal savings.

You can learn more about retirement benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/benefits/retirement. Our resources and publications are easy to share with people you think might need the information.

Many people think of Social Security as just a retirement program. And it’s true that most of the people receiving benefits are retired, but others receive benefits because they’re:

Individuals with disabilities;

A spouse or child of someone who receives benefits;

A divorced spouse of someone getting or eligible for Social Security;

The spouse or child of a worker who died;

A divorced spouse of a worker who died; or

The dependent parent of a worker who died.

If you can’t work because of a physical or mental condition that’s expected to last at least one year or result in death, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

Our disability rules are different from private or other government agency programs. Qualifying for disability from another agency or program doesn’t mean you will be eligible for disability benefits from us. Having a statement from your doctor saying you’re disabled doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

We’ve made learning about our disability programs very easy at www.socialsecurity.gov/benefits/disability.

Please share these resources with friends and family who might need them.

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Social Security Column

Beware of people pretending to be from Social Security

By Phylis Dills

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security is committed to protecting your personal information. We urge you to always be cautious and to avoid providing sensitive information such as your Social Security number (SSN) or bank account information to unknown people over the phone or internet. If you receive a call and aren’t expecting one, you must be extra careful. You can always get the caller’s information, hang up, and — if you do need more clarification — contact the official phone number of the business or agency that the caller claims to represent. Never reveal personal data to a stranger who called you.

There’s a scam going around right now. You might receive a call from someone claiming to be from Social Security or another agency. Calls can even display 1-800-772-1213, Social Security’s national customer service number, as the incoming number on your caller ID. In some cases, the caller states that Social Security does not have all of your personal information, such as your SSN, on file. Other callers claim Social Security needs additional information so the agency can increase your benefit payment, or that Social Security will terminate your benefits if they do not confirm your information. This appears to be a widespread issue, as reports have come from people across the country. These calls are not from Social Security.

Callers sometimes state that your SSN is at risk of being deactivated or deleted. The caller then asks you to call a phone number to resolve the issue. People should be aware that the scheme’s details may vary; however, you should avoid engaging with the caller or calling the number provided, as the caller might attempt to acquire personal information.

Social Security employees occasionally contact people by telephone for customer-service purposes. In only a very few special situations, such as when you have business pending with us, will a Social Security employee request that the person confirm personal information over the phone.

Social Security employees will never threaten you or promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent, and you should just hang up. If you receive these calls, please report the information to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or online at oig.ssa.gov/report.

You can also share our new “SSA Phone Scam Alert” video at http://bit.ly/2VKJ8SG

Protecting your information is an important part of Social Security’s mission. You work hard and make a conscious effort to save and plan for retirement. Scammers try to stay a step ahead of us, but with an informed public and your help, we can stop these criminals before they cause serious financial damage.

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Social Security’s recent top five blog posts

By Phylis Dills

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security matters to millions of people and that’s why we aptly named our blog Social Security Matters. Over the past several years, more and more people have realized that our blog is a trusted source for information and easy-to-share articles. Here are five recent popular blog posts:

1. Three Common Ways Your Social Security Payment Can Grow After Retirement

You made the choice and now you are happily retired. You filed online for your Social Security benefits. They arrive each month in the correct amount exactly as expected. But, did you ever wonder if your Social Security check could increase? You can see all three ways at blog.ssa.gov/three-common-ways-your-social-security-payment-can-grow-after-retirement.

2. So You’ve Lost Your Social Security Card

Losing important documents is frustrating, especially something as important as your Social Security card. You’ll want to consider whether you really need to get a replacement card. Knowing your number is what’s important, after all. You’ll rarely need the card itself — perhaps only when you get a new job and have to show it to your employer. Learn how to replace your card at blog.ssa.gov/so-youve-lost-your-social-security-card/

3. Is that Phone Call From Us?

It’s the morning of a busy day at home and you get a call from an unknown number. You answer only to find yourself on the receiving end of a threatening message saying your Social Security benefits will stop immediately unless you provide your personal information. It happens every day to thousands of Americans. And it’s not Social Security calling. Read more about this scam at blog.ssa.gov/is-that-phone-call-from-us/

4. Need to Change Your Name on Your Social Security Card?

Are you changing your name? If so, let Social Security know so we can update your information, send you an updated card, and make sure you get the benefits you’ve earned. Updating your card is easy at blog.ssa.gov/need-to-change-your-name-on-your-social-security-card.

5. Spruce Up Your Financial Plan with Social Security

Now that tax season is over, it’s probably a good time to evaluate some financial “best practices” for the rest of the year. A good spring-cleaning can clear out the clutter to let you see a clear path for your future. Social Security is always here to help. Even if you just started working, now is the time to start preparing for retirement. Achieving the dream of a secure, comfortable retirement is much easier with a strong financial plan. Read more at blog.ssa.gov/spruce-up-your-financial-plan-with-social-security.

These aren’t the only topics that might matter to you on Social Security Matters. You can always subscribe and get alerts for new policies, COLA information, and more. Remember, you can easily share these blog posts with friends and family both on social media and via email. Sharing what matters to you can change someone’s life for the better.

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3 tips for helping children embrace their unique selves

Some small children don’t care what anyone thinks about them.

If they want to sing at the top of their lungs, they sing at the top of their lungs. If they want to wear a silly hat, mix-matched socks or gloves on a hot day, they do it – with no regard for how others might judge their eccentricities.

Somewhere along the line, though, most children long to fit in and begin to worry that their differences make them stand out – and not in a good way. So, they try to conform to what they perceive their peers or society expect from them.

“Unfortunately, in the process they begin to hide what makes them unique instead of embracing it,” says Jennifer Lynch, an educator, child advocate and author of the children’s book Livi and Grace (www.jenniferlynchbooks.com).

“They become embarrassed or sad about their differences, maybe feel that people think they are strange, and that other kids won’t like them or won’t play with them. And in truth, other children sometimes will bully a child who is seen as different.”

Lynch has served as an advocate for children in the court system, foster care and treatment facilities. In working with those children, many of whom are abused or neglected, she says, you often have to help them overcome their insecurities about their differences.

“It’s important for them and all children to believe in themselves,” she says. “They need to understand that different is okay. It’s our differences that make us special.”

This message is so universally important, Lynch says, that it became the theme of her children’s book, which is based on her daughters and their distinct personalities.

“My two girls are so unlike one another that it’s almost shocking,” she says. “It made me think back to the children I encounter in the court system who say they dislike or even hate themselves because they feel different from their peers or their siblings.”

Lynch says some of the ways parents or other adults can help children include:

Remind them that differences make people special. While it’s natural for children to long to fit in with their peers, Lynch says, it’s also important for them to understand that their individuality is what makes them unique. “Differences are interesting and life enriching,” she says. “Part of the message is that you should appreciate the diverse traits in everyone you know, and also appreciate what makes you special.”

Talk to them about the ways in which they shine. “Kids like talking about themselves,” Lynch says. “So get them involved in a conversation about what they are good at. Maybe that is sports. Maybe it is writing. Maybe they make good grades or they are a good big brother or friend. Whatever their special talent is, explore it with them so they know that there is something they do well.”

Encourage them to help other kids feel good about themselves. Young people can feel empowered not only by embracing their differences, but also by providing support and being a friend to others who are different.

“When you help a child pick out positive things about themselves,” Lynch says, “they begin to focus on that, not the hurtful things that weigh so heavy on their hearts and minds.”

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House Call

By DR. DANIEL KNIGHT

Chairman of 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. Can walking get you into shape?

A. Brisk walking is a good cardiovascular exercise but offers other benefits for those walking at least 30 minutes daily. Research shows those who walk at least 5.5 miles per week are likely to live longer and walking this much at a slow pace of two miles per hour can lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure by 31%. Those who walked further received more benefits. Women who walk 30 minutes a day may cut their risk of stroke by 20 to 40%.

Increasing the heart rate can make the heart stronger and lower blood pressure. Those wanting to lose weight should walk 45 minutes daily.

Exercise has also been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer because it lowers the estrogen in the bloodstream. Men and women who exercise regularly are at a lower risk of developing colon cancer.

Walking benefits those with arthritis by easing the stress on joints as leg and core muscles strengthen. It also circulates the joint fluid, bringing oxygen and nutrients to joints and cartilage. Walking is good for the bones because it stresses the bones, leading them to become more solid.

Q. My husband has radicular pain in his neck. What is this and what caused it?

A. Radiculopathy, most common in those aged 30 to 50, is the result of a herniated disc. This happens when the outer rim of the disc weakens or tears, causing the nucleus or center to push outward. When the disc herniates backward, to the right or left, it may impinge or “pinch” on the spinal cord or a nerve.

Symptoms may include pain, numbness and loss of muscle strength in the affected area. Cervical or neck radiculopathy causes pain in the lower arm while lumbar or lower spine radiculopathy causes pain in the lower leg.

But not all herniated discs cause impingement. Up to 30% of adults have symptom-free minor herniations in their neck, and 30 to 60% of adults have disc bulges in their lower back but no symptoms.

In most cases, radiculopathy can be diagnosed based on history and a physical exam. Treatment includes physical therapy, pain medications, muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine like aspirin or ibuprofen, epidural blocks, a short course of steroids, and possibly short-term bed rest. Most patients improve without surgery.

Q. Is the loss of bladder control unavoidable as we age?

A. Urinary incontinence – leaking urine that you can’t control – is common and doesn’t just affect older people. About a third of older men and half of all women accidentally leak occasionally and it’s more common after pregnancy, childbirth or menopause. But there are ways to manage it.

Urinary incontinence can be caused by obesity, anxiety, smoking, prostate problems, or nerve damage from diabetes, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. It could also be from consuming too much alcohol or caffeine or from an infection or structural problem, so you should see your doctor to identify the cause.

The size of the bladder isn’t the issue. Instead, the bladder can’t hold the usual amount of urine (about two cups) or has lost the ability to stretch and retain that amount.

Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises that tighten and relax the muscles and release and stop the flow of urine can improve bladder control.

It may help to establish a routine for urinating every two or three hours and work to extend the time in between. Don’t reduce fluid intake, though, as that can lead to overly strong urine, which can irritate the bladder.

Q. I have toenail fungus under the nail, in the nailbed. How is this treated?

A. Toenail fungus impacts nearly 20% of the population. It usually starts in between the end of the nail and the nail bed, where soft yellow material gradually forms. As it develops, the nail becomes thick, yellow and may show white spots and streaks. Untreated, the nail can become fragile or chalky and in severe cases, may crumble.

Toenail fungus can be caused by damage to the nail, tight-fitting shoes, walking barefoot in public areas, or keeping the foot in a warm, moist environment. A family physician, dermatologist, podiatrist can provide treatment, which may include topical medication, removal of the diseased nail, antifungal pills, (which can take three to 12 months to work), or laser treatments.

To prevent toenail fungus from forming, inspect feet and toes regularly, keep feet dry and clean, wash feet daily with soap and water and thoroughly dry them. Change shoes, socks, or hosiery daily, wear properly fitting shoes, use a quality foot powder like talcum instead of cornstarch, and clip toenails straight across so the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe.

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Social Security Matters

By Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Older Father Seeks Benefits for Young Children and Wife

Dear Rusty: I was 62 in February and my 44-year-old wife and I have 3 young daughters ages 5, 7 and 13. My 2019 income via wages will be about $98,000. My wife does not work outside our home. In round numbers my Social Security full retirement benefit is estimated to be about $3,000 per month if I wait until 2023. I understand I am eligible to start receiving reduced benefits at age 62 and I could also collect an additional 50% up to 80% of my full retirement benefit for my young daughters until they graduate from high school. My questions are: What determines where in the range of between and 150% and 180% my extra benefit would be? Would my benefit be reduced because of my income (I know my benefits may be taxed but the question is, will my benefits be reduced)? Finally, is my wife also eligible to receive any benefits because we have 3 young children? Signed: Older Father

Dear Older Father: In your situation the Family Maximum would apply and there is a rather complex formula which Social Security uses to determine that maximum. The computation is based upon your “primary insurance amount” (PIA), which is the amount you are entitled to at your full retirement age (regardless of when you claim). Your PIA is broken into 4 parts, and a percentage of each part is taken as an amount which contributes to your family maximum. The four parts (in 2019) and percentages taken are: 150% of the first $1184 of your PIA; 272% of your PIA amount between $1185 and $1708; 134% of your PIA amount between $1709 and $2228; and 175% of your PIA amount over $2228. Your family maximum will be the sum of those computations. What’s left after your PIA is deducted is equally apportioned among your other eligible beneficiaries. For example, if your estimated 2023 PIA is $3000, using the above formula your family maximum would be about $5245. After subtracting your PIA amount, there would be about $2245 to be apportioned evenly among your 4 eligible dependents ($561 each). But no dependent benefits can be paid until you start collecting your benefits.

Once your benefits start, your wife will be eligible to collect “child in care” spousal benefits, but the amount will be limited by the Family Maximum as described above. You already know that your children can no longer receive benefits when they graduate high school (or turn 19). When a child is no longer receiving benefits, the amount they were receiving is added proportionately to your remaining dependents. When your youngest daughter reaches 16 years of age, your wife can no longer receive child-in-care spousal benefits, but she will be eligible for regular spousal benefits when she turns 62.

Yes, your Social Security benefit will be reduced by your earnings if you claim SS benefits before your full retirement age and your current earnings are over the annual earnings limit. If you claim in 2019, you will not be entitled to benefits for any month you earn more than $1470. After this first year, you’ll be subject to the annual earnings limit (which changes yearly but for 2019 is $17,640) and exceeding that limit will mean that SS will withhold $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. In the year you reach your full retirement age (which is 66 ½), the earnings limit goes up by about 2.5 times ($46,920 for 2019) and the penalty is less ($1 for every $3 over the limit), and once you reach your full retirement age there is no longer an earnings limit. But if you exceed the annual limit, SS will withhold future benefits until they have recovered what is due. But here’s a big red flag: anyone collecting benefits on your record will also be “contingently liable” for any overpayment made to you, so their benefits will be withheld as well until Social Security recovers any overpayment as a result of you exceeding the earnings limit.

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How a hybrid model can help retailers survive the online-shopping trend

With shoppers finding much of what they want online, the future of the brick-and-mortar store can seem bleak.

Such major retailers as J.C. Penney, Lowe’s, Gap and Family Dollar, among many others, have announced plans to close at least some stores across the United States this year.

Is it possible, though, that an answer for what’s troubling retailers these days could be a hybrid model that marries digital with an in-store experience?

Already some are trying such an approach, as when Amazon opened a Black Friday pop-up store in Madrid where customers could browse, scan the QR code to learn more about any item that drew their interest, and instantly make a purchase online.

“This no-pressure concept is becoming increasingly popular as today’s customer strongly rejects any hard-sell tactics,” says J.J. Delgado (www.jjdelgado.xyz), a former Amazon marketing manager in Europe who led the largest sales day in the company’s history.

“Instead, they favor an environment that allows them to make their own choices based on all the information that is available to them.”

Retailers have been facing a sea change in their customers’ shopping habits for some time now. A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that some stores are handling the problem by cutting the number of employees and reducing the amount of training they give employees. But the three Wharton School of Business professors who wrote the article conclude that approach is counterproductive.

In Delgado’s view, retailers can’t waste time lamenting what was. They need to adapt to what is.

“The future of shopping is not in decline, it is evolving,” he says.

Delgado offers a few suggestions on how a hybrid of digital with brick-and-mortar can work for retailers determined to survive in the digital marketplace:

The customer must experience something they can’t online. Shopping has become a multi-sensorial experience that goes much further than a mere retail transaction, Delgado says. It is about replacing the traditional shopping experience and putting the customer at the center of the whole retail process. “The customer wants authenticity and something of real value, not just monetary value but emotional value,” he says.

Store staff must provide the human connection not available online. “That human connection is the store’s trump card and they must play it right,” Delgado says. “Maximizing that connection and combining it with online connectivity is fundamental to creating the ideal hybrid experience.”

Companies must seek innovative ways to manage their new reality. The changing retail landscape is paving the way for deals between manufacturers, retailers and delivery companies to create ‘mashups’ that allow them to combine their strengths and combat their weaknesses, Delgado says.

“Amazon is the main player in this game, as we have seen with their acquisition of Whole Foods Market,” he says, “but many others are following suit.”

One example is the clothing chain Zara. The chain’s London store features interactive mirrors and high-tech facilities, and combines traditional shopping areas with online areas where customers can scan QR codes and make orders that in many cases are instantly delivered to the store on the same day.

“Some see the digital transformation as the cause for store closures, but it’s very possible that this same digital transformation also could provide the solution to retail woes,” Delgado says. “It is clear that we will soon see more hybrid-retail strategies as retailers seek ways of consolidating their online and offline presence to deliver a seamless customer experience.”

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Seven Tips: Keep your string trimmer running strong with a spring tune-up

The gas-powered string trimmer, also known as a weed whacker by many people, is a common yard and garden tool. Because they are less complicated than a lawn mower, many people do not know that string trimmers can benefit from a tune-up. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute shares seven tips to help you tune up your string trimmer for spring and summer use.

Clean and visually inspect your equipment. Wipe it down with a rag or cloth and remove any dirt or debris. Look for loose screws, missing parts, or signs of damage.

Remove and inspect the spark plug. If the electrode looks worn replace the spark plug. Whether you install a brand new spark plug or plan to use the old one, use a spark plug gapping tool to set the proper gap. Information on this should be found in your owner's manual.

Inspect and replace the line. Pull the trimmer line spool out and remove any leftover line from last season. The line can get brittle over time. Rewind with new line and reinstall the head.

Examine the air filter. Remove the cover and the air filter. Inspect the air filter carefully not only to see if it needs to be cleaned, but also to make sure it does not have any holes in it. Holes will let dirt enter the engine, causing damage.

Check the controls. Start with the on/off switch. It should click on and off. Pull the starter rope all the way out and check for cuts, nicks, and frayed spots. Replace it if you see any signs of damage. Test the throttle for smooth operation and check the choke and primer bulb.

Drain any old fuel. If you did not empty your trimmer’s fuel tank in the fall, drain your tank now. Most fuels today contain ethanol which can phase separate into alcohol and water and cause damage to your mower’s engine. Follow safe handling procedures and dispose of old fuel properly.

Protect your power by using the right fuel. Always use E10 or less fuel. It is illegal to use any fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol in any outdoor power equipment, including your string trimmer. Higher ethanol blended fuels may damage or destroy outdoor power equipment. For more information about safe fueling, go to www.LookBeforeYouPump.com.

By following these tips before you start using your string trimmer this spring, you will protect your investment. For more information about the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, go to www.opei.org.

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Cool, refreshing and straight from the garden – mint

By MELINDA MYERS

Add a bit of cool flavor to your beverages and meals this summer with homegrown mint. Try using peppermint leaves in fruit cocktails and ice cream. Add spearmint to your tea or use the leaves to season lamb and jelly. Or try chocolate mint for a unique sweet and refreshing flavor in desserts and drinks.

This vigorous plant is easy to grow and suited to container gardens. In fact, growing it in a pot will help keep this vigorous herb contained. Or sink a container of mint in the garden or plant where surrounding walks and walls will keep this vigorous plant contained.

Grow mint in a full sun to partial shade location with moist well-drained soil. Mulch the soil to conserve moisture. Though hardy in zones 3 to 11, you will need to provide a bit of winter protection when growing mint in containers in colder regions. Either sink the container in a vacant spot in the garden or move the planter into an unheated garage. Water thoroughly whenever the soil is thawed and dry.

Harvest the leaves as needed. Cutting leafy stems off the plant just above a healthy leaf or bud will encourage compact tidy growth. Pick mint just before flowering for the most intense flavor.

Include a container of mint in your patio, balcony or deck plantings. Keeping it close to the kitchen and outdoor living space will make it easy for you to harvest and use. Plus, your guests will enjoy plucking a few fresh mint leaves to add to their iced tea, mojito or favorite summer beverage or salad.

Not only does this easy to grow herb add flavor, but it also aids digestion. Add a garnish of mint to dress up dessert plates or provide it to a loved one to calm a queasy stomach. And use it to increase the manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A levels in your diet.

Make this the year you plant, harvest and enjoy some minty fresh flavor straight from the garden.

Melinda Myers is the author of numerous 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 web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.

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Could a better diet cool your inflammation? Avoid these 5 food groups

Chronic inflammation is associated with such diseases as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and can harm people in numerous other ways, from painful joints to dental problems and aging skin.

It can even disturb your slumber, since inflammation can impact the breathing airways during sleep, resulting in sleep apnea among other potential issues, says Dr. Lynn Lipskis (www.drlipskis.com), director of the TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre and co-author with her husband, Dr. Edmund Lipskis, of Breathe, Sleep, Live, Smile: Integrative Treatments for TMJ/TMD, Sleep Apnea, Orthodontics.

Yet, with all the potential complications, not everyone may realize that one effective way to combat inflammation is through better nutrition, Dr. Lipskis says.

“Inflammation can come from a variety of issues, but diet undoubtedly is one of the bigger factors,” she says. “Some people unwisely put dietary compliance at the bottom of their priority list. While some patients with better diets don’t have a lot of inflammation, others are so inflamed they can’t breathe at all through their nose.”

Dr. Lynn Lipskis and Dr. Edmund Lipskis suggest a list of inflammatory foods to avoid:

Gluten. Foods containing gluten can be some of the most inflammatory. “Generally,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says, “gluten is the protein part of a grain. A lot of people will react to gluten by experiencing increased inflammation. Gluten-free eating has become popular because so many people who adopt it find that they feel better. Symptoms of sensitivity to gluten include fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, achy joints and brain fog.”

Dairy. “Dairy products promote mucus production,” Dr. Ed Lipskis says. “That inflames tissue and mucous clogs the nasal passages. There are mixed reviews on whether people should consume dairy products and to what extent. I recommend an elimination diet to see how it affects you.”

Processed carbohydrates. These include a litany of foods people love, but the Lipskis team says the eventual harm outweighs the enjoyment. “It may mean saying good-bye to pasta, breads, cookies, candies,” Dr. Ed Lipskis says. “People often believe that whole wheat bread is better than white bread, but whole wheat is actually just as inflammatory because of the carbohydrate in wheat, known as amylopectin A.” Similarly, Lipskis says most people mistakenly believe brown rice to be a better choice than white rice. “But like whole wheat,” he says, “the husk of brown rice contains the allergens and proteins that can cause inflammation.”

Alcohol (red wine). “People who have sleep apnea are assured a bad night’s sleep after drinking alcohol,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “Red wine targets the nasal membrane, causing swelling and limiting the opening for air flow. This inflammation can last six to eight hours, ruining a full night’s sleep.”

Refined sugars. “Sugar is everywhere,” Dr. Ed Lipskis says. “While sugar is known for negatives – rotting teeth, packing on the pounds, providing no nutrition – the biggest reason you should say good-bye to sugar is that it’s one of the most inflammatory parts of many foods. And be careful with fruit, which is generally thought of as healthy but contains naturally occurring fructose. The less fiber there is in a fruit, the less healthy it is.”

“We should be eating a normal, balanced diet of real food – not processed foods,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “It’s tough to avoid the occasional bagel, bag of chips, or glass of red wine, but going off the wagon, so to speak, can lead to immediate inflammation and long-term problems. Listen to your body - it will let you know the effect that each type of food has.”

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IRAs come with strings attached; Are there safer retirement alternatives?

Most people planning for retirement probably would prefer some predictability as they plot out their post-work futures, but financial professionals say the reality they face is that uncertainty surrounds the stock market, tax rates and the future of Social Security.

And even one of the most popular retirement-savings tools – the Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) – can get more complicated than many people realize, limiting a retiree’s control of their money, retirement planners say.

“We’re supposed to believe we’ll pay lower taxes on our future IRA distributions,” says Jeff Brummett (www.greenlinefinancialservices.com), a financial talk show host, public speaker, and the author of The Worthless IRA: How To Keep Wall Street and Uncle Sam From Getting Their Greedy Little Fingers On Your Hard-Earned Money.

“An IRA gives Wall Street the use of our money with no promise it will be there when we need it. Even if it is, one must remember we have a partner in our traditional IRA/401k account. When one considers our astronomical national debt combined with the fact that only one-third of baby boomers are drawing social security (or medicare) benefits today, does anyone really believe tax rates are not likely to go through the stratosphere in order to support these programs in the future?

“Fifty million baby boomers have yet to turn 65. All will have done so by 2030. Math says Uncle Sam will likely increase his percent of ownership on our tax-deferred IRA account values by raising taxes on withdrawals. How else will he pay for these two retirement entitlement programs? Both are broke today with a third of baby boomers drawing benefits. The math is the math!”

Brummett breaks down three ways strings are attached to IRAs and provides two retirement-money alternatives he says are safer:

IRA Strings

Most IRA holders must invest in a securities-based financial product. “This is a product of risk, and retirement is a critical and certain need,” Brummett says. “Wouldn’t it be more logical and responsible for everyone to be able to invest a portion of their cumulative life savings into an investment offering certainty? Why not allow these retirement IRA savings instruments to include a variety of safe-money financial products?”

You can’t withdraw until age 59½. If you take money out of an IRA before 59½, the IRS imposes a 10% penalty. There’s also the possibility of a marginal tax rate increase that the withdrawal might cause. “Studies by Fidelity and Vanguard have indicated that over 40% of people with IRAs and 401(k)s withdraw from those accounts before they’re 59½,” Brummett says. “And long-term, whether stock values rise or fall, the only guaranteed beneficiary is Uncle Sam and the financial elite of Wall Street.”

You must begin withdrawing at age 70½. “IRA rules restrict your activity not only on the front end, but also the back end,” Brummett says. “The key back-end requirement is that at age 70½ you must start withdrawing a minimum amount each year, which is subject to income tax. We give up far more control of our money than one might think, and it can severely hurt our financial future if taxes are increased in the future.”

Retirement Alternatives

Tax favored cash-value life insurance. Cash-value life insurance can offer its owner a source of non-taxable income if properly designed and executed. “Most people have been purposely – and incorrectly – taught to believe that the only benefit of owning a life insurance policy is the death benefit,” Brummett says. “Permanent cash-value life insurance policies often have great living benefits, allowing the owner to leverage multiple non-taxable cash benefits contained within the policy while still living.”

Fixed-index annuity. “Protecting principal and providing income are the two most important objectives for anyone approaching retirement,” Brummett says. “In a variable annuity, there is no principal protection, and the owner must sometimes pay an additional fee to include a spouse in the living benefit. Fixed-index annuities offer lifetime income protection with zero to 1% fees, and they have 100% protection of principal from market risk.”

“What most retirees need today is not more of Wall Street’s version of diversification - diversification of market risk,” Brummett says. “What they need is diversification frommarket risk and a healthy dose of guaranteed income.”

Happiness class

What is happiness, and how can people attain it? A new course at the University of Pennsylvania called “The Pursuit of Happiness” uses psychology and philosophy to help students explore this question. The professor, James Pawelski, wants his students to practice what they are learning and form long-term habits. “My job isn’t to foist habits on students, and I’m not teaching this class because I’m the model of happiness that I hope the students will follow,” he said. “Really the pursuit of happiness is not a class but part of their lives. Regardless of how well they do academically, much more important for them will be what they take away for their own life moving forward.”

Lump-sum pensions

The U.S. Treasury Department’s recent move to allow private companies to provide retirees and beneficiaries lump sums rather than monthly payments is good news for companies that do not want to be saddled with long-term pension obligations. But Olivia S. Mitchell of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania wants the federal government to weigh the long-term implications for retirees. “If we look at the retirement picture, we have to understand the incentives we are putting in peoples’ way — or the disincentives to save,” she said.

The brain & smell

Animals like dogs and rodents use their sense of smell to navigate toward desirable items or places and away from those they should avoid. But do humans have the same capabilities? It’s a question that University of Pennsylvania neurobiologist Jay Gottfried has been trying to answer, and in a recent study that used varying mixtures of banana and pine scents, he discovered that three key brain regions help humans navigate from one odor to the next. The work points to the existence of architecture in the olfactory regions of the brain which resemble the same structures that help animals with spatial navigation.

Bacteria & diabetes

About 10 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and a quarter of these patients will develop wounds that do not heal. A study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that specific strains of common bacteria are associated with these non-healing wounds. Researchers also identified other common strains in these wounds that can either impair or improve healing, suggesting that monitoring the types of microbes in diabetic foot ulcers could provide doctors with information on how best to treat wounds.

Childhood trauma

Childhood trauma is linked to abnormal connectivity in the brains of adults with major depressive disorder. “This study not only confirms the important relationship between childhood trauma and major depression,” said Yvette I. Sheline of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, “but also links patients’ experiences of childhood trauma with specific functional brain network abnormalities. This suggests a possible environmental contributor to neurobiological symptoms.”

The brain in space

Living in space for an extended period of time may lead to a decline in cognitive performance. Three years after astronaut Scott Kelly returned from his nearly year-long mission on the International Space Station, the NASA Twins Study has yielded results published recently in Science. Mathias Basner at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine led the team that studied the cognitive performance of Kelly and his twin brother, who acted as a control on Earth. “The surprising finding was that, once Scott returned to Earth, we saw a more relevant decline in performance across almost all 10 tests; he was slower and less accurate, and this effect persisted for six months after he returned, when we performed our final test,” Basner said. This study is a step toward ensuring the safety of astronauts who may undertake longer missions in the future.

Rwandan genocide

Since 2016, historic preservationist Randall Mason of the University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design has been working with the Rwandan government to protect memorials of the genocide that took place in that country 25 years ago. The monuments are dedicated to remembering the 800,000 people who died, including nearly three-quarters of the entire population of Tutsis, one of Rwanda’s two socioeconomic classes. The other group, the Hutus, committed the majority of the genocide. “There’s a long game here, to be sure,” Mason said, “but, if there’s a way to contribute to protecting these memorials in the short term, that’s an incredible opportunity and honor.”

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5 questions your financial advisor would not expect you to ask

Have a meeting scheduled soon with your financial advisor?

If so, it could be time to ask a few probing questions that might surprise and challenge him or her, but could help you be better prepared if the U.S. economy takes a turn for the worse that some economic forecasters are predicting.

But first, before that meeting and before you start posing those questions, it’s important to understand some of the factors affecting the economy’s future and why there are potential problems that likely won’t go away, says Nahum Daniels, a Certified Financial Planner and Retirement Income Certified Professional.

“Many Americans today have anxiety confronting retirement,” says Daniels (www.integratedretirementadvisors.com), author of Retire Reset!: What You Need to Know and Your Financial Advisor May Not Be Telling You. “And in an unfortunate turn for baby boomers, the U.S. economy is struggling to recover from one of the worst downturns in generations.

“When closely examined, the retirement challenges we face as a society are actually much more complex than they first appear. The mainstream media skate along the surface, pointing to baby boomers with inadequate personal savings who are looking to a fragile — if not insolvent — Social Security system unable to make up the difference.

“But upon deeper analysis, there’s much more to the problem in the U.S. and globally. That includes slowing population growth, shrinking consumer demand, exploding debt, inflated financial bubbles in the stocks and bonds market, deflationary wage and employment pressures, and overspent governments. The connectivity of these global forces may be forming a tsunami.”

Daniels says those in retirement or nearing it are going to want answers from their advisors on how to avoid pitfalls in a possibly volatile future economy. And it starts, he says, by asking the right, penetrating questions. The answers may depend on your particular situation, but the important thing is that you and your advisor have a deeper conversation about your situation and that you are satisfied with the answers:

Do you think our economy faces the risk of an extended period of secular stagnation and, if you do, how do you think my nest egg should be positioned to counteract any negative effects?

Is the possibility of a volatile economic future during my retirement years worthy of hedging against and, if so, how?

Do you believe that our low rates of economic growth reflect bad tax policy predominantly and that corporate tax relief in the U.S. will turn our economy around for the long term?

How reliable are my Social Security and pension benefits, and do you think I should start taking them, or would it be better to defer them for as long as possible?

Can I retire before paying off all of my debt, or should I keep working until I’m completely debt free?

“Some prominent economists predict a long-term slowdown in economic activity, productivity and innovation,” Daniels says. “And neither fiscal (tax) nor monetary (Fed) policies alone may be able to reverse it. Consequently, our personal nest eggs have taken on a level of importance they haven’t previously had.”

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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

Two American aviators made history in 1927 and 1932, respectively. The first was 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh, who made a solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic. He started his mission from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, NY in a custom-made, single-engine monoplane on the morning on May 20th and landed at Paris’s Le Bourget Airport 33 hours later.

Seven years later, Amelia Earhart emerged as the pioneering aviatrix who piloted a solo Atlantic crossing. She departed from Newfoundland, flew more than 2,000 miles, and landed after 13 hours in Ireland, near Londonderry.

These daring stories make history exciting. For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests The Flight of the Lone Eagle: Charles Lindbergh Flies Nonstop from New York to Paris by John T. Foster, and Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton, a self-taught nurse at a time when there was no such thing as a nursing school, risked her life caring for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. When it was over, she devoted herself to seeking opportunities to be of service--wherever she could. On May 21, 1881, Clara Barton, as she was known, founded the American Red Cross at the age of 59. During the next 23 years, she was its president.

She died in 1912.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Joshua Hanft’s Clara Barton (Heroes of America).

The Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787 to amend the Articles of Confederation, which had been ratified in 1781. They were—in effect-- the nation’s first constitution, but it was considered a flawed document. Instead, the Convention resulted in the creation of the Constitution of the United States--the foundation of America’s Federal Government.

The Constitution is a worthy read for adolescents, as is the story of the Convention. For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Constitutional Convention: A History Just for Kids by the KidsCap group, and—for the Constitution--The U.S. Constitution And Fascinating Facts About It by Terry L. Jordan

No visit to the Nation’s Capital would be complete without pausing to think about the American Dream as envisioned by the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, whose memorial overlooks the Reflecting Pool at the National Mall. The United States Congress officially authorized its construction in 1867, two years after his assassination. However, it was not completed and dedicated until May 30, 1922. It was designed by architect Henry Bacon, along with Daniel Chester French’s life-sized sculpture, “Seated Lincoln”.

As journalist Phil Edwards put it: “the story behind the Lincoln Memorial’s construction is a surprisingly complicated one, and it says something about the contortions that, even today, politicians have to undergo to become monument-making visionaries.”

For more reading: Brent Ashabranner’s Memorial of Mr. Lincoln is an ideal book for young readers. It is as much about Mr. Lincoln’s life as it is about how and why it took five and a half decades to erect something suitable in his honor. As one reviewer put it when the book was published, the strength “is in the author's examination of the way the monument has become a powerful symbol of freedom and civil rights in our country.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Worker Received Overpayment Notice from Social Security

Dear Rusty: I have a problem with Social Security. They told me if I went over the annual earned income limit they would withhold $1 for every $2 I went over. But they did not tell me about the monthly rule for the first year of retirement and now they want $13,000. I am a part time bus driver with irregular hours and cannot afford this. Can you help? Signed: Feeling Wronged by SS

Dear Feeling Wronged: The so-called “first year rule” is one which surprises many who claim benefits early and continue to work. That rule says that if your monthly income, in your first year after your benefits start, exceeds a certain limit ($1470 in 2019), you are not entitled to SS benefits for that month. In your specific situation there are two things in play that I suggest you focus on.

First, you should immediately request a repayment plan on the grounds that you cannot afford to repay the entire amount right away and that forfeiting your benefits until the $13,000 is repaid will result in a hardship for you. Although the Overpayment Notice you received asked you to refund the money within 30 days, it also suggested repayment options if you cannot afford to do so. I recommend you contact Social Security immediately to arrange a repayment plan, which is affordable for you. You can do this by submitting form SSA-632, which you can find at this link: www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-632.pdf. Be aware that if you don’t get a favorable initial response from your first contact with Social Security, you have the right to appeal at several levels, including a review of your case by an independent Administrative Law Judge. But please note that it might take up to 60 days for Social Security to complete your repayment plan request. If you do not get action within that timeframe you should contact them again to determine your status.

Next, I suggest that, since Social Security informed you of the annual limit but neglected to inform you of the rule which limits your monthly income in your first year of early retirement, you may also have grounds to request a waiver of the entire overpayment. Social Security’s own rules state that if your overpayment was caused by misinformation received from Social Security, you may be found “without fault” for any overpayment in your first year of early retirement. You may even want to download Social Security’s own rules on this topic at this link: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0202250061. The onus will be on you to prove that the overpayment occurred as a result of misinformation supplied by Social Security, and you will need the name of the person(s) who supplied the incorrect information as well as the date and time. And as with all contact you have with the Social Security Administration, you should keep a complete written record of each transaction. In resolving this issue, you can and should use the appeals process if necessary, and you may even want to consider asking your local Congressional Representative to intercede on your behalf.

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Take the hassle out of daily watering

By Melinda Myers

Proper watering is key to gardening success, but untangling and dragging heavy hoses across the yard, smashing delicate flowers and young vegetable plants along the way is a common occurrence in many yards. If this describes your escapades when watering garden beds and planters, it may be time to look for some time-saving solutions that reduce the hassle of hand watering.

Protect edging plants, especially those at the corner of the bed with hose guides. You can make your own from colorful wine bottles inverted over a section of rebar anchored in the ground. Or invest in some functional or decorative hose guides available for sale.

Connecting and disconnecting the hose to the faucet, inadequate length of hoses, and nozzles can be a source of aggravation. Washers disappear, connections loosen, and leaks occur. Invest in quick-connectors that allow you to make all these connections with a simple click.

Clear the hose clutter off patios, decks and walks while keeping them easily accessible for daily watering. A hose reel allows you to easily wind up the hose out of sight near the faucet. These are often mounted on the wall or are unsightly and bulky devices with wheels that can still be a bit unwieldy. Evaluate the design and ease of use before investing.

An automatic reel that retracts the hose quickly and easily or a lightweight portable model may be just the solution. Irrigation equipment like the G.F. Italia Portable Reel Nozzle Hose available at gardeners.com is lightweight enough, allowing you to carry 50 feet of hose that unravels just the length you need as you water various garden beds or containers on the deck.

Coil hoses are designed to expand when filled with water then retract into a small size for clean, easy storage and portability. You eliminate the need to unwind and rewind long lengths of hoses every time you water. Look for hoses made of long-lasting, kink-free materials that have superior coil memory for years of easy watering.

Make moving long stretches of hoses easier with featherweight and lightweight slim products. A featherweight hose can weigh as little as two and a half pounds, making it easier to move through the garden and back onto the reel or storage container.

Combine the convenience of storage and lightweight portability. You’ll minimize the need for maintaining hoses at every faucet while retaining the convenience. Look for products that allow you to easily move your hose where it’s needed. Expandable hoses allow you to easily move your hose from faucet to faucet for watering around the yard or pack it in your RV when traveling.

Make proper watering a more convenient part of garden and container maintenance by investing in quality hoses, connectors and storage options. If it’s easy, you are more likely to water plants as needed and then store the hoses conveniently out of sight after each watering.

Tech-savvy witches

Romanian witches are using the Internet to cast spells thanks to a younger generation of sorceresses. Millennial enchantress Cassandra Buzea says why not bring the ancient art of witchcraft into the 21st century via the worldwide web. She told Reuters: “A truly powerful witch can solve problems from a distance.” Her mom was quick to join her daughter in offering their services to clients throughout the world. And now, it is estimated that some 4,000 witches throughout the country are in the business of casting electronic spells. Apparently an enchantress can make a pretty good living online. For example, a simple tarot card reading can net nearly $60. 

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She didn’t leave a tip

Karen Vinacour stopped in at the New York City’s 90-year-old Patsy’s Pizzeria for lunch recently with her daughter and when they finished she paid the bill but deliberately did not leave a tip. That could have put Ms. Vinacour in a bind because she left an envelope on her table containing a $424,000 certified check. A less gallant waiter might just have tossed the check, but Armando Markaj proved himself to be a noble server, indeed. He gave it to the restaurant’s owner and, ultimately, the check was returned to its rightful owner. Ms. Vinacour told reporters: "I'm so grateful that the insult that we gave him did not prevent him from doing the right thing." She offered the waiter a reward for his kindness, but he refused.

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Baby giraffe needed new shoes

A giraffe was born at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. It weighed in at a healthy 155 pounds but, was suffering from misaligned rear legs. The Zoo was quick to seek a cure, creating a pair of custom-made shoes fashioned from plywood and high-density plastic. Veterinarian Tim Storms says the remedy is a work in progress. As he put it, “we’ll continue refining and improving our approach to find a good balance between supporting his limbs and strengthening his tendons.”

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NFPA offers tips for safe grilling this Memorial Day

Often considered the unofficial kick-off to summer, Memorial Day weekend includes lots of celebrations featuring cookouts and barbeques. As the holiday and warmer months near, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reminds everyone to follow some basic precautions for safely grilling outdoors.

According to NFPA’s statistics, in 2013-2017, U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 10,200 home fires involving grills, hibachis, or barbeques, including an average of 4,500 structure fires and 5,700 outside or unclassified fires. These fires resulted in 10 civilian deaths, 160 civilian injuries, and $123 million in direct property damage, on average each year.

Peak months for grilling fires are July, followed by June, May, and August. Leading causes of home grilling fires include failing to properly clean the grill, leaks or breaks, and having a flammable object too close to the grill. Unattended cooking is a major cause of all types of cooking fires, including grill fires. Leaks and breaks are a particular problem with gas grills.

“As people prepare to do more entertaining and cooking outside in the months ahead, it’s a good time to inspect your grill to make sure it’s in working order, especially if it hasn’t been used during the winter months,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “It’s also important to establish a fire-safe location for using your grill, making sure it’s a safe distance from your home and other items that can burn.”

NFPA offers these tips and recommendations for enjoying a fire-safe grilling season:

For propane grills, check the gas tank for leaks before use in the months ahead. (Watch NFPA’s video on how to check for leaks. The footage can be used as b-roll.)

Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.

Place the grill well away from the home, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.

Always make sure your gas grill lid is open before lighting it.

Keep children and pets at least three feet away from the grilling area.

If you use starter fluid when charcoal grilling, only use charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire. When you a finished grilling, let the coals cool completely before disposing in a metal container.

Never leave your grill unattended when in use.

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Microrobots

Two types of microrobots, one working on surfaces and the other in confined spaces, are able to destroy biofilms, sticky amalgamations of bacteria. Such microrobots have a wide variety of potential applications, including removing dental plaque and reducing the risk of tooth decay. “Treating biofilms that occur on teeth requires a great deal of manual labor, both on the part of the consumer and the professional,” says Edward Steager of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, who led the study with Hyun (Michel) Koo of Penn’s School of Dental Medicine. “We hope to improve treatment options as well as reduce the difficulty of care.”

Keto diet

Despite the buzz about the little-to-no-carb, high-fat keto diet, there haven’t been randomized clinical studies to determine if it is effective in the long term. Most studies to date have been smaller scale and highlight both positives and negatives. “We often don’t have a lot of data to guide us on the positive or negative effects, so I am cautious to say this is the right thing to do and not the right thing to do. I think that diet is important, and I have a personal interest in many of these approaches to nutrition, but what I share with patients is mostly my informed opinion based on as much science as possible,” said Neel Chokshi of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Family leave

The idea of paid parental or family leave in the U.S. appears to be gaining momentum in both major political parties. “I think what’s in the air is a larger conversation about gender inequality,” said Stephanie Creary of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “By making gender inequality also about parents, it has allowed more people, including men, to champion this issue.”

Doctors & patients

A new study shows that first-year doctors spend 87% of their work days away from patients, half of it interacting with electronic health records. “This objective look at how interns spend their time during the work day reveals a previously hidden picture of how young physicians are trained and the reality of medical practice today,” Krisda Chaiyachati of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Our study can help residency program leaders take stock of what their interns are doing and consider whether the time and processes are right for developing the physicians we need tomorrow.”

Predicting hernias

A new app can predict the likelihood that a patient will develop an incisional hernia following abdominal surgery, a problem that affects one out of every eight of these surgical patients. Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania used electronic health records to identify the most common risk factors for patients, as well as which surgeries most commonly result in incisional hernias. “Our tool presents the risk for each case at the point of care, giving surgeons and patients the chance to consider this outcome ahead of time and incorporate data into the decision-making process,” John P. Fischer said.

Oral care & cancer

For cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, intensive oral cleanings may help reduce oral mucositis, a potentially debilitating side effect of cancer care. “It can affect the tongue, the throat, even the intestinal tract,” said Patricia Corby of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, “and it’s a disaster. Severe cases place patients at risk for secondary infections and even sepsis due to open sores in the mouth. Sometimes it interrupts cancer treatment, and in the worst cases treatment can’t continue.”

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Gene editing

Gene editing may be able to treat lethal lung diseases before birth in the future. Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have thwarted a lethal lung disease in a mouse model, in which a genetic mutation causes death within hours after birth. The researchers are hoping to apply gene editing to lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis, surfactant protein deficiency, and alpha-1 antitrypsin.

The power of prayer

A pair of Florida teens recently skipped class to go swimming off the coast of Vilano Beach, FL and were carried away by a strong ocean current. Tyler Smith and Heather Brown wound up two miles offshore treading water for some two hours. The 17-year-olds said they were so scared at the prospect of drowning that they prayed as hard as they could. And, their prayers were answered. Amen was the name of the boat that spotted and rescued them. In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America soon after, Smith said all he could do was to pray “God, please don't let this be the end. I still want to see my family ... send someone to save us." Crew members aboard the Amen they heard teens’ cries for help and answered his prayer.

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Reading is Fundamental

An education-minded barber in Kutztown, PA, Jonathan Escuet, is putting his money were his heart is. He pays kids $3 to read a book out loud while getting their haircuts. His aim is to give them confidence in themselves and it appears to be working.

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They choose to snooze

The bedding company, Mattress Firm, is offering students not-so-strenuous internships this summer. They’re looking for a few good “snoozeterns” who won’t be considered slackers if they sleep on the job.

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Hazardous jobs

Hazardous jobs in industries such as logging, firefighting, mining, and the military are critical to sustaining the standard of living in the U.S. But simply offering higher wages for physically dangerous jobs doesn’t absolve companies of responsibility, said business ethicist professor Robert Hughes of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Writing in a paper entitled “Paying People to Risk Life or Limb” published in the journal Business Ethics Quarterly, Hughes said, "If the only reason to take [this job] rather than a safer job is the extra money—the hazard pay—then you have something to worry about.”

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Genes & alcoholism

Scientists have discovered 18 genetic variants associated with heavy alcohol consumption or with alcohol use disorder (AUD). The VA-funded study suggests that, though heavy drinking is a prerequisite for AUD, certain variants may need to be present for people to escalate to AUD. "This study has revealed an important genetic independence of these two traits that we haven’t seen as clearly before,” said Henry R. Kranzler, MD, a psychiatrist in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and an investigator at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. “Focusing on variants only linked to AUD may help identify people at risk and find targets for the development of medications to treat it. The same applies to alcohol consumption, as those variants could inform interventions to help reduce consumption in heavy drinkers, who face their own set of adverse effects.”

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Gender & racial biases

A voluntary survey released by the American Economic Association has revealed high levels of gender and racial bias in the field of economics. Olivia Mitchell of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania believes that one reason is that many of the anti-bias measures that are already in place still lack teeth. “It’s very depressing, actually,” she said. “I’ve been teaching for 40 years now, and, sure, 40 years ago there were very few women in the profession. You stood out. You were sometimes made to feel uncomfortable or awkward. But I had hoped that today things would be much better.”

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Empathy & cooperation

Empathy can help cooperative behavior overcome selfishness. Taking an evolutionary and game theory approach, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that a capacity for empathy fosters cooperation and that the degree to which this happens depends on a society's system for moral evaluation. “Having not just the capacity but the willingness to take into account someone else’s perspective when forming moral judgments tends to promote cooperation,” said biologist Joshua Plotkin.

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Vulnerabilities of HIV

A new imaging study that reveals the shape of HIV suggests new paths to fight this deadly disease. An international team involving researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, Tufts University and the University of Melbourne have shown how molecular "can openers" can be used to expose parts of the viral envelope, which can then be targeted by antibodies. "Directly visualizing the molecules at the surface of HIV will allow us to devise strategies to cure disease, a dream comes true.” said Isabelle Rouiller of the University of Melbourne.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Is Social Security based on Last 3 years of Work?

Dear Rusty: I have heard many times that what is earned the last 3 years you work before drawing Social Security benefits determines what your benefit dollar amount will be. Is this true? If not, what determines your benefit dollar amount and how is it calculated? Signed: Working Still

Dear Working: Funny how true the adage – if you say something often enough, people will believe it is true. But I’m afraid that what you’ve heard so many times about how your Social Security benefit is determined is incorrect. While it’s true that the last 3 years you work may affect your Social Security benefit amount when you claim, those years alone are not what determine your benefit dollar amount. Rather, your benefit is determined using a formula, which includes the highest earning 35 years of your lifetime working career. Each year in your lifetime earnings record will be adjusted for inflation, the highest earning 35 years will be selected and your "average indexed monthly earnings" (AIME) will be computed from those years. And to clarify another often-misunderstood point, you only get credit for earnings on which you paid FICA taxes, so earnings up to the annual payroll tax cap are the only earnings counted.

For most people, the latter years of their working career are the highest earning, so it's quite likely that your last few years of earnings will be included in the 35, which are used to determine your benefit. Once your AIME is computed from your lifetime earnings record, it is subjected to a standard formula to arrive at your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is the benefit you are entitled to at your full retirement age. If you claim benefits before your full retirement age (FRA) that benefit will be reduced, by up to 30% depending upon how many months before your FRA that you claim. And if you wish to increase your benefit you can wait beyond your FRA to claim and earn delayed retirement credits of 8% per year, up to age 70. Claiming at age 70 could get you a benefit as much as 32% more than it would be at your full retirement age (depending upon the number of months after your FRA that you claim benefits).

Unfortunately, there are many myths floating around about how your Social Security benefit is determined, and what you’ve previously heard is but one variation of those myths. But reality is as described above – the highest earning 35 years of your lifetime earnings record are used to determine your average monthly career earnings (adjusted for inflation), and that 35-year lifetime average becomes the basis for your Social Security benefit. Anything else you hear to the contrary is simply incorrect.

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Landscape structures provide function and beauty

By MELINDA MYERS

Incorporate arbors, trellises and other structures into your designs when planning new or updating existing gardens and landscapes. These structures help form the framework of any garden, add year-round interest and provide years of beauty and function.

Utilize arbors to define and connect distinct areas of the landscape. Invite visitors into your landscape with a vine-covered arbor. Guests won’t be able to resist the invitation to enter and experience the beauty that lies beyond. Cover these structures with vines for seasonal interest, additional texture and blossoms. Combine two different vines to extend or double your floral display. Plant an annual vine for quick cover with a perennial that takes a year or more to establish and cover the structure.

Beat summer’s heat by creating your own shade with vine-covered arbors. Plant annual or deciduous vines that let the sun and its warmth shine through during the cooler months. When the leaves return, they provide shade and cooler temperatures during warmer times.

Arbors are as much at home in the food garden as the flowerbed. Connect two garden beds with an over-the-top arbor. Grow pole beans, melons or squash up and over the Titan Squash Tunnel (gardeners.com). You’ll expand your gardening space by going vertical and help reduce disease problems by increasing the sunlight and airflow reaching the plants. Secure large fruit to its obelisk with a net, cotton or macramé sling to prevent them from breaking off the vines.

Dress up any home, garage or shed with trellises covered with flowering vines, climbing roses or an espaliered fruit tree. Provide space between the wall and trellis when mounting them to a building. The space reduces the risk of damage to the wall and the plants benefit from the added airflow and light.

Many trellises are works of art in their own right, so when the plants go dormant the structure continues to dress up an otherwise blank wall. Whether you prefer simple squares and diamonds, circles, leaves or ceramic songbirds perched among the branchlike supports of the Enchanted Woods Trellis; select a design that reflects your personality and complements your garden design.

Combine several trellis sections to create a decorative screen or bit of fencing. This is a perfect solution for creating privacy or a bit of vertical interest in any size or shape of garden space. Add colorful glass bottles and contemporary design to a vertical planting with a trellis like Gardener’s Achla Designs Vinifera Bottle Trellis.

Use obelisks as focal points and plant supports in the garden or containers. They’re perfect for creating scale in the garden, especially when new plantings are small and immature. Select a support tall and sturdy enough for the plants you are growing.

Add a bit of beauty and elegance when growing watermelons, cucumbers, pole beans or tomatoes. Train them onto decorative obelisks and they’ll be pretty enough to include in flowerbeds and mixed borders. Add more beauty and a bit of hummingbird appeal with scarlet runner beans. The bright red flowers are followed by green beans that can be eaten fresh or its large seeds harvested and used fresh or dried.

Always consider the function, strength and beauty when selecting structures for your landscape. Team them up with plants suited to your growing conditions and you will benefit from years of enjoyment.

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3 ways to restore the climate — For ourselves and future generations

Scientists say we see the adverse effects of climate change everywhere -- in weather patterns, throughout plant and animal habitats, across farmland, on the polar caps, and in the oceans.

Numerous studies have concluded dire consequences for the planet unless the right solutions are implemented. And now comes a report painting a particularly bleak picture: one million of the planet’s eight million species are threatened with extinction by humans. Climate change, shrinking habitat, and pollution were blamed in the report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a United Nations committee, as the main reasons for species loss.

What are the solutions? Is climate change as dangerous and imminent a threat as scientists say?

Dr. Paul Zeitz, an epidemiologist and the senior policy advisor with the Healthy Climate Alliance (www.drpaulzeitz.org), says there’s no time to waste, and that “climate restoration” legislation would mark the beginning of the solutions.

“Our failing planetary health requires bold political action to ensure our planet is habitable for future generations,” says Zeitz, author of Waging Justice: A Doctor’s Journey To Speak Truth And Be Bold. “Legislation is being developed to promote the removal of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and to prevent catastrophic methane release from the melting of the Arctic.

“Multiple methods are currently available to achieve these actions and restore a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and future generations. We must call for the passage of comprehensive legislation at the federal, state and local levels to rapidly accelerate climate restoration.”

Zeitz explains three methods that could assist in climate restoration:

Carbon sequestration for a commercial market. Massive amounts of rock, sourced from quarries, are used annually for infrastructure construction. If the rock was sourced from carbon dioxide instead, Zeitz says, that action would sequester large amounts of carbon dioxide away from the atmosphere. “Companies, such as Blue Planet Ltd, are developing commercially viable ways to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by turning it into limestone aggregate for concrete,” Zeitz says. “This method can scale to remove a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere within 30 to 40 years.”

Fishery restoration. “This combines poverty reduction and community empowerment with carbon sequestration,” Zeitz says. “There are massive stretches of ocean that are nutrient-limited due to climate change. If we supplement nutrients, then we promote photosynthesis and build up fisheries. That, in turn, allows for carbon sequestration in the deep ocean. A pilot project in Madagascar commences this summer that involves nutrient supplementation as a foundation for fisheries restoration.”

Restoring Arctic ice. Researchers at Ice911 Research have spent 10 years creating, testing and refining floating glass spheres that act as a reflective layer on the Arctic ice. “These spheres get spread across the ice in the spring and act as fresh snow — a highly reflective surface — during the 24 hours of daylight experienced in the summertime,” Zeitz says. “This allows the ice to remain through the summer, which, in turn, enables the ice to thicken and become more durable over time.”

“If we take bold action in the next several years to implement the range of solutions described, we will be able to reduce the most devastating impacts of the climate crisis,” Zeitz says. “And we can do our best to ensure that our children and future generations can survive and thrive.”

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Score a workplace win with these 5 traits of successful athletes

When Tiger Woods thrilled the sports world by winning The Masters golf tournament, many golf experts and fans viewed his triumph as inspirational.

After all, the 43-year-old Woods demonstrated not just athletic skills, but also mental strength that allowed him to overcome declining physical prowess and years of adversity that included a sex scandal, divorce and numerous back and knee surgeries.

For high-performing athletes, that’s not so unusual because mental attitude is often critical to success in sports. But the same can be true in the workplace for those willing to learn from the practices of athletes and apply them in their own lives, says Grant Parr (www.gameperformance.com), a mental sports performance coach and the author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown.

The key, Parr says, is to be prepared when big opportunities arrive – sometimes unexpectedly, as it did for Woods.

“Many of the demands we face at work are not so different than those faced by high-caliber athletes,” Parr says. “The need for mental toughness in the face of chaos and adversity is similar.

“But what happens when a big moment is at hand, like a promotion, and people aren’t ready for it? What did they not do to be properly prepared? The world is filled with unexpected opportunities for greatness, and there are processes that athletes and people in all types of positions can execute to get prepared for that moment.”

Parr focuses on five areas where athletic examples can be applied toward readiness and success in the workplace:

Applying grit in the face of adversity. “Handling adversity starts with being flexible,” Parr says. “Take difficult people you have to deal with; you must be able to adapt and adjust, know when to let things roll off your back and when to stand your ground. Or when you’ve missed your sales quota, you lose key people, etc., the stress can be enormous. These are times you have to rely on your inner warrior and draw on your past examples of strong mental performance.”

Turning crisis into opportunity. Some athletes are summoned to a bigger role because the performer in front of them is ineffective or hurt. “Can you see opportunity when everyone else sees uncertainty?” Parr asks. “When others react with fright, you can choose mental might.”

Embracing your role. Every team requires people who fulfill their roles. Part of embracing your role is recognizing that the team’s needs are bigger than your own. “Rock your role, and people will notice,” Parr says. “But keep aspiring, studying the practices of those in higher roles, and you’ll be fully prepared for advancement when it comes.”

Visualizing success. So critical to success in sports, visualizing success is just as vital in business. “See the performance as you wish it to go,” Parr says. “See yourself performing with energy and confidence; pump yourself up with positive talk.”

Assuming leadership. “Doing your best, showing enthusiasm and trustworthiness help establish a culture that lifts everyone up,” Parr says. ”Showing leadership when you don’t have a formal title allows you to develop the skills you’ll need when an opportunity arises and offers evidence you’re the one to fulfill that opportunity.”

“You may wait 10 or more years for a big opportunity, or it may come suddenly,” Parr says. “But if you’re not ready mentally, that opportunity will pass you by.”

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Tips for Creating a Pet Friendly Family Yard for Summer Fun

People aren’t the only ones who love to spend time in the family yard during the summer months. For the family pet, the outdoor living room serves many purposes – providing a place to relax, burn off some energy, play safely with friends (human and furry), and do their “business.”

To help everyone – including your pets – enjoy the family yard this summer, consider these tips from TurfMutt. He’s the spokesdog for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s (OPEI) environmental education program. TurfMutt is a former rescue dog who paws it forward by helping kids and their families learn about the benefits of their family yard for people and pets. As a former street dog himself, TurfMutt also advocates for pet rescue organizations and causes.

Skip Fake Grass

Artificial turf (a.k.a. fake grass) is never a good idea, especially if you have pets. Plastic grass gets very hot during the summer, is challenging to clean, and is anything but environmentally-friendly. It cannot be recycled, and it requires water to clean and cool it. Be a backyard superhero and select real turfgrass.

Pick the Right Plants & Grasses

As for which kind of grass to choose, go for something hardy that will withstand a high volume of traffic. Buffalo and Bermuda grasses can be a good choice, depending on your climate zone. For other plants and shrubs, check the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic garden plants for advice before buying. You’ll want soft, yet sturdy, foliage near walkways – save the delicate decorative flowers for elevated flowerbeds and patio pots.

Choose Natural

There are many non-toxic ways to prevent pests in your backyard, which is good news for your people and pets! Wind chimes near flower and garden beds can help keep pets and pests away. Scented marigolds repel unwanted insects while attracting spider mites and snails. Lavender smells amazing and repels fleas and moths. The oil in basil plants can keep mosquitoes and flies away.

Consider Pollinators & Other Wildlife

While you want to keep some pests out, remember that nature starts in your backyard! Your family yard provides habitat and food for birds, butterflies, bees and more. Each of these species help pollinate human food crops and flowering plants, so take them into consideration when you’re selecting your living landscapes.

Create a Doggy Dream Yard

One final tip – there’s no shame in going all out to make your yard a dream for your dog! Remember, your outdoor living room is one of his favorite places to be. Some ideas include adding a splash pool for your pup, creating a sandbox for Fido to unleash his love of digging, or adding a puppy pergola to provide shade for Sadie. Be creative! Your canine will thank you.

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Do introspective questions have the power to change your life?

If you’re stuck in a rut or struggling with life – at work, in your relationships, in the way you view yourself – it could be time for a little self interrogation.

Asking yourself probing questions about who you are and where you want to go in life is how powerful change can begin, says Khalil Osiris, author of the book A Freedom That Comes From Within (www.khalilosiris.com).

Those questions can be as simple as “What makes me weep?” or as challenging as “What might other people see about me with clarity that I’m unable to see clearly about myself?”

“For me, deep questioning is something we need to regularly engage in as human beings,” Osiris says.

Once people start digging, they realize that some things they’ve taken for granted about themselves, their lives and the world are in need of closer examination, he says.

These days, Osiris is a successful international speaker who conducts workshops focused on personal transformation and overcoming self-imposed limitations. But it was hitting rock bottom that motivated him to begin asking himself soul-searching questions. As a young man in prison on robbery charges, Osiris contemplated the choices he made that led him to that point.

“I asked myself questions such as, ‘Was the judge right about me when he said I had squandered my gifts and advantages, and would probably die in prison?’ and ‘What would it look like to become a man my sons could be proud of?’ The questions kept coming and as the questions evolved, so did I.”

The average person doesn’t need to face something as dramatic as incarceration to start asking questions that can transform their lives, though, Osiris says.

“Questions have the power to change the life of anyone who’s willing to look within and to answer as honestly as they can,” he says. “And the process doesn’t have to be painful or torturous. It can be joyful and full of hope.”

Osiris has suggestions for getting started with questions tailored to a variety of situations.

Improving relationships. Does the way I treat others say what I would really like to say? Do my actions speak volumes to other people about the way I feel about them? What relationship would I like to change, starting with the way I treat the other person and letting my actions speak in a more loving, nurturing way?

Defining yourself. In my life as it is now, am I an observer or a participant? Am I someone who brings energy to people and situations, or someone who drains it? Do I feel like a victim with no ability to change my life, or do I feel that I have a say in the way my life unfolds?

Embracing change. How firmly do I hold on to old ideas about who I am and what I can do? Am I gripping too tightly to ideas that no longer serve me? Have I limited myself in what I see as possible for my life?

Impacting the world through work and volunteering. Do I see my job as simply a way to pay the bills? Can I be kinder and more positive in my interactions with those I work with each day? Can I see myself doing volunteer work that is meaningful to me?

“Deep questioning can transform every facet of your life if you have an honest desire to change the attitudes and misperceptions that need changing,” Osiris says. “But regardless of how, when and where you ask yourself the questions, the fact that you’re even asking them is the most important step of all.”

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3 ways art brings awareness to environmental concerns

It’s perhaps the most typical of environmental political battles.

Congressional leaders from Florida – Republicans and Democrats alike – want $200 million allocated in the federal budget for restoration efforts in the Everglades. President Donald Trump included about one-third that amount in his proposed budget, though he hinted in a recent trip to south Florida that more money could be coming.

Yet, regardless of how the Washington politics plays out, it’s important that attention is paid to the Everglades and to environmental issues in general, says Clyde Butcher (www.clydebutcher.com), a nature photographer who since the 1980s has helped bring national awareness to the Everglades through stunning black-and-white photographs that have been compared to the works of Ansel Adams.

And Butcher says that, while politicians wrangle, it is artists like him who can help give people a greater understanding what would be lost if we fail to conserve and protect the natural wonders around us.

“So many people these days live in cities, or spend time on computers, and they lose touch with nature,” he says. “Through art, we can perhaps inspire them to venture out and gain an appreciation for how important it is.”

Butcher over the years has dared to wade into regions of the Everglades that most people never see. He’s making plans to put his latest photographic exhibit, “America’s Everglades: Through the Lens of Clyde Butcher,” on a national tour. Right now the exhibit is on display through May 26 at the Appleton Museum in Ocala, FL, and in 2020 will be in Youngstown, Ohio.

He says some of the ways artists help bring attention to environmental issues include:

Let people vicariously experience the world’s wonders. Butcher says his large prints make people feel like they are walking right into the scene, which many of them wouldn’t dare do in reality. “A lot of people don’t want to get wet,” he says. “They don’t want to play with the gators and the snakes.” Of course, eventually he wants them to experience the real thing. “You have to get your feet connected to the earth, or to water, to understand it, to feel it,” Butcher says.

Help people understand government’s role. “The government is making the laws, so we need to work with those guys,” Butcher says. One of the early ways he worked with government was when a water management district wanted to display some of his photographs in a new building. The problem: The water district had no money to pay for the photographs. Butcher’s businessman side hesitated at first, but eventually he agreed to provide the photos, feeling that his art could help connect the public to the water district’s mission.

Spread the word. Each time someone is exposed to nature through art they are reminded of the beauty and importance of these environmental treasures. Butcher took that a step further. About 25 years ago, he began offering guided swamp walks through the Everglades at one of his galleries. He says people who are exposed to the habitat may be more likely to want to preserve nature and will influence others.

“I feel my images create an emotion that reaches out to people beyond any political debates,” Butcher says. “That helps them see their surroundings in a different way, and encourages them to save those wild places where peace can fill the soul.”

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Have too many bad habits? Here are 6 ways to create good ones

It’s said that we become our habits. In some cases that is not a good thing; bad habits prevail among many Americans. One report found that over 70 percent of US adults have at least one unhealthy behavior associated with chronic health problems.

Breaking bad habits isn’t easy, but sometimes the best answer is replacing them with empowering new habits that bring positive changes to one’s daily life.

“We often have habits that hold us back, like smoking or eating food lacking in nutrition,” says Dr. Rob Carter III, co-author with his wife, Dr. Kirti Salwe Carter, of The Morning Mind: Use Your Brain to Master Your Day and Supercharge Your Life(www.themorningmind.com).

“A great way to start every day is with a series of empowering habits. Morning, in fact, according to some researchers is the best time to start making these kinds of changes in your life.”

Carter has six ways you can create new, empowering habits and make them stick:

Prioritize habits. “For each area in which you want to grow,” Carter says, “take some time to think about what kind of empowering habits you’d like to establish around that topic.” Areas to consider are health, wealth, social, relationships, job, hobbies, self-esteem, interpersonal skills, positive thinking, time management, and life purpose.

Focus on one at a time. “Because we have a limited amount of willpower in the morning, it’s very important how we use that energy,” Carter says. “By focusing on just one habit you would like to change – for example, eating a healthy breakfast – you can concentrate that willpower on the task at hand until it becomes a habit.”

Be reasonable with yourself. The time it will take to establish the new habit depends upon how much resistance a person has. And sometimes developing a new habit represents a long leap from where one currently stands. “That’s too daunting,” Carter says, “so break it down into more achievable steps. Incremental improvements add up to a big transformation and are often more powerful and sustainable.”

Commit specific time toward the goal. Carter suggests nailing down a detailed timeline and committing a full effort toward formation of the new habit within that time span. “Write down what you hope to achieve, how many times a week you will practice the new habit, and when and where you’ll do it,” Carter says. “Having a specific goal helps keep you accountable to yourself.

Reward success. Have a reward in place to celebrate performing your new habit. “It has to be something that will motivate you to complete your habit,” Carter says.

Stack habits. “The neural pathways of your pre-existing habits are well-travelled routes in your brain,” Carter says. “You can take advantage of this by building a new habit and associating it with an old one that is well-established. This is a quicker way to create new habits than if you were to start from scratch. For example, if you want to create a new habit of exercising in the morning, and you have a habit of reading the newspaper every morning, tie these activities together by exercising immediately before you read the paper. Reading the paper becomes your reward.”

“When you learn for yourself how simple it is to change habits,” Carter says, “you’ll want to make adjustments to all areas of your life.”

DIY cancer screening

Colorectal cancer is the second-deadliest cancer in the U.S., but only six out of 10 adults who should get routine screening reportedly do so. Looking for ways to increase that number, researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania mailed nearly 900 kits to overdue patients and found that 29 percent of them returned completed kits. Mailing kits directly "reduced steps in the screening process, making it easier for patients to get screened and catch colorectal cancer earlier or even potentially prevent it from occurring,” said Chyke Doubeni, who was the senior author on the project, which was led by Shivan Mehta.

Trans teens & eating disorders

Research shows that transgender children are at greater risk of developing eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, than others. Rosemary Thomas of the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health at the University of Pennsylvania said that more work is needed to educate families and raise awareness. “It’s important to remember that the LGBT community has many of the same health concerns as other patients, but historically have had poorer access to health care and experiences of stigma and discrimination resulting in increased risk for certain health conditions and support around mental wellness.”

Nuclear energy & climate change

Due to the threat of climate change, anti-nuclear sentiments in the U.S. are softening, but it is important to remember the risks. Geologist Reto Gieré of the University of Pennsylvania said the public needs to remain aware of the disadvantages of nuclear energy, especially the safe storage of nuclear waste. “If you want electricity the way we want it, which is all the time, then we have to accept the negatives that come with generating it,” he said.

Legacy brands

More and more legacy brands are shutting down and losing once-loyal customers. According to Santiago Gallino of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania the brands are breaking up with the customers by “losing touch with the customer and thinking customers will keep going to a particular retailer because their whole life they had an emotional connection," he said. "They do not understand why the customer is starting to buy other things at different places. And this, over time, erodes the relationship.” Also, Gallino said, brands often fail to combine legacy with the evolving preferences of today's consumer.

Mexico's urban areas

Despite the Mexican government's stated intentions to increase the use of public transport, existing land use and transportation policies are almost certainly contributing to the growth in car ownership and car travel. A new study by Erick Guerra of the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and the Penn Institute for Urban Research at the University of Pennsylvania finds that Mexican land use policy has separated housing developments from existing job centers or transit supply, and that public investments have favored road infrastructure. "Together, these two policy shifts have converged to support the substantial growth of vehicle use in Mexico’s cities," Guerra said. "Stemming the tide of rising motorization will require a concerted shift in public policy."

Uterus transplants

For women with uterine factor infertility (UFI), a uterus transplant is the only way to carry a pregnancy. But the procedure is relatively new. Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have launched a multi-year clinical trial that will offer women with UFI another option and that will provide researchers the possibility to uncover new information about pregnancy and its complications, as well as about how the fetal immune system is formed and how to make uterus transplantation safer and more accessible. “We’re going to gain tremendous knowledge from this trial about anatomy, surgery and perfusion of the uterus, and other organs," said researcher Nawar Latif. "Obstetricians will also learn a lot about transplant and pregnancy, and how we can better manage those situations. It’s uncharted territory.”

Hong Kong

Confrontation over democracy is unlikely to go away in Hong Kong and has in fact been escalating. "The problem is that China can’t seem to stop itself,” said Jacques deLisle of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “Beijing is either worried that democratization and liberal politics in Hong Kong are a threat to its control and a potential contagion that could spread to the mainland or is confident that it can simply ignore pressures for political change in Hong Kong from local and foreign critics and activists."

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Can your mistakes be the big break your business needs?

Success is often preceded by failure – in some cases, many failures.

Honda founder Sochiro Honda once said, "Success is 99 percent failure." Many products, from Thomas Edison’s light bulb to potato chips, were created after a multitude of mistakes.

Yet research has shown that many organizations aren’t good at accepting failure, an approach that can impede innovation and stress the work culture. But some entrepreneurs who have succeeded after numerous misfires say it pays off to embrace mistakes as a necessary path toward breakthroughs.

“You’ve got to be willing to get it wrong on your way to getting it right,” says Arnie Malham (www.WorthDoingWrong.com), author of Worth Doing Wrong: The Quest To Build A Culture That Rocks, and founder/president of BetterBookClub.com. “A lot of failure can bring many benefits, including a happier and more productive work culture.”

Malham says he repeatedly got it wrong in all aspects of running a business, but mistakes pushed him and his companies forward. Ultimately, he operated two highly successful businesses.

He can discuss for your listeners how companies can build more free-thinking, creative cultures by being unafraid of failure and seeing errors as steps toward solutions.

Discussion Questions

How did some of your successes occur after failures?

Can you expand on the phrase, “Failing up,” what that means, and how an organization can operate by that motto?

How does an entrepreneur stay encouraged – and keep the office culture positive – when mistakes multiply?

Some companies can make only so many mistakes before going out of business. How does a business leader in that scenario engender a workplace attitude that mistakes are OK?

From your observations or experiences, do businesses often get into trouble when they try to diversify, rather than maximizing their strengths or niche?

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Have too many bad habits? here are 6 ways to create good ones

It’s said that we become our habits. In some cases that is not a good thing; bad habits prevail among many Americans. One report found that over 70 percent of US adults have at least one unhealthy behavior associated with chronic health problems.

Breaking bad habits isn’t easy, but sometimes the best answer is replacing them with empowering new habits that bring positive changes to one’s daily life.

“We often have habits that hold us back, like smoking or eating food lacking in nutrition,” says Dr. Rob Carter III, co-author with his wife, Dr. Kirti Salwe Carter, of The Morning Mind: Use Your Brain to Master Your Day and Supercharge Your Life (www.themorningmind.com).

“A great way to start every day is with a series of empowering habits. Morning, in fact, according to some researchers is the best time to start making these kinds of changes in your life.”

Carter has six ways you can create new, empowering habits and make them stick:

Prioritize habits. “For each area in which you want to grow,” Carter says, “take some time to think about what kind of empowering habits you’d like to establish around that topic.” Areas to consider are health, wealth, social, relationships, job, hobbies, self-esteem, interpersonal skills, positive thinking, time management, and life purpose.

Focus on one at a time. “Because we have a limited amount of willpower in the morning, it’s very important how we use that energy,” Carter says. “By focusing on just one habit you would like to change – for example, eating a healthy breakfast – you can concentrate that willpower on the task at hand until it becomes a habit.”

Be reasonable with yourself. The time it will take to establish the new habit depends upon how much resistance a person has. And sometimes developing a new habit represents a long leap from where one currently stands. “That’s too daunting,” Carter says, “so break it down into more achievable steps. Incremental improvements add up to a big transformation and are often more powerful and sustainable.”

Commit specific time toward the goal. Carter suggests nailing down a detailed timeline and committing a full effort toward formation of the new habit within that time span. “Write down what you hope to achieve, how many times a week you will practice the new habit, and when and where you’ll do it,” Carter says. “Having a specific goal helps keep you accountable to yourself.

Reward success. Have a reward in place to celebrate performing your new habit. “It has to be something that will motivate you to complete your habit,” Carter says.

Stack habits. “The neural pathways of your pre-existing habits are well-travelled routes in your brain,” Carter says. “You can take advantage of this by building a new habit and associating it with an old one that is well-established. This is a quicker way to create new habits than if you were to start from scratch. For example, if you want to create a new habit of exercising in the morning, and you have a habit of reading the newspaper every morning, tie these activities together by exercising immediately before you read the paper. Reading the paper becomes your reward.”

“When you learn for yourself how simple it is to change habits,” Carter says, “you’ll want to make adjustments to all areas of your life.”

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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. Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

Q. What is plantar fasciitis and how is it treated?

A. This painful foot condition is the result of inflammation of the fascia or thick, fibrous band of tissue connecting the heel to the toes and supporting the foot muscles and the arch. When the fascia is overly stretched, small tears occur.

Plantar fasciitis is more common in women and those who are overweight or on their feet for several hours daily. Additional risk factors include wearing worn-out, thin-soled shoes; regularly wearing high heels; having a very high arch or flat feet; an unusual walk or foot position; or tight Achilles tendons or heel cords.

Symptoms include pain in the bottom of the foot at either the center or front of the heel bone. Some experience pain that’s worse upon waking in the morning or when they have sat for a long period.

Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by a physician examining the tender area, often determining the cause by its location. The condition usually improves on its own after a few months, but rest, applying an ice pack or taking over-the-counter pain medications can help reduce swelling and ease discomfort. If the condition doesn’t improve or redness or bruising on the heel appears, notify your doctor.

Q. Is there a safe way to remove skin tags at home or should I see a dermatologist or leave them alone?

A. Skin tags are usually the size of a grain of rice and appear alone or in a group. The small flap of flesh-colored tissue hangs off the skin by a slender stalk and is most often found where skin folds or rubs together. Skin tags are non-cancerous, have no symptoms and don’t increase in size. They usually appear in middle-aged or older men and women but others at risk include those who are overweight, diabetic or pregnant.

It's unclear why skin tags form but hormone changes may be a factor, and friction from rubbing against skin or clothing appears to be a trigger.

Those with a new skin tag should consult their doctor as some serious skin conditions may resemble skin tags. Those that are multi-colored, bleed, or grow quickly may need a closer examination.

At-home removal can lead to bleeding, possible infection and is strongly discouraged. Instead, a physician can remove a skin tag by numbing the area and cutting it off with special scissors, freezing (cryotherapy) or burning by using an electrode to deliver an electric current.

Q. Is it true that a generic version of the popular inhaler Advair was recently approved by the FDA?

A. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the first generic version of the widely used Advair Diskus inhaler for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The inhalers consist of a combination treatment of fluticasone propionate and salmeterol inhalation powder. The generic inhaler, called Wixela Inhub, is produced by Mylan.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that narrows and inflames the airways while COPD is a progressive one that affects breathing and often worsens over time.

The generic inhaler, which comes in three strengths, has been approved for twice-daily treatment of asthma in patients aged 4 and older. It has also been approved for COPD patients for maintenance treatment of airflow obstruction and reducing exacerbations. The most common side effects for asthma patients are upper-respiratory tract infection or inflammation; swelling in the back of the throat; hoarse voice or difficulty speaking; oral candidiasis; bronchitis, cough; headaches; nausea; and vomiting. For COPD patients, in addition to oral thrush, respiratory infections, headaches, and hoarse voice or difficulty speaking. Other common side effects include pneumonia, throat irritation and musculoskeletal pain.

Q. Does my doctor need to know what over-the-counter supplements I’m taking?

A. While supplements are available over the counter or online without a prescription, you should always check with your physician before taking them. Some can cause side effects, or interact with prescribed or over-the-counter medicines or supplements you’re already taking.

Consulting with your doctor is especially important if you’re pregnant or nursing, preparing for surgery, or have health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. It’s just as important to check with a child’s physician before giving them a supplement.

Ask your doctor whether you need the supplement based on your diet and health, what benefits and risks are involved, and the amount and length of time you should take the supplement. Be sure your physician knows all medicines and supplements you are taking.

While some supplement ingredients have been tested in animal or human studies (such as folic acid, which has been shown to reduce the risk of birth defects in pregnant women), supplement manufacturers aren’t required to test their products for safety and effectiveness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does regulate dietary supplements but treats them as foods, not medications.

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History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

Ten years after the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that took the lives of approximately 3,000 people in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, the mastermind of the diabolical assault, Osama bin Laden, was found, and killed . U.S. Special Forces carried out a daring raid on his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011 where bin Laden and his cadre of minions were hiding out. The unprovoked 9/11 assaults were carried out by terrorist hijackers who commandeered four U.S. passenger planes; two were crashed into the 110-story Twin Towers in New York City, a third hit the Pentagon in Washington DC, and passengers aboard a fourth fought back against the bombers aboard their plane as it tumbled into a field in Pennsylvania.

For more information: The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Live Aware, Not in Fear: The 411 After 9-11, A Book for Teens by Donna Wells and Bruce C. Morris.

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We remember the veterans who fought and died for our country on Memorial Day, each year, at the end of May.

But, the original observance was on May 5, 1865, and it was called Decoration Day. It was established so the nation could pay its respects to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. Relatives, friends and neighbors “decorated” their graves with flowers. Many years and too many wars later, the day was renamed, and in 1971 Congress turned Memorial Day into an official national holiday to be observed on the last Monday in May. It created a three-day holiday weekend that has become the unofficial start of summer.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends the engrossing Memorial Day by Vince Flynn, to better understand the holiday.

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Before the War Between the States, America had already been involved in three international conflicts. The Revolutionary War established the country’s independence and the War of 1812 reaffirmed our sovereignty from Great Britain. And, then there was the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. On May 13, 1846, Congress declared war on Mexico at the behest of President James K. Polk. The cause was what President Polk called “manifest destiny,” or the United States’ right to expand its western boundaries. In the end, the nation extended to the Pacific Ocean, including parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and Colorado. But, it was a costly war in which 11,300 American soldiers perished.

For more information: The Mexican-American War by John DiConsiglio; a good book for young readers to interpret the times and causes of the fight, according to the Grateful American Book Prize.

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On May 17, 1954, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. It declared that separate educational facilities for black and white students were “inherently unequal,” even if their physical accommodations were designed to be tangibly equal. Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American jurist to be appointed to the Supreme Court, argued the ground breaking case before the court. The story behind Brown v. Board of Education is a must for young learners in order to understand what it means to be a responsible citizen of the U.S.

For more information, read Susan Goldman Rubin’s Brown v. Board of Education: A Fight for Simple Justice.

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Want to do business with Baby Boomers? You’ll find them on social media

Forget those jokes about Baby Boomers and their supposed struggles grasping today’s technology.

They may have grown up in a black-and-white TV, rotary-phone era, but most Baby Boomers long ago adapted to the 21st-century digital world. And that includes social media, which they took to with almost as much delight as their children and grandchildren if recent studies on the subject are any indication.

As a result, any business or professional who wants to market to Baby Boomers needs to understand that reaching them through social media channels should be part of the strategy, says Jonathan Musgrave, owner and chief digital marketer for Steep Digital Marketing (www.steepdigital.com).

“I always tell people that educationally based messages are the key to getting traction when it comes to reaching and influencing people on social media,” Musgrave says. “While plenty of goods are sold on Facebook, for example, that’s not primarily why Baby Boomers, or anyone else, logs in each day.

“Instead, the reason they are addicted to social media is to see what’s new. What’s new with their friends, kids and grandkids? What’s new in the news? The best way to reach them and market to them is to position yourself as an educator; someone who is telling them what’s new.”

If that still sounds more like a way to reach younger generations rather than Baby Boomers, consider this: A study by Google revealed that Boomers and seniors spend more time online than they do watching TV. Also, 82.3 percent of Boomers who use the internet have at least one social media account, with Facebook being their favorite.

Musgrave says his company uses several approaches when creating effective Facebook ads, but many of these elements also can work for routine social media posts on a business or professional site as well. They include:

Images. It’s important to have compelling images to catch a social media user’s attention while they’re scrolling through their newsfeed and makes them stop to take a second look. “We use colors and font combinations that grab your attention immediately,” Musgrave says.

Captivating headlines. Headlines are the gateway to getting people to read the rest of your copy. “Shorter headlines are easier to read and get straight to the point,” Musgrave says. “We want things to be as easy as possible for people to understand what we are offering in their area.”

Engaging copy. Once the headline draws them in, you need to deliver with an engaging message. Musgrave suggests one way to do this is with questions. “Asking questions of your audience creates a desire for an answer to those questions,” he says. “This creates an open loop that makes the brain grab on tight. It acts like a ‘pop quiz’ and keeps the audience glued.” It’s also important to avoid buzzwords, he says. “You want your copy to be easily readable, and buzzwords usually do the opposite of that,” Musgrave says. “People do business with people who make things easier for them.”

“Facebook is the primary way Baby Boomers interact with content online, although you can find them on other social media platforms as well, such as Twitter and LinkedIn,” Musgrave says. “It’s critical that anyone who wants to do business with Baby Boomers understand that if you’re looking to reach them, social media is a good place to make the connection.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Mother Seeking SSI Benefits for Disabled Child

Dear Rusty: My young daughter is disabled, and I am trying to make ends meet financially. Can you help with a child’s SSI claim? Signed: Needy Mother

Dear Needy Mother: "SSI", or “Supplemental Security Income”, is a Federal benefit program administered by, but separate from Social Security. SSI is available for low-income disabled seniors and disabled minor children. As your daughter’s parent you must apply directly with the Social Security Administration (you cannot apply online). You can do this at the general SSA number (1.800.772.1213) or at your local Social Security office, which you can find by going to this link: www.ssa.gov/locator. Here, you can enter your zip code and get back contact information for your local office, including location, hours, and telephone number to call.

You should call first to make an appointment so as to speed up the SSI application process and avoid long wait times. In order to expedite the application, you should first complete a Child Disability Report which will ask you to provide detailed information about the child and the child's medical condition. A child is considered disabled if suffering from physical or mental impairment which causes a severe functional impairment which has lasted (or is expected to last) more than a year. Go to link for complete information on applying for SSI: www.ssa.gov/applyfordisability/child.htm. In addition to information on the child’s eligibility criteria and how to apply, at this SSA website you will also find a link to the Child Disability Report.

Completing the report online is relatively straightforward and intuitive if you have some computer skills but, if not, you can also obtain a copy of the form (SSA-3820) at this link: www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-3820.pdf. You can download the Child Disability Report form (SSA-3820), print it, fill it out as completely as possible by hand and provide it to Social Security when you submit the SSI application. Gathering all the information requested and providing it to Social Security via the Child Disability Report will serve to greatly expedite the SSI application for your child. Please be aware that there are household income limits and that SSI benefits are closely coordinated with the State in which you live. In fact, Social Security will contact your State's SSI benefit office to provide them with your application, and your State's SSI benefit office will verify the child's eligibility by contacting doctors, hospitals, teachers, medical providers, schools or other contacts you have provided who can verify the child's disability and eligibility. If the child is working, he/she must not be earning more than the monthly allowable amount ($1220 for 2019) in order to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income. Also, be aware that if the application is initially denied, you have the right to appeal that initial decision. And for clarity, money for SSI benefits is not taken from Social Security funds but rather from the Government’s general funds.

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If you’re feeling stressed and anxious research says, feed the birds

In today’s constant contact, cell-phone celebrated, digital world, most people can go days or even weeks without spending any time in natural sunlight. Instead, we eat breakfast inside, or on the go, only to race to an office, filled with artificial light and plastic plants, for 8 to 10 hours a day. It’s no wonder why Americans’ mental health is suffering.

Compare that hectic routine to those memorable moments when you’re able to sit quietly, let the sunshine warm your face, hear the birds, and allow nature to envelope you. While everyone longs for less stress, actually relaxing can be dauntingly stressful!

However, a new study out of the United Kingdom sheds light on one way people can de-stress: bird watching. The study finds that people who watch birds from their home have lower depression, anxiety, and stress compared to those that live in less leafy areas that have fewer birds. People “felt relaxed and connected to nature when they watched birds in their garden,” researchers say. These feelings increased with the level of bird feeding in the yard, they add.

Specifically, the number of birds people might see was directly associated with better mental health. “This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being. Birds around the home and nature in general, show great promise in preventive health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.,” says lead researcher Dr. Daniel Cox from the University of Exeter.

Dr. Tina Phillips, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, agrees. “Overwhelmingly, studies show that people feed birds because it makes them feel more relaxed, that it’s something they’re interested in and ultimately something that makes them feel good.”

If you want to disconnect from the digital world and relieve some daily stress and anxiety, getting outside, bird watching could be the key to increasing your mindful, mental health. Since studies reveal the more birds you see, the less likely you are to be stressed and anxious, it’s important to attract as many birds as possible.

The first step to attracting birds is to use an all-purpose tube feeder, which is the number one feeder choice, allowing birds to feed from multiple ports. Cole’s Wild Bird Products, Co. offers the Terrific Tube feeder, it’s made to last with state-of-the-art materials that prevent warping and discoloration and it features a “Quick Clean” removable base, so cleaning is super simple. Natural grip perch covers mimic the feel of a real branch, which encourages longer feeding times.

Once you have the right feeder, you’ll need reliable seed that will bring birds to your backyard to deliver that dose of stress relief we all desire. According to Elaine Cole, President and owner of Cole’s, the quality of birdseed will determine how many feathered friends will flock to your backyard.

Unlike other birdseed mixes, which typically contain cheap filler seed like milo and wheat, Cole’s selects only the top 1 to 2 percent of the highest quality seeds birds like to eat. Plus, Cole's doesn't add pesticides or chemicals, preferring instead to keep the seed as close to its natural state as possible.

“If you use inferior seed, you’re not going to like the results. Our seed is specifically formulated to attract the greatest number, variety, and species of birds. Birds are picky and birdseed matters. If you use cheap feed, they won’t hesitate look for something else they prefer. Birds are like people, give them what they like to eat and they’ll come back and bring their friends.” Cole said.

Since we’ve learned that the more birds we attract, the more stress-free we’ll be, it makes good sense to use the best bird feed you can buy. Cole’s Special Feeder, attracts the greatest number of wild birds than any other mix out there. Add Cole’s Blue Ribbon blend, which attracts the greatest variety of wild birds to the mix, and you’ve got the perfect prescription to help calm your anxiety and stress.

At the heart of it, everyone wants less stress and anxiety. Once you start watching birds in action, they’ll engage your attention in a way that keeps you in the moment, a state that provides mental relief. Admiring their beauty, listening to their sweet song and enjoying their antics will calm your overactive mind and bring joy and renewal.

Modern day Jonah

If someone had had a video camera when the whale swallowed Jonah, we might see a scene similar to this one captured off the coast of South Africa. It seems that Rainer Schimpf was snorkeling near Port Elizabeth Harbour when a whale with its mouth wide open tried to gobble him up. Schimpf managed to extricate himself later and told Sky News: "Once you're grabbed by something that's 15 tonnes heavy and very fast in the water, you realize you're actually only that small in the middle of the ocean,"

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The police let her go

Anne Brokenbrow has had a good life, always keeping on the straight and narrow. So how did this law abiding centenarian manage to wind up in hand cuffs being carried off by two of Bristol, England’s finest? It was all part of a charity event organized by the Stokeleigh Care Home where Ms. Brokenbrow resides. She and her housemates were asked to reveal something they might have on their bucket list. Her wish, she explained to a reporter for Sky News, was to be arrested, explaining that she is “104 and I have never been on the wrong side of the law." She described her arrest as “very exciting.”

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A modern day good Samaritan

You might want to call Mike Weirsky the absent minded mega-millionaire. He purchased several lottery tickets at a local supermarket recently but was distracted and left them on the counter. He explained to reporters what happened when he showed up at the New Jersey Lottery offices to pick up his $273 million jackpot. He said that while still at the store, "I put the tickets down, put my money away, did something with my phone and just walked away." The night the jackpot was announced Weirsky searched high and low for the tickets and finally, in desperation, he returned to the supermarket where he purchased them in the first place. And, to his surprise, the cashier had his tickets. The good Samaritan who found the tickets had returned them. Oh yeah, Weirsky opted for a lump sum payout of $162 million.

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Spy-plane bonus

Declassified photographs from American U2 spy planes reveal a treasure trove of archaeological information in the Middle East, from prehistoric hunting traps to 3,000-year-old irrigation canals. Emily Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania and Jason Ur of Harvard University have indexed and analyzed the frames, which were taken during the Cold War era and remained classified until 1997. “The photos provide a fascinating look at the Middle East several decades ago, showing, for example, historical Aleppo long before the massive destruction wrought in the ongoing civil war,” Hammer said. “Plus, the work and the accompanying online resources will allow other researchers to identify and access U2 photos for the first time.”

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Hospital readmissions

Medicare patients sent home from the hospital have higher readmission rates than those discharged to a skilled nursing facility. “With the increasing costs of post-acute care, it’s important to assess and understand the impacts of these choices,” said Rachel Werner of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “We found clear trade-offs: While home health care may cost less, it doesn’t have the same intensity of care as a skilled nursing facility, which may be sending many of them back into the hospital.”

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U.S. debt

The U.S. national debt has crossed $22 trillion. According to a Treasury Department report, the federal budget deficit rose to $310 billion in the first four months of the 2019 fiscal year, up 77 percent from the same time last year, as revenues fell 2 percent to $1.1 trillion and spending rose 9 percent to $1.4 trillion. Kent Smetters of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania said the growth in debt "is very closely in line with our previous projections of the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It is hard to definitely pin down a date of ‘no return.’ But, under the current debt path, we currently estimate that the government will have almost no reasonable options left, outside of debt default, in about 25 years.”

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Risk & adolescents

Adolescents are not naturally inclined to be greater risk-takers than younger children, despite stereotypes to the contrary and as some neuroscience theories have suggested. A recent policy review, led by Ivy N. Defoe, a recent postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, found instead that when adolescents can opt out of taking a risk, they take the safer option more often than children do. The researchers noted that despite the lack of evidence for adolescents being inherently more risk-taking than younger children, they are more likely to take risks than adults, even when the risks are spelled out.

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Seven tips: Keep your string trimmer running strong with a spring tune-up

The gas-powered string trimmer, also known as a weed whacker by many people, is a common yard and garden tool. Because they are less complicated than a lawn mower, many people do not know that string trimmers can benefit from a tune-up. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute shares seven tips to help you tune up your string trimmer for spring and summer use.

Clean and visually inspect your equipment. Wipe it down with a rag or cloth and remove any dirt or debris. Look for loose screws, missing parts, or signs of damage.

Remove and inspect the spark plug. If the electrode looks worn replace the spark plug. Whether you install a brand new spark plug or plan to use the old one, use a spark plug gapping tool to set the proper gap. Information on this should be found in your owner's manual.

Inspect and replace the line. Pull the trimmer line spool out and remove any leftover line from last season. The line can get brittle over time. Rewind with new line and reinstall the head.

Examine the air filter. Remove the cover and the air filter. Inspect the air filter carefully not only to see if it needs to be cleaned, but also to make sure it does not have any holes in it. Holes will let dirt enter the engine, causing damage.

Check the controls. Start with the on/off switch. It should click on and off. Pull the starter rope all the way out and check for cuts, nicks, and frayed spots. Replace it if you see any signs of damage. Test the throttle for smooth operation and check the choke and primer bulb.

Drain any old fuel. If you did not empty your trimmer’s fuel tank in the fall, drain your tank now. Most fuels today contain ethanol which can phase separate into alcohol and water and cause damage to your mower’s engine. Follow safe handling procedures and dispose of old fuel properly.

Protect your power by using the right fuel. Always use E10 or less fuel. It is illegal to use any fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol in any outdoor power equipment, including your string trimmer. Higher ethanol blended fuels may damage or destroy outdoor power equipment. For more information about safe fueling, go to www.LookBeforeYouPump.com.

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3 ways to head off employee turnover – and produce a better workforce

Sometimes a good salary isn’t enough.

Companies that want to attract and keep the best talent are finding that – perhaps more than ever – they need to understand just what it is today’s employees want out of work and then find ways to provide that.

While a great salary and good benefits are important, employees also desire such things as flexible schedules, a way to let their talents shine, and work that gives them a purpose, according to the 2018 Global Talent Trends study by Mercer.

And, with the unemployment rate so low, it’s easier for employees to find work elsewhere if they become discontented. That makes it even more important to keep them happy, since replacing employees can prove expensive.

“The majority of human behavior is emotionally driven, but unfortunately a higher percentage is driven by negative emotions,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems, a dental-practice-management software company, and author of Responsible Dental Ownership (www.alexzlatin.com).

“A high turnover of employees suggests a high level of stress, which indicates there are human resources problems that need to be addressed. In some cases, an employee may just be a bad fit. But in other cases, it could be that management in some way isn’t meeting the needs of the employees.”

Anytime an employee leaves, the business will need to find a replacement and then train that replacement. There is reduced productivity during that hiring and training timeframe, and there also could be morale problems if other employees have to take up the slack.

Zlatin says just a few of the ways companies can give employees what they want – and benefit the business at the same time – include:

Help them understand their purpose. It’s important for employees to be able to grasp the connection between their daily tasks and the goals, vision and purpose of the company, Zlatin says. “This connection is the key to building the employees’ awareness that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, which gives them purpose,” Zlatin says. “This is especially true for the millennial generation. Purpose is essential to their happiness and retention. One of the most important things to millennials in a work setting is to be able to make that connection, allowing them to adopt the company’s goals as their own.”

Empower them to grow and learn. A good manager should inspire employees to think outside the box. “You want to push them outside their comfort zones so they can find better ways to achieve their goals,” Zlatin says. Employees who don’t feel they are being challenged, who aren’t growing in their abilities, are more likely to become bored and seek employment elsewhere.

Provide coaching and mentoring. “Coaching and mentoring means guiding people through failures and mistakes,” Zlatin says. “This is the best way to learn and gain experience.” But if you try to mentor people by telling them exactly what they need to do and making sure they do it, he says, you’re not a leader or a mentor. Instead, you are a supervisor who is ensuring that processes are being followed. “There’s no creativity there,” Zlatin says. “Telling people how to solve a problem limits their professional growth and prevents them from realizing their potential.”

“To keep employees happy and engaged, it’s important for businesses to have a clarity of purpose and an ability to communicate expectations,” Zlatin says.

“Without these, employees end up not knowing what they should be doing, how they should be doing it, what goals they need to achieve, and how they fit into the organization. They become frustrated and start looking for another workplace that will give them what they need.”

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Are you so focused on retirement you are missing out on your life?

Mary and Pete saved every penny for retirement. They never went on vacations, they rarely went out to eat, and they lived a frugal lifestyle secure in the knowledge that when they retired, they would be able to live comfortably.

In short, they worried so much about retirement that they forgot to experience all that life has to offer.

“Saving for retirement is a worthy goal but there must be a balance between that and living life to the fullest,” says John Hagensen, founder and managing director of Keystone Wealth Partners (www.keystonewealthpartners.com).

Hagensen says he has clients who scrimped and saved all their lives so they would have plenty of money for retirement. But when they do retire, they still don’t want to spend any money to enjoy themselves because they have been so programmed during their working lives to save every penny until the day they die.

“The trick is to find that balance between saving to have a good retirement and managing your money so you can be rich in experiences,” he says.

Hagensen says this concept was driven home to him when a 20-year-old friend died in a traffic accident while driving across the country to start a new church.

“She lived a life of kindness and joy and had wonderful adventures in her life,” he says. “I saw the people she had impacted and it really hit home to me that life is short. Saving for retirement is a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. We need to know that if we died tomorrow, we would be happy because we lived richly, not that we died rich.”

Hagensen offers these tips for people who want to live richly instead of dying wealthy:

Have a comprehensive plan. Design a life plan around all your financial goals – both short term and long term – and how you plan to reach them. If you are unsure how to devise such a comprehensive plan, seek the advice of a qualified financial planner.

Stop procrastinating. Stop making excuses about making comprehensive plans about your financial future. The future will be here sooner than you think. “We think we have an infinite amount of time – we don’t,” Hagensen says.

Take risks. Those who experience life to the fullest sometimes have to take risks, both professionally and personally. “You will only regret the risks you never took. Everything else is just a learning experience,” Hagensen says.

Get out of the mindset of fear and scarcity. Hagensen says we should ask ourselves “what is the worst that can happen?” when taking a big gamble, such as moving to another city for a job. Once people ask themselves that question, he says, many are able to overcome their fears because they know they can handle that worst-case situation.

“Yes, it is important to be able to have a comfortable retirement,” Hagensen says. “But we only go around once in life and it is also important to live richly while our health is good so we don’t have any regrets when we do retire. You don’t want to be short of money, but you also don’t want to be short on experiencing life.”

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Testosterone for women, estrogen for men? wrong levels bring problems

By DON COLBERT, M.D.

You don’t normally think of women needing testosterone and men needing estrogen. But when those levels drop for women and men, respectively, or are way out of balance, a wide range of symptoms may be suffered.

Fortunately, there are ways to correct those levels and restore health.

Ladies first.

Testosterone is considered the manly hormone, yet few women know that they have quite a bit of it in their bodies, primarily when they are young. In their 20s and 30s, their testosterone is in the normal range, but after 40 is when we start to see the decline in levels.

There are numerous factors that push testosterone levels lower – menopause, medications, stress, aging, removal of ovaries, and more. And with that drop, myriad problems can occur. Blood work is needed to confirm suspicions, but persistent symptoms of low testosterone in women are hard to argue away. Among those symptoms are aching joints, depression, inability to sleep, lack of sex drive, migraines, and weight gain.

But the great news is, it’s fixable.

The hormone health zone for testosterone in women

The first hormone women need to optimize is testosterone. It may sound a little strange to recommend testosterone therapy for women, but with it they can benefit enormously. Depression and anxiety usually lift. They can slow or sometimes reverse cellulite, lose weight (especially belly fat), tighten skin, restore libido, improve memory, strengthen the heart, and boost energy levels and stamina.

The benefits of boosting testosterone go further; low testosterone is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, and weak bones. Low testosterone levels give women many of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, which serves as another strong motivator for women to keep their testosterone levels up.

Sadly, most doctors are taught to prescribe only low doses of estradiol (in pill format, which is not good) and no testosterone whatsoever. In fact, doctors usually choose not to address hormone issues at all. They will tell you “normal ranges,” and if you happen to be low, they will usually prescribe you a medication for the symptoms. But that will never get your health back.

What your body needs is bioidentical hormone therapy. You may need to find another doctor, someone who will treat your low-testosterone symptoms with bioidentical testosterone.

I have found boosting testosterone levels with pellets to be effective and efficient. They raise levels quickly, and you don’t need to come back for another treatment for three to four months, and sometimes six months. Testosterone injections are the next-best method if pellets are too pricey, followed by testosterone creams.

I suggest women in their 40s start monitoring their testosterone levels. The time to start optimizing them is when the hormone levels go below 50-60 percent of upper range or when symptoms develop. When your testosterone levels are optimized, life is great!

Now for you men

Yes guys, it’s true: Even men need estrogen. There’s just a delicate balance that needs to be understood.

Estrogen is one of those things that is good for you in the proper amounts but bad if you have too much or too little of it. Just the right amount of estradiol is good for bone strength, sperm count, cholesterol metabolism, healthy libido, and clear thinking, just to name a few of the known values of estrogen in men.

Usually, however, it is too much estrogen in men that is much more common. This occurs when testosterone levels decrease due to aging, obesity, lifestyle, a lack of exercise, stress, endocrine disruptors, and so on. Too much estrogen has been found to promote abnormal clot formation or blood clots, and excessive estrogen levels may also increase the risk of stroke.

A healthy man usually needs to maintain at least a 10-to-1 ratio of testosterone to estrogen. When the ratio is far below 10-to-1, estrogen levels are too high, and that brings with it a host of ailments. Among the symptoms I’ve seen in men who have too much estrogen in their bodies are brain fog, blood clots, gynecomastia (man boobs), lack of erections, lack of sex drive, and low sperm counts.

There’s also a higher risk for prostate cancer and heart disease when estrogen (estradiol) levels in men are too high.

Too little estrogen, and you also have a lack of sexual interest, few erections, and no libido. It’s also not healthy for the brain to have super-low estrogen levels, nor is brain fog a symptom that anyone enjoys.

The hormone health zone for estrogen in men

Optimizing estrogen levels in men usually coincides with their testosterone levels. They are linked; raise testosterone, and estrogen usually rises; lower testosterone, and estrogen usually lowers. Remember, the goal is for at least a 10-to-1 ratio.

When men start using testosterone cream, shots, or pellets, some of the testosterone aromatizes, or converts, to estrogen. Some men have excessive aromatization, especially older men and men who are obese. To stay in the estradiol hormone health zone, men will need to take a hormone-regulating supplement called DIM (Diindolylmethane), 150 mg twice a day. It is the safest way to lower estrogen without the fear of going too low.

For men who have never had their estrogen levels checked and believe they might have the symptoms of high or low estrogen, ask for blood work that gives you your estradiol level. Then you and your doctor will know what to do to treat it. Estrogen levels are usually pretty easy to treat in men.

It may be surprising that men need to watch their estrogen levels, but it’s one of those things that they must be aware of. When we were learning to drive, we were all taught to watch for the “blind spots.” Those spots aren’t dangerous in and of themselves. But when you need to take action, the blind spots are suddenly very important.

Don Colbert, M.D. (www.drcolbert.com), is the author of Dr. Colbert's Hormone Health Zone. He has been a board-certified family practice doctor for more than 25 years and has offices in Orlando, Fla., and Dallas. The author of over 40 books, he wrote two New York Times best-sellers – The Seven Pillars of Health and Dr. Colbert’s “I Can Do This” Diet – has sold more than 10 million books and treated 50,000-plus patients. Dr. Colbert is a frequent show guest of Christian leaders Joyce Meyer, John Hagee, and Kenneth Copeland and has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, Fox News, ABC World News Tonight, and in periodicals such as Newsweek and Reader’s Digest.

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IRAs come with strings attached; Are there safer retirement alternatives?

Most people planning for retirement probably would prefer some predictability as they plot out their post-work futures, but financial professionals say the reality they face is that uncertainty surrounds the stock market, tax rates and the future of Social Security.

And even one of the most popular retirement-savings tools – the Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) – can get more complicated than many people realize, limiting a retiree’s control of their money, retirement planners say.

“We’re supposed to believe we’ll pay lower taxes on our future IRA distributions,” says Jeff Brummett (www.greenlinefinancialservices.com), a financial talk show host, public speaker, and the author of The Worthless IRA: How To Keep Wall Street and Uncle Sam From Getting Their Greedy Little Fingers On Your Hard-Earned Money.

“An IRA gives Wall Street the use of our money with no promise it will be there when we need it. Even if it is, one must remember we have a partner in our traditional IRA/401k account. When one considers our astronomical national debt combined with the fact that only one-third of baby boomers are drawing social security (or medicare) benefits today, does anyone really believe tax rates are not likely to go through the stratosphere in order to support these programs in the future?

“Fifty million baby boomers have yet to turn 65. All will have done so by 2030. Math says Uncle Sam will likely increase his percent of ownership on our tax-deferred IRA account values by raising taxes on withdrawals. How else will he pay for these two retirement entitlement programs? Both are broke today with a third of baby boomers drawing benefits. The math is the math!”

Brummett breaks down three ways strings are attached to IRAs and provides two retirement-money alternatives he says are safer:

IRA Strings

Most IRA holders must invest in a securities-based financial product. “This is a product of risk, and retirement is a critical and certain need,” Brummett says. “Wouldn’t it be more logical and responsible for everyone to be able to invest a portion of their cumulative life savings into an investment offering certainty? Why not allow these retirement IRA savings instruments to include a variety of safe-money financial products?”

You can’t withdraw until age 59½. If you take money out of an IRA before 59½, the IRS imposes a 10% penalty. There’s also the possibility of a marginal tax rate increase that the withdrawal might cause. “Studies by Fidelity and Vanguard have indicated that over 40% of people with IRAs and 401(k)s withdraw from those accounts before they’re 59½,” Brummett says. “And long-term, whether stock values rise or fall, the only guaranteed beneficiary is Uncle Sam and the financial elite of Wall Street.”

You must begin withdrawing at age 70½. “IRA rules restrict your activity not only on the front end, but also the back end,” Brummett says. “The key back-end requirement is that at age 70½ you must start withdrawing a minimum amount each year, which is subject to income tax. We give up far more control of our money than one might think, and it can severely hurt our financial future if taxes are increased in the future.”

Retirement Alternatives

Tax favored cash-value life insurance. Cash-value life insurance can offer its owner a source of non-taxable income if properly designed and executed. “Most people have been purposely – and incorrectly – taught to believe that the only benefit of owning a life insurance policy is the death benefit,” Brummett says. “Permanent cash-value life insurance policies often have great living benefits, allowing the owner to leverage multiple non-taxable cash benefits contained within the policy while still living.”

Fixed-index annuity. “Protecting principal and providing income are the two most important objectives for anyone approaching retirement,” Brummett says. “In a variable annuity, there is no principal protection, and the owner must sometimes pay an additional fee to include a spouse in the living benefit. Fixed-index annuities offer lifetime income protection with zero to 1% fees, and they have 100% protection of principal from market risk.”

“What most retirees need today is not more of Wall Street’s version of diversification - diversification of market risk,” Brummett says. “What they need is diversification from market risk and a healthy dose of guaranteed income.”

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Reduce maintenance and increase success with self-watering gardens

By Melinda Myers

Raised beds and containers expand our planting options. They allow us to grow edible and ornamental plants even where there is no plantable space to garden. Use them to make planting, tending and harvesting convenient by bringing the garden to your back door. And fill them with pollinator-friendly plants to enjoy the colorful hummingbirds and butterflies that visit and flit past the window, deck and balcony.

Their need for frequent watering may have discouraged you from growing in raised beds and containers. The limited soil mass and increased exposure to wind, heat and sunlight make fast-draining potting mixes dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens.

Self-watering raised gardens are now available, making these gardens a realistic option; even for the busiest gardener. Consider one with a large built-in water reservoir, like Gardener’s Corrugated Metal Self-Watering Raised Bed, that extends time between watering.

Create mixed plantings of edibles and flowers for beautiful combinations in raised beds. Include some edible flowers like nasturtiums, pansies and calendulas that you, the hummingbirds and butterflies will enjoy. Lettuce, parsley, kale, Swiss chard and red cabbage combine nicely with most flowers and chives provide an edible vertical accent. Select compact vegetable varieties like Patio Choice yellow cherry tomato, Patio Pride peas, Mascotte bush beans and Astia zucchini suited to container and raised bed culture. And if concerned about maintaining the integrity of the patio or deck surface consider a Patio Raised Bed with Base (gardeners.com) that protects the underlying surface.

Elevated gardens raise your plantings to a comfortable height. No bending or kneeling needed to plant, weed and harvest. These are basically containers on legs. Many have wheels so you can move them out of the way or into the sunlight as needed.

Look for those with built-in trellises and supports when growing vines like cucumbers, pole beans and Malabar spinach and tall plants like tomatoes, dinner plate dahlias and cosmos. But like containers, they dry out more quickly than in-ground gardens and need frequent irrigation.

Look for easy care, self-watering containers like the Self-Watering Standing Garden with large reservoirs to maximize the time between watering. Look for those with fill tubes and water-level indicators to help you determine when to water. These features help keep your garden looking and producing its best. You’ll have plenty of fresh greens for salads, herbs for seasoning drinks and meals, and flowers to dress up your table.

Don’t fret if you already have a raised bed or elevated garden that lacks these easy-care features. DIY irrigation kits are available and easy to design for these types of gardens. Select systems that allow you to customize and fit the irrigation layout to your gardening needs.

Further reduce maintenance by incorporating a slow release fertilizer at planting. These types of fertilizers release small amounts of nutrients over a longer period of time. No weekly mixing and applications needed. Just give them a mid-season boost if needed and according to the fertilizer label.

Reducing ongoing maintenance of raised beds and container gardens makes it practical to expand your gardening space. Just be sure to fill them with a quality potting mix and plants suited to the growing conditions and in no time, you’ll be enjoying the flavor and beauty these gardens provide.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty: Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) Affects State Retiree

Dear Rusty: I have a question in regard to the "windfall act." I am receiving a pension from the State of Nevada. I retired from the State, and did not pay into Social Security, but I worked in the private sector before and am currently working in the private sector. My question is: How much "penalty" will I be subject to when I decide to finally hang it up? Signed: State Retiree

Dear State Retiree: The State of Nevada is one of 27 states which, for all or some employee categories, do not participate in the Federal Social Security (SS) program; rather their State pensions are designed to provide a retirement benefit in lieu of Social Security. Because you receive a Nevada state pension and have also worked in the private sector long enough to be entitled to a Social Security (SS) benefit, your SS retirement benefit, when you claim it, may be reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), with the amount of reduction based upon how many years of substantial SS-covered earnings you have. If you have 20 or fewer years of SS-covered employment, here’s how WEP will affect your Social Security benefit:

Your actual benefit amount is based upon your “primary insurance amount” (PIA), which is computed using the average monthly earnings from the 35 highest earning years over your lifetime, known as your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings or “AIME” (only earnings up to the maximum payroll tax cap for each year are counted). Your PIA is the Social Security benefit you are entitled to at your full retirement age. Normally, when WEP doesn’t apply, your Social Security benefit amount is computed by taking the monthly average of those 35 inflation-adjusted years of earnings (your AIME) and using a standard formula to arrive at your PIA. That formula includes using 90% of the first part (called a “bend point”) of your AIME to be the first portion of three used to arrive at your PIA amount. For those first becoming eligible for benefits in 2019 (usually at age 62) that first bend point is $926, which means that $833 (90%) would normally be the first contribution to your PIA. But when WEP applies, the formula is different; instead of using 90% of that first bend point, if you had 20 or less years of covered-SS substantial earnings they use 40%, which would mean that the first bend point would add $370 to your PIA amount instead of $833, a reduction of $463. Remember that the bend points used are those for your year of Social Security eligibility, not for the year you claim benefits.

The percentage used to compute that first “bend point” goes up by 5% for each year over 20 years of substantial SS-covered earnings you have - for example, if you have 22 years of SS-covered substantial earnings, the formula would use a 50% multiplier instead of 40%. And at 30 years of SS-covered earnings you’re no longer affected by WEP. WEP can’t reduce your PIA by more than half of your NV pension amount, and there is also a maximum WEP reduction which might apply. And finally, please note that any benefit estimates you might get from Social Security now will not include the WEP reduction, which will be applied only when you actually claim your Social Security benefits.

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Poor planning could lead to 5 big retirement problems

Ideally, retirement is a time someone anticipates eagerly – a reward for a lifetime of hard work and solid financial planning. But nearly half of workers who haven’t reached retirement yet aren’t that excited about the so-called golden years. In fact, they have big concerns.

A Gallup poll showed 46 percent of those not yet retired expect they’ll be financially strapped when they do retire. Gallup’s tracking of that metric has reflected persistent concerns with retirement through the early 21st century. Fifteen years ago, only 36 percent of workers said they wouldn’t have enough money to be comfortable in retirement.

“A lack of sufficient retirement savings is a common problem, but there’s a lot more to the pie chart of a comfortable retirement,” says Chris Hobart, (www.hobartfinancialgroup.com), a financial professional and CEO of Hobart Financial Group. “Even people who have saved and invested wisely don’t factor in enough of the costs in retirement, from health care to single living and taxes.”

Hobart notes five common retirement-planning mistakes:

Underestimating health-care costs. It’s estimated that the average 65-year-old couple will need $280,000 in today’s dollars for health-care costs, and that number doesn’t include long-term care. “Typically, we look at longevity as a blessing, but the longer we live, the more likely we are to have health-care issues,” Hobart says. “The No. 1 solution is being intentional about segmenting a portion of money to address long-term health-care issues and studying the applicable insurance products. Many Americans ignore this problem and hope they don’t have to deal with it, and then when they do, it’s too late.”

Not having a plan for the surviving spouse. On average, women outlive men. “But for either spouse, the main factors to consider for a surviving spouse plan are the potentially reduced income, taxes as a single filer, where they’ll live, and paying for the deceased spouse’s final expenses,” Hobart says. “Another problem results if the surviving spouse was never engaged much in the couple’s financial planning. It pays for both spouses to have a good working knowledge about it.”

Counting on Social Security to cover expenses. The monthly Social Security check usually won’t pay the bills, especially if you still have mortgage payments. “You’ll need to make up the shortfall with other sources of income,” Hobart says. “The important thing to look at here is, in a world where few people have pensions anymore, the onus on saving is on the individual retiree. It’s more important than it’s ever been.”

Thinking you can dictate when you retire. One study showed that 51 percent of retirees retired earlier than they planned – and less than half did so by choice. “You have to expect the unexpected and plan for it well ahead of time,” Hobart says. “Many things can happen – downsizing, health issues, taking care of a family member.”

Signing up late for Medicare. The initial enrollment period is three months leading up to your 65th birthday, during the birthday month, or three months later. But if you don’t enroll, your Medicare premiums can increase by 10 percent for each year you were eligible and didn’t enroll. “Whether you like Medicare or not, you don’t want to pay more for something when you didn’t have to,” Hobart says.

“There is no reason you should trip over these things that you can avoid early on,” Hobart says.

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Author’s story of mental illness seeks to remove stigma, restore hope

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the U.S. since 1949. Seventy years later, statistics show mental illness – in many forms – is more prevalent than ever.

Nearly one in five U.S. adults – 46.6 million – live with a mental illness, and estimates suggest about half do not receive professional care. Suicide rates in the U.S. have increased 25 percent since the turn of the century, and world-wide, depression accounts for more disability than any other disease in the world.

Mental health professionals say these numbers are a wake-up call, and that stigmas associated with mental disorders prevent many from seeking treatment. Sonja Wasden, (www.animpossiblelife.com), co-author with her daughter of the book An Impossible Life, says her harrowing but uplifting story of living with her mental disorders is proof that treatment can bring hope and a stable life.

“We need to talk openly about mental disorders so we can destigmatize them,” Wasden says. “We all must make the most relentless attempt we can to normalize mental health issues, so that people can come forward knowing they will be understood and shown compassion.

“I want them to believe they can create a life worth living, despite the pain.”

From the outside, Wasden was living an idyllic suburban life with her husband and three children when, at 35, she was involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital by her husband and father.

“To everyone who knew me outside of my family, I was living the perfect life,” Wasden says. “I dressed to the 9’s, I was married to the CEO of a hospital, I went to all the civic and charity events, and I had a beautiful home and great kids.”

Wasden didn’t think she belonged in a psychiatric hospital despite evidence to the contrary. For example, she hid steak knives throughout her home so she could cut the bottom of her feet, something she says she did when her emotional pain was so great that she needed physical pain to override it.

Upon being admitted to the hospital, Wasden remembers vividly, “I wanted to run, but my feet were glued to the floor. Surely it was a nightmare from which I would wake, and I pleaded to my husband to take me home.

“They told me, ‘Mrs. Wasden, we’re going to help you get well.’ I yelled, ‘But I’m not sick! Why won’t anyone believe me?’ But looking into my husband’s eyes, the realization hit me: the hospital visit was him running out of ways to make things better.”

Wasden got better, and while there were bumps in the road through 26 years of treatment, she says Ketamine and Dialectical Behavior Therapy helped her through her struggles. It’s been a remarkable journey through depression, mania, an eating disorder and suicidal thoughts.

“My father died from suicide, and I have attempted suicide,” Wasden says. “I’ve been in psychiatric hospitals twice, and I know five people who have committed suicide.”

Wasden’s inspiring story includes the profound impact her mental illness had on her family, yet how ultimately – through love, acceptance and treatment – it didn’t stop her from being a devoted wife and mother.

“You can be married and raise a family being mentally ill,” she says. “I have created a life worth living despite my struggles. There is hope.”

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US soldier fights to bring puppy dragged by rope out of war-torn Afghanistan

Paws of War is seeking donations to get puppy “Misha” to the United States

NESCONSET, NY – Timothy Boyd is a U.S. soldier stationed in war-torn Afghanistan. He will soon be heading back to his hometown of Dallas, Georgia. He desperately wants to bring back Misha, a puppy he saved and has cared for during his stay there. If he has to leave her behind, her fate like so many others, will be certain death. He has reached out to Paws of War pleading for assistance in transporting the Misha to America, so he can keep her and let her live out her days in a safe country with those who love her.

“We can’t stand by and let this dog fall back into the hands of cruel people. There has been a fantastic and lasting bond created between Misha and Timothy,” explains Robert Misseri, co-founder of Paws of War. “We understand his concerns in having to leave her in a place that is very hostile toward dogs, so we are doing everything we can to help make his wish come true and bring the dog to the United States.”

It’s difficult enough for a soldier to spend time in a war zone, with blasts and danger in every direction. But when you add in a puppy that has no idea what is going on, and it falls into the hands of the opposition, it’s a life of cruelty and abuse, often leading to death. That’s what could have happened with Misha, but a US soldier came along and everything changed.

Timothy is the Task Force Viking 1SG stationed at the COP De Alencar, formerly known as Camp Blackfish, Afghanistan. He is part of an infantry unit that is assisting Special Forces in fighting against ISIS-K. Needless to say, they are in a combative area, where fighting and explosions are a daily part of their lives. Misha is a dog that was rescued by the former SF Team when soldiers saw her being dragged by her neck. They rescued her, brought her back to their camp, and gave her proper medical treatment. She then became a part of their family, and over time, strong bonds have been created.

To help make it possible for Timothy bring Misha back to the U.S. with him, Paws of War has enlisted the help of Nowzad Dogs, a charity that helps rescue the animals in Afghanistan. There is a lot of red tape that they will need to go through in order to bring Misha back, and there are expenses involved. Through the Mission Misha campaign, they are seeking donations from the community in order to help make the transport possible. Transporting just one dog costs upward of over $6,000.

“I am desperately trying to bring this loving fur baby back to my home in Georgia, where she will live a quiet life away from this war-torn country,” says Timothy Boyd. “I appreciate any and all assistance that people can provide in helping to make Mission Misha a successful operation. She needs to come home with me. I can’t imagine it any other way.”

Those who would like to donate to Mission Misha can go to:

Paws of War is an organization that provides assistance to military members and their pets, and provides service and therapy dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD. The War Torn Pets Program brings companion animals from war zones to the U.S for military members. To learn more about Paws of War or make a donation to support its efforts, visit its site at: http://pawsofwar.org.

About Paws of War

Based in New York, Paws of War is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization devoted to helping both ends of the leash. The mission of Paws of War is to train and place shelter dogs to serve and provide independence to our United States military veterans who suffer from TBI and/or PTSD. To learn more about Paws of War, visit the site at www.pawsofwar.org.

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5 outdated it practices that companies need to eliminate

Technology changes nearly as quickly as the calendar flips. A new device or upgrade that was trending not long ago may become antiquated or obsolete before you know it.

Information technology is integral to most businesses today, but keeping up with the interrelated parts of IT and the advancements – from software to cyber security to social media platforms – isn’t always prioritized. IT experts say companies falling behind in that category could see their business slip as a result.

“Over the last several years, many IT practices have become fixed and inflexible,” says Chris Hoose (www.choosenetworks.com), an IT consultant who works with small businesses. “While older concepts are a good springboard, some have become ineffective. There are many you can reconsider and/or eliminate.”

Hoose looks at five IT practices he thinks businesses should stop using:

Outdated software. One of the biggest security vulnerabilities a company can face is one of the simplest to address: outdated software. “There are many risks associated with using unsupported or outdated software, and hackers love to exploit these gaps,” Hoose says. “Then there are the inevitable problems of a system failure or antiquated workflows that slow a company’s productivity. Although upgrading software – including your operating systems – can be time-consuming and expensive, doing so can safeguard your organization and create more room for innovations.”

In-house server hosting. Much of today’s modern software is hosted in the cloud. “Most cloud vendors are able to provide public, private or hybrid cloud hosting based on your requirements,” Hoose says. “With such extensive cloud capability, there is no reason anymore to rely on in-house server hosting. Migrating to these versions can not only help save your business the costs of purchasing and maintaining software, but also the costs of maintenance and upkeep on servers.” Another plus of cloud computing is the added security of cloud disaster recovery, a backup and restore capability that enables companies to recover data and switch to a secondary operational mode.

Inflexible work environment. The new wave of the workforce is an IT strategy that includes video cameras and laptops for team members to facilitate remote work and remote communications. “If your firm doesn’t have that flexibility, they risk being left behind,” Hoose says. “Flexible work arrangements improve a company’s effectiveness and morale. It’s one of the best uses of today’s IT.”

Newsgroups and discussion forums. These popular mediums once served as portals where questions were raised from the team and answers were provided in a question-and-answer format. Better alternatives, Hoose says, are options like Facebook, Hangouts or Slack. “The format is far more intuitive and user-friendly with social media pages than with conventional discussion forums,” he says. “Also, multiple answers can be handled easily with social-media pages.”

Unnecessary complexity. Hoose says an overly complex structure is the core failing of legacy systems. “Rethink your architecture and prioritize for simplicity,” he says. “When modernizing your systems, less is more in terms of both architecture and functionality. You can start by implementing only the most important features. Make sure the new application will work well with the rest of the tools used in your business by default. Whatever applications you choose, make sure you use a solid and future-ready technology stack to deliver optimal performance.”

“Many executives are unsure, or even unaware, of the risk that obsolescence presents to their technology portfolios,” Hoose says. “Their uncertainty stems from not having the right data and dealing with conflicting points of view on priority, value, and risk.”

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Getting your lawn mower out of the garage this spring: nine tune-up tips

Good maintenance in the spring will ensure your mower runs strong, help you operate safely, and protect your investment in your outdoor power equipment. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute offers nine tips to help you get your mower tuned up.

Work in a well-ventilated area. Work outdoors or in an area with good ventilation that is away from sparks and flame.

Remove the spark plug. If you did not remove the spark plug when you put away your mower in the fall, you should take it out now. Install a new one when you finish tuning up your mower.

Start the season with a clean air filter. Clean the air filter if your mower has the foam type, or replace the filter if you have a paper one.

Change the oil. Remove the oil drain plug and let the dirty oil run out into a container. When it has completely drained, replace the plug and refill the crankcase. Use the type and quantity of oil recommended in your owner's manual.

Lubricate any other moving parts. Oil the wheel bearings and other moving parts, following the instructions in your owner's manual. Wipe off excess oil.

Drain your gas tank. Most fuels today contain ethanol which can phase separate into alcohol and water and cause damage to your mower’s engine. If you did not empty your gas tank in the fall, drain it now. Follow safe handling procedures and dispose of old fuel properly.

Protect your power by adding the right fuel. Always use E10 or less fuel. It is illegal to use any fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol in any outdoor power equipment, including your lawn mower. For more information about safe fueling, go to www.LookBeforeYouPump.com.

Sharpen your mower’s blade. A dull mower blade can shred the tips of your grass. Always remove the blade from the mower for sharpening. If the blade has large nicks in the cutting edge from hitting debris, it should be replaced.

Clean your mower. Use a rag or brush to get grass clippings, leaves, and other debris off the deck and out of crevices. After you clean it, you may want to wax the deck. The wax will keep grass and dirt from sticking to it.

By following these tips before you start cutting your grass, you will protect your investment in your lawn mower and mow more effectively. For more information about the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, go to www.opei.org.

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Don’t let your Social Security check go on vacation

If you are like most people on Social Security, you need that check every month to buy groceries and to keep a roof over your head. But believe it or not, for a fortunate few that check is essentially bonus money, totally unnecessary for day-to-day survival.

““That situation is not as unusual as many may think,” says Jeffrey Eglow, the Chief Investment Officer for Guardian Wealth Advisory (www.guardianwealthadvisory.com). “Some people may have inherited an income, won a lottery or had investments that did really well.

“But just because they don’t need that Social Security money to live on, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make the most of it. There are some specific things they should do to make sure they are getting the maximum benefit.”

Eglow said that many baby boomers see their investments and retirement income differently than they did before the 2008 recession. They are looking for sources of guaranteed income instead of more risky investments. While Social Security is guaranteed income, if they are wise about how they leverage it, they can have even more guaranteed income, he says.

Eglow says strategies for people who are in this situation include:

Don’t take Social Security until you are 70. This is the best strategy since there are few investments that offer a similar low risk, guaranteed 8 percent annual growth. By waiting until age 70 to receive benefits, your monthly payments may increase by as much as 32%, not including any cost of living increases that may be added to this amount. For example, someone who could get $2,000 a month at the "full retirement age" of 66 would get $2,640 if they postponed taking Social Security until they were 70.

Spend the Social Security check instead of 401(k) or IRA funds. Most people are taxed on only 50 percent to 85 percent of their Social Security benefit. But they are taxed on 100 percent of any withdrawals from traditional IRAs or 401(k) accounts.

Give it to the kids. Use the Social Security checks to pay premiums on life insurance policies so your heirs will receive a larger inheritance. Your heirs will receive this death benefit tax free.

Don’t delay getting Social Security past 70. Since the benefit stops growing at 8 percent once the beneficiary reaches 70, it makes no sense to delay the start of getting the checks past that age.

Eglow says even if some people don’t need their Social Security check for day to day living, it is still foolish to not maximize its value so it can benefit them and their families.

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A refreshing reward

Two guys got up early one morning recently to clean up after Platte River floodwaters near Schuyler, NB receded recently. And, as fate would have it, they were well rewarded at the end of a hard day’s work. Gayland Stouffer and Kyle Simpson, parched from their labors, spotted what turned out to be a refrigerator as they made their way across a field as they headed home. The fridge turned out to be chock full of ice-cold beer. Photos they posted on Facebook went viral and the owner of the fridge, Brian Healy, saw the post and recognized it as his. Healy told the Omaha World-Herald that the give-away was that it was packed with the proper ratio of Bud Light beer and Busch Light beer. Simpson promised to return the fridge to Healy, “minus a couple of beers.”

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It’s all about the beat

A young 72-year-old Chicago man has embarked on a new career as a hip-hop artist-- a field that is ostensibly the domain of trend-setting 20-somethings. But, Arthur Dubois says he is “young at heart” and proved it to the folks at the Haven Studio where aspiring performers get discovered. Andre "Add-2" Daniels, who owns the Haven concern, posted this message on social media: “Today I met a 72yr old producer who makes TRAP MUSIC!! He said the doctor told him to stay in the house but instead of wasting away he used the time to teach himself how to produce beats.” Translation, Dubois is hot stuff.

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A ‘house proud mouse’

A retired electrician with a messy storage shed in the U.K. couldn’t figure out how the shed was neat and tidy each morning, no matter what bits and pieces he left about the night before. And so, he set a trap and caught a mouse in the act on video - a “house proud mouse” who lived in the shed and who, it appears, has a penchant for cleanliness.

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Egg-celent tips and hoppin’ advice on taking care of Easter animal friends

The Humane Society of Missouri

With Easter less than a week away, families may be considering adopting a spring chicken or bunny rabbit. While these cute farm friends make great companions, there are several factors the Humane Society of Missouri and Longmeadow Rescue Ranch want potential adopters to keep in mind before making one of these feathered or furry animals a pet.

First and foremost, unless your family and home are properly prepared for chicks or bunnies, opt for a delicious chocolate bunny or plush toy chick instead. You can also sponsor a Longmeadow Rescue Ranch Barn Buddy. Donations and sponsorship fees go towards the feeding, housing and medical care for the Longmeadow animal of your choosing. Donors also receive a plush Barn Buddy replica, making the donation a unique gift for special occasions, such as Easter!

Chick considerations not to squawk about:

Chickens require daily attention, food, clean water and shelter – and, just like dogs, they are not self-sufficient, requiring someone to care for them when you’re away.

An adequate chicken coop is needed to protect chickens from extreme temperatures and secure them from predators, such as raccoons and opossums.

If you plan on having your chickens produce eggs, hens need a nesting place to lay, an elevated roost to sleep and loose dirt or sand for dust bathing. They also need access to a yard to engage in pecking, scratching and foraging.

Make sure backyard chickens are permitted in your area. Call a member of your local planning board or county clerk and secure a copy of the local ordinances.

Rabbit considerations to chew on:

Rabbits are best as indoor pets, as they are social and intelligent animals that require daily interaction and playtime with their owners.

Aim to provide your rabbit with an exciting home. A multi-level cage with many areas for the rabbit to explore is a great option. You can also purchase toys, water bottles and a “cuddle cup” or a small cat bed for rabbits to sleep in.

Make your home un-chewable. Rabbits need to chew to keep their teeth at a comfortable length. Remove anything your rabbit might chew on, especially dangerous electric wires. Local hardware stores sell electric-cord covers and PVC piping to keep your wires, and rabbit, safe.

Hairballs can be a serious medical problem for rabbits, so brush your rabbit regularly to help reduce the amount of fur it ingests while grooming itself. Long-haired breeds will require a daily brushing, while short-coated breeds need to be brushed once a week.

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A different kind of Easter egg hunt: seven ways to seek and celebrate the bright spots in your community

By Quint Studer

Author of Building a Vibrant Community

Spring is here, and it's time to fall in love with our hometowns again. Everything is lush and green, Easter is days away, and those who've moved away are coming home to visit loved ones and celebrate the holidays. With family and spring rituals in the spotlight, it's the time of year that people really appreciate their communities the most. But even so, there are plenty of things we take for granted.

Each small and mid-size city is unique. Each has its own history and traditions. But when we live there, it's easy to forget how many gifts we really have.

Over the next few weeks, take some time to notice and honor those things that make your community special. To make it fun, think of them as 'Easter eggs'—those bright spots that we might miss if we aren't paying attention.

Every community has Easter eggs. They're those monuments, natural features, old buildings, or quirky businesses that create a sense of place. When we celebrate them, we can help ignite the kind of community spirit that helps places bloom and become more vibrant.

An Easter egg might be something you're used to and rarely notice, like a 200-year-old church or a beautiful riverfront park or a restaurant hidden away on a country road that serves award-winning barbecue and plays great bluegrass music. The point is that it's 'hidden in plain sight' but as you go about your busy life, you kind of don't notice it.

Finding and celebrating your town's Easter eggs is just a matter of getting in the right mindset. A few tips:

Stay positive. Spread the good news about your community. All too often, we tend to look at our communities with an eye for what is going wrong. Focus on what is going right instead. Talk up your community to friends and family. If you're on social media, post a picture of a beautiful spot or the crowd at the local fish fry or flower festival.

By staying positive, you can inspire others to feel good about where they live also. More people will get out and about, and others will be attracted to the community as well.

Notice what you normally take for granted. What features does your town have that you've gotten used to, but that are truly unique and special? Is there something you drive by every day on your way to work that's commonplace to you but might be delightful or charming to a visitor?

When you've lived somewhere for a while, you quit noticing what's great. Open your eyes and look around. Maybe there's a country store that sells homemade jams you could serve at Easter dinner, or a park you could take the grandkids to for a picnic.

Try to find one Easter egg a day for the next week. Each day, walk through a historic site, pop into a boutique or museum, or take the family to a locally owned restaurant. Everyone is busy but even spending 30 minutes appreciating an "Easter egg" will brighten up your day.

Make your "egg hunt" public. For example, if you belong to a local Facebook page or other social media group, make a post asking others to share their favorite local "Easter eggs." See how many responses you can get. (Even better if you make it a contest with a small giveaway to motivate people to contribute.) Or extend a blanket invitation for the community to join you for a short day hike at a local nature preserve or a meet-up at a local landmark—this is a good way to help other citizens appreciate local hidden gems too.

Arrange to make a neglected bright spot a bit brighter. Is there a city landmark that's looking a little dilapidated and could use a little TLC? Consider hosting a clean-up day. People can volunteer to mulch and plant flowers or maybe even apply a fresh coat of paint. If you volunteer to spearhead the event (and of course get the proper permissions or permits), you can always recruit help from local youth groups or school Beta clubs.

Ask visitors what they like most about your town. This can be newcomers, visitors, or former residents just returning for a visit. Very often a new viewpoint can help us see the familiar in a new light.

Look out for new things that could become Easter eggs of the future. For example, you might have a large blank wall that could be turned into a mural that celebrates your town. Or there might be an old warehouse or factory with great bones that could be repurposed as a local art gallery or a cool restaurant.

When you decide to look at your community with fresh eyes, it changes everything.

Practice makes perfect. The more you think about your town's bright spots, the easier it will be to notice and take advantage of them. Before you know it, you'll find your attitude has shifted. You'll be more appreciative and grateful for all your town has to offer.

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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

April 18-30

It happened on April 18, 1775. Bostonians Paul Revere and William Dawes galloped into history when they set out on horseback from the city to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were on the march to disrupt the Patriot cause. They planned to overthrow the fledgling revolutionary movement before more colonists were recruited to the cause of independence. Two signal lamps were lit, which meant the British were crossing the Charles river to launch their attack. Hundreds of Minutemen were roused and set out to confront the enemy. It was the beginning of the end of British rule in America, and a critical period in history.

The winner of the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize was Chris Stevenson’s, The Drum of Destiny, the story of a boy who walks hundreds of miles to join the American Revolution’s Continental Army. According to the author, “by reading [The] Drum of Destiny, young readers can learn about history without realizing they are learning about history. Most history textbooks are written with the idea of teaching kids facts they can memorize so they can then take a test. This method misses the most important aspects of history. The real life stories, the reasons behind the facts, and the character of our country’s founders are where the real learning is discovered.”

From February 23rd to March 6th in 1836, the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, TX was used as a fortress by Texans determined to win their freedom from Mexico. Approximately 4,000 troops under the command of General Antonio López de Santa Anna, sieged the fort, and trapped about 200 defenders. Nearly all of them were killed, including Colonel James Bowie, Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis, and frontiersman David Crockett. The battle captured the imaginations of settlers throughout the territory who rallied around the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo.” And, it set the stage for the independence of Texas, a hard won victory by Sam Houston and his 800 troops, who went up against Santa Ana’s 1,500 men at the battle of San Jacinto.

For further reading, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Margaret Cousins’ The Boy in the Alamo, a perennial favorite among preteens and teens.

On Thursday, April 30, 1789, six years after the end of the American Revolution, George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States, on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York, in full view of the citizenry.

Washington had distinguished himself as commander of the Continental Army, leading a band of heroic rebels to a decisive victory. His citizen soldiers had been up against the disciplined Redcoats, who fought on behalf of King George lll, but they were defeated, soundly. The Revolution was, perhaps, the first great adventure tale in American history—from which a powerful, free democracy was formed that became the envy of the world.

For further reading, The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Laurie Calkhoven’s George Washington: An American Life.

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3 ways art brings awareness to environmental concerns

It’s perhaps the most typical of environmental political battles.

Congressional leaders from Florida – Republicans and Democrats alike – want $200 million allocated in the federal budget for restoration efforts in the Everglades. President Donald Trump included about one-third that amount in his proposed budget, though he hinted in a recent trip to south Florida that more money could be coming.

Yet, regardless of how the Washington politics plays out, it’s important that attention is paid to the Everglades and to environmental issues in general, says Clyde Butcher (www.clydebutcher.com), a nature photographer who since the 1980s has helped bring national awareness to the Everglades through stunning black-and-white photographs that have been compared to the works of Ansel Adams.

And Butcher says that, while politicians wrangle, it is artists like him who can help give people a greater understanding what would be lost if we fail to conserve and protect the natural wonders around us.

“So many people these days live in cities, or spend time on computers, and they lose touch with nature,” he says. “Through art, we can perhaps inspire them to venture out and gain an appreciation for how important it is.”

Butcher over the years has dared to wade into regions of the Everglades that most people never see. He’s making plans to put his latest photographic exhibit, “America’s Everglades: Through the Lens of Clyde Butcher,” on a national tour. Right now the exhibit is on display through May 26 at the Appleton Museum in Ocala, FL, and in 2020 will be in Youngstown, Ohio.

He says some of the ways artists help bring attention to environmental issues include:

Let people vicariously experience the world’s wonders. Butcher says his large prints make people feel like they are walking right into the scene, which many of them wouldn’t dare do in reality. “A lot of people don’t want to get wet,” he says. “They don’t want to play with the gators and the snakes.” Of course, eventually he wants them to experience the real thing. “You have to get your feet connected to the earth, or to water, to understand it, to feel it,” Butcher says.

Help people understand government’s role. “The government is making the laws, so we need to work with those guys,” Butcher says. One of the early ways he worked with government was when a water management district wanted to display some of his photographs in a new building. The problem: The water district had no money to pay for the photographs. Butcher’s businessman side hesitated at first, but eventually he agreed to provide the photos, feeling that his art could help connect the public to the water district’s mission.

Spread the word. Each time someone is exposed to nature through art they are reminded of the beauty and importance of these environmental treasures. Butcher took that a step further. About 25 years ago, he began offering guided swamp walks through the Everglades at one of his galleries. He says people who are exposed to the habitat may be more likely to want to preserve nature and will influence others.

“I feel my images create an emotion that reaches out to people beyond any political debates,” Butcher says. “That helps them see their surroundings in a different way, and encourages them to save those wild places where peace can fill the soul.”

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4 challenges Blockchain must overcome to achieve mass appeal

When most people think about blockchain, they likely associate it with Bitcoin or other types of cryptocurrency.

But the blockchain technology introduced a decade ago to serve as a secure database for transactions in the cryptocurrency world has plenty of uses beyond that – and potential for even more. Around the world, blockchain can be or already has been used in such areas as energy, tourism and financial services.

Yet, plenty of people still have little knowledge of this technological breakthrough that could transform how they do business and live their lives. That raises a couple of questions: Is blockchain ready for the masses? And are the masses ready for blockchain?

“Despite renewed investor interest, blockchain technology still needs to evolve to overcome some challenges before adoption reaches people who are not early adopters or who are not very tech savvy,” says Kirill Bensonoff (www.kirillbensonoff.com), a serial entrepreneur and an expert in blockchain.

Those challenges include:

Interaction with other systems. Blockchain’s growth depends on the technology’s ability to scale and interact with other systems and networks, Bensonoff says. “Right now, blockchain as a service is limited in performance because of slowed transaction processing times and the inability to have various blockchain platforms interact with each other,” he says. Just one way this challenge is being addressed is by developers creating consensus mechanisms, Bensonoff says. Consensus mechanisms refer to how participants in a blockchain network agree that the transactions recorded in the digital ledger are valid. “This mechanism creates a trust and validity in the transaction between participants who aren’t familiar with each other,” he says.

Cost and usability. The cost of creating and implementing blockchain networks remains a significant barrier, Bensonoff says. One possible solution could be the introduction of cloud-based blockchain technology from tech giants such as IBM, Microsoft and others. “These companies have made cost reduction and scaling the crux of their business offerings,” he says. For blockchain to evolve, the average user experience also needs improvement, Bensonoff says. “The good news is that developers and blockchain companies are catching on, and working to create a more welcoming look and feel for consumers,” he says.

Regulation. If there’s a grey area in the blockchain world, regulation is it, although some states, such as Wyoming, and countries such as Malta, Estonia and Switzerland, are attempting to change that. “In the meantime, this regulatory limbo is affecting adoption, with many waiting for some finality in legislation before they implement their own blockchain solution,” Bensonoff says. As some states pass blockchain bills, hopes are high that others will follow suit, he says.

Privacy. Blockchain’s transparency is one of its strengths – and a weakness. Bensonoff points out that blockchain acts as a public ledger, which is necessary for the technology to provide trust and to verify transactions. But that can make use of blockchain troublesome for some industries, such as healthcare, which needs to protect the privacy of much of its data. Some solutions on the horizon, Bensonoff says, include making use of new developments like stealth addresses, ring-confidential transactions and state channels.

“Blockchain is definitely going to become more useful and more popular,” Kirill says. “But it must overcome these hurdles to get where it needs to be.”

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3 tips for creating a clear vision to ensure business success

Running a business is similar to taking a family vacation. To be successful, both require meticulous planning, clearly defined roles for everyone involved, and a predetermined destination.

“Not having a clear vision and specific goals is a proven way to ensure you’ll never achieve them,” says John Collopy, author of the book The Reward of Knowing (www.johncollopy.com). “That’s why articulating your vision is a critical first step toward success—to give yourself something to aspire to besides some general idea of ‘making it.’”

Collopy knows a thing or two about having a vision and then setting goals to make the vision a reality. He is the owner and broker of RE/MAX Results and its subsequent 38 offices across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Setting goals in his personal life helped him overcome his addiction to alcohol. Now he is dedicated to helping others find the right steps to achieve their dreams, but he says there can be many roadblocks.

“Having an unclear vision can also make it difficult to stay motivated and passionate about your work,” says Collopy. “Identifying a clear vision and set of goals can keep us going through tough times, and give us energy when we want to give up. That’s because, even when you’re in a rough patch, you know you’re working toward something.”

In contrast, a vague, half-formed vision may leave you feeling lost and powerless, he says.

“Eventually, you may even give up entirely,” Collopy says. “You may decide that, based on your record of failure, success just isn’t in the cards for you. And that’s the saddest result of failing to articulate your vision.”

Collopy has the following tips for those who are ready to set goals to achieve their vision:

Be specific and realistic. Be specific about your goals, and the steps you need to take to reach them. “If you don’t, be ready to deal with challenges now and in the future,” Collopy says. Also make your goals attainable but not too easy. You want to have pride when it is accomplished. If you set the bar too high, you may get discouraged. And if you set it too low, you will not feel a great sense of accomplishment.

Make goals measurable. Any good goal that is worthy of your time should be measurable so even if you don’t make it, you can measure your progress. It will be easier to measure your goals if they are clear goals that are attainable, relevant and time-based.

Write it down and tell someone. Write down your vision, make copies and leave those copies where you will routinely see them – on your refrigerator, in your car, on your dresser, in the bathroom. “This will remind you about your vision throughout the day and keep you on task,” Collopy says. In addition, the more people you tell about your vision and your goals, the better. They will encourage you because the next time they see you, he says, they will probably ask you about your progress.

“Once you have attained your goal, take some time to celebrate your victory with your team,” Collopy says. “Even if the goal wasn’t a team goal, invite others that work with you or for you to share in your accomplishment.”

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4 undiscussed but serious side effects of sleep apnea

It’s estimated that 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, and that 80 percent of moderate to severe cases are undiagnosed.

Also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS), the condition affects between 5 and 20 percent of adults and 10-20 percent of children. While many are familiar with some side effects – loud snoring, disturbed sleep, and daytime sleepiness – other related issues are talked about less, but can be quite severe.

“The disruption of nasal breathing can affect digestion, brain function, mood, attention, growth, heart health, head pain, metabolism and much more,” says Dr. Edmund Lipskis(www.drlipskis.com), director of the Centre For Integrative Orthodontics and co-author with his wife, Dr. Lynn Lipskis, of Breathe, Sleep, Live, Smile: Integrative Treatments for TMJ/TMD, Sleep Apnea, Orthodontics. “But sleep apnea in children can be treated at a young age. The symptoms include irritability, lack of concentration, poor school performance, pseudo ADHD, and nighttime bed wetting.”

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a blocked airway prevents the body from getting the oxygen it needs. Breathing can stop for several seconds numerous times during the night.

“This causes the brain to wake up so the sleeper can breathe,” Dr. Lipskis says. “People with OSA usually don’t remember every instance of waking up, but the result is fragmented sleep.”

Dr. Lynn Lipskis adds that proper diagnosis, combined with advanced technology, can lead to successful treatment. She says there are more than 100 FDA-approved appliances for treating sleep apnea and proper selection is key to addressing the individual’s special needs.

“For adults, that can mean therapy using an oral appliance,” she says. “For children, it can mean orthopedic orthodontics for airway development and correction.”

The Lipskis team points out four of the less-discussed but serious side effects of sleep apnea:

Depression. Depression is linked with OSA and works both ways. “That is, people who are depressed are more likely to develop OSA, and people with OSA are more likely to develop depression,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “One study found that slightly less than half of people with OSA showed depressive symptoms. This is not so surprising, considering that restful sleep is so important for physical and mental health.”

Chronic pain. As with depression, chronic pain may be a cause of, or may be caused by, OSA. A study found that over half the people with OSA had chronic widespread pain and that the risk was higher in women than in men.

Hormone disruption. Sleep is a critical time for the body to regulate hormones. “An important one to note is the growth hormone HGH, which is produced during Stage 3 sleep,” Lipskis says. “It helps with cell reproduction, cell regeneration, and metabolism. If Stage III sleep is cut short, or never reached, HGH can’t perform its job. So rather than repairing itself during sleep, the body continues to break down.”

Nocturia. This is the frequent need to urinate at night. “People with OSA are more likely to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom,” Dr. Edmund Lipskis says. “That’s because it affects the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which prevents fluid from filling the bladder and prevents the need to urinate during the night. When ADH can’t do what it’s supposed to, the bladder fills and the urge to urinate appears. This is yet another way that OSA disturbs proper bodily functions and compounds disordered sleep.”

“If you suffer from OSA or suspect you do, have a sleep study done, which includes a diagnosis by a medical physician,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “This is the only way to correctly diagnose OSA or other sleep disorders. OSA should be treated as a serious medical condition because the consequences go far beyond daytime fatigue.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Married Couple confused about Social Security Benefits

Dear Rusty: We are a little confused about husband and wife Social Security benefits. I am 63 years old (born 1955) and still employed full-time. My wife turns 60 this month. She is retired military and has been working in the civilian sector for a number of years now. She has always earned more than me. We are confused as to how Social Security payments between us will work. I know I will start to collect before she does. Can you help with an explanation? Signed: Confused

Dear Confused: Social Security benefits for married couples can, indeed, be confusing, especially if you both still work. If your wife has always been the higher-earner, you could possibly be entitled to a spousal benefit from her record, but only if your own benefit amount at your full retirement age (FRA) is less than 50% of your wife’s benefit amount at her FRA.

Since you say you will claim Social Security before your higher-earning wife, any spousal benefit you may be entitled to will not take effect until your wife starts her benefits. To be clear, a spousal benefit is only due if that amount is more than you are entitled to on your own work record; otherwise you only get your own benefit. If a spousal benefit is due, what essentially happens is that you get your own Social Security benefit plus a “spousal boost” to bring you up to what you are entitled to as a spouse. The spousal benefit can be 50% of the higher earner’s FRA benefit amount (if that is more than your own) but you only get the full 50% if it starts at your full retirement age; otherwise it is less than 50%. That’s because any time any Social Security benefit is taken earlier than your FRA it is actuarially reduced according to the number of months before your FRA that it is taken.

If you (or your wife) collect Social Security before you have reached your full retirement age and you continue to work, you will be subject to an annual earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019) which, if exceeded, will cause SS to withhold benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. Since they don’t withhold partial benefits, that could mean some months without benefits. That is true up to the year you reach your full retirement age when the earnings limit goes up by more than 2.5 times and the penalty is less ($1 for every $3 over the limit). Then, once you reach your full retirement age, there is no longer a limit to how much you can earn while collecting benefits. And for clarity, if you have benefits withheld because you exceed the earnings limit, you’ll get time credit for those months when you reach your full retirement age, which will somewhat increase your benefit amount at your FRA. So, your plans for working and earning should be considered in deciding when both of you should claim your SS benefits.

To summarize, if you have both earned at least 40 SS credits, you are both entitled to your own Social Security benefit. If half of your wife’s SS benefit at her full retirement age is more than your own benefit at your full retirement age, you’ll also get a spousal boost equal to the difference. But if either of you claim benefits early they will be reduced, and if your spousal benefit starts before your FRA it will also be reduced. And don’t forget, working before you reach your full retirement age will subject you to Social Security’s annual earnings limit.

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5 ways climate change affects the mental health of young people

The European Parliament’s recent ban on single-use plastic products was hailed as a positive step in the world’s battle against climate change.

Yet at the same time, younger generations around the world want to see more government action. Deeply concerned about their future as dire forecasts of a worsening environment continue, students from across the globe keep protesting. And while the threats often associated with climate change are to physical health, homes, the air, water, and economy, psychologists says the toll it takes on young people’s mental health can’t be ignored.

“The impact that all the aspects of climate change have on mental health is far-reaching,” says Leslie Landis (www.chendell.com), a family therapist and author of Chendell: A Natural Warrior, a fantasy novel with environmental themes. “It’s especially profound after natural disasters on teens, children and young adults – stress, depression, anxiety, and strains on relationships.

“On the other hand, the activism many young people are engaging in due to climate change is very mentally healthy. They’re inspiring others and trying to bring about action by getting people to take climate change seriously.”

Landis outlines some positive and negative impacts that climate change is having on the mental health of young people:

Positives

Activism. Young people are leading the way to fight climate change by forming mass protests around the globe. ”Climate justice is a fight for the future,” Landis says. “Despite rising sea levels, wildfires, extreme weather events and dire warnings from scientists, politicians globally haven’t responded as needed. And young people are enraged; they know that doing nothing, sitting silently, severely threatens their future.”

Innovation. In Congress, 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has put climate change solutions at the forefront with her proposed legislation, the “Green New Deal.” Young entrepreneurs are growing profitable businesses by focusing on environmentally friendly innovations. “Each project is an inspiring example of how young people are taking creative approaches to combating climate change,” Landis says. “In each there’s some solidarity, which is key to progress being made.”

Negatives

Anxiety, stress. “Fear of extreme weather, changing weather patterns, or worrying about what the future will look like because of climate change increases stress and anxiety,” Landis says. “That in turn can cause depression, sleep disorders and weaken the immune system.” One report says young people with depression and anxiety might be disproportionately more at risk for worsening symptoms due to climate change.

Trauma, shock. Natural disasters caused by climate change bring a high potential for severe psychological trauma from personal injury, the injury or death of a loved one, loss of personal property, and loss of pets. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can result when feelings of helplessness and despair last for long periods.

Strained relationships. “Disasters can not only hit the structure of the home hard, but also the infrastructure of family relationships,” Landis says. “Relocations or just missing the usual conveniences can result in constant tension. Children may have to attend a different school, and the safe world revolving around their home doesn’t exist anymore.”

“We keep hearing the warnings about catastrophic conditions in the coming years, which add to lost hope among a lot of young people,” Landis says. “But the activism and ideas they engage in provide hope. And confronting a problem head-on is a wonderful way to achieve mental wellness.”

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How traditional marketing can benefit from a digital twist

At one time, marketing meant using such tactics as buying commercial time on TV or radio stations, advertising in a newspaper or magazine, or sending your message through direct mail.

All of those remain options today, but they are joined by a plethora of digital alternatives for reaching potential customers or clients, who spend a lot of time hanging out in the digital world.

“Websites are optimized for sharing content with others, and people are getting on social media to be educated or entertained, so delivering on those ‘needs’ is super important for any business or professional who wants to remain relevant,” says Jonathan Musgrave, owner and chief digital marketer for Steep Digital Marketing (www.steepdigital.com).

Yet, Musgrave says many businesses and professionals don’t always take advantage of what digital marketing offers, instead falling back on what worked in the past, either out of habit or due to a lack of understanding of the power of digital.

And that’s no way to move forward, he says. But choosing between digital or traditional approaches to marketing isn’t an either/or proposition. Musgrave offers a few examples of how the two can be married to produce great results:

A text instead of a call. Musgrave says one of his clients, a financial professional, would buy TV time each month for a show in which he would talk about money issues. At the end of each segment, in an effort to generate leads, his firm’s telephone number would be displayed so viewers could call if they wanted more information. “I suggested that instead of a number to call, they should show a number that people could text,” Musgrave says. That change might appear insignificant on its face, but it proved to be extraordinarily consequential. The financial professional went from receiving about three responses per show to about 300.

Billboards and digital calls to action. A message on a billboard provides the same opportunity to elicit a digital response from anyone who sees it. Once again, instead of urging people to call, urge them to text. You can also include your website address in your billboard ad so those intrigued by what you have to offer can learn more there, Musgrave says.

Work digital connections into all marketing materials. Likely, you have business cards, brochures or any number of other marketing materials that people can hold in their hands. All of those should let people know how they can find you online, whether it’s on your website or on social media channels, Musgrave says. By the same token, if you have speaking engagements, you can put that information on a display poster or include it in a PowerPoint slide. “Since people always carry their phones, if they see how to find you on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or wherever, they may follow you right then and there,” he says.

“The most dangerous thing I hear people say is that digital marketing is the future,” Musgrave says. “That’s not quite accurate because the future is already here. Advertisers globally spent more on digital advertising than any other medium in 2017, displacing TV at the top of the chart for the first time. If you keep kicking the digital can down the road, by the time you catch up to it again, your competitors will have already passed you.”

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Are you less of a man if you opt for cosmetic surgery?

While the stereotype says it is women who worry most about body image, in truth men also are concerned about what they see when they gaze in the mirror.

They just aren’t always willing to admit it. So, while more men than ever before are turning to cosmetic surgery to improve what they see as defects in their appearance, plenty of others are reluctant to even acknowledge anything that could be seen as a weakness or a flaw.

“For many men, especially older men, being concerned about their appearance is not manly,” says Dr. Dennis Schimpf (www.sweetgrassplasticsurgery.com), founder of Sweetgrass Plastic Surgery and author of Finding Beauty: Think, See and Feel Beautiful.

“They are probably as insecure about their appearance as any woman might be, but they feel that they need to project confidence or be indifferent to their looks.”

Still, some men are clearly putting aside those worries. For example, the number of tummy tucks for men increased 12 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to a study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Liposuction procedures for men were up 23 percent, and breast-reduction surgeries were up 30 percent.

Even so, Dr. Schimpf says, men who do explore the idea of plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons often seem embarrassed.

“Sometimes a man will come in with his wife, who will talk about herself first, and then open up the conversation to what he’s considering having done, almost as if it’s an afterthought,” he says.

But slowly but surely, more men are entertaining the idea of making changes to their appearance. Dr. Schimpf says a few reasons for that include:

Changing times and attitudes. Men who are baby boomers often worked in jobs involving physical labor. How they looked did not matter on the job. “We live in a different world today,” Dr. Schimpf says. “Men are more concerned with their appearance – their hair, their clothes, their overall look. Little by little, It’s becoming more acceptable for men to publicly talk about looks, and every day there are new products on the market for men who want to change the way they look.”

Technological advances in plastic surgery. Today’s technology allows for less-invasive procedures, which appeal to men. “Men are looking for procedures that deliver more subtle changes with quick recoveries because they want work done ‘under the radar’ essentially,” Dr. Schimpf says. “They don’t want others to know they’ve had something done because of what they believe people will think.”

Social media’s influence. One factor that affects both men and women is how in today’s world, everyone is constantly being photographed and those photographs often end up on Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites for all the world to see. That makes it more difficult than in the past to not care what others think, Dr. Schimpf says. “Patients tell me all the time that they didn’t realize they had a double chin until they saw themselves on their cell phone screen when they turned it on to take a selfie,” he says.

The bottom line, though, is that anyone considering plastic surgery needs to make the decision based on what’s best for them, and not based on how other people view them, Dr. Schimpf says.

“People are going to think what they are going to think, and those who are the most critical of others often have many issues themselves,” he says. “If you try to do for yourself only what someone else thinks is reasonable, you’re not going to be happy.”

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Lawn equipment: Keep safety in mind

Spring has arrived and home owners are often eager to get outside and spruce up their yards. It’s important when doing so to keep safety in mind.

“Before you use a mower, trimmer, blower, chain saw, pruner or other piece of outdoor power equipment this season, it’s important to refresh yourself on handling and safety procedures,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), an international trade association representing outdoor power equipment, small engine and utility vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. “We’re all eager to get outside and enjoy the living landscape after a long winter, but take the time to do basic maintenance now to ensure your equipment operates safely for the season and is ready to get the job done.”

These six tips can help:

1. Read your owner’s manual. Follow all guidelines for your outdoor power equipment and familiarize yourself with the controls. If you have lost your manual, look it up online (and save a copy on your computer for easy reference in the future).

2. Inspect equipment. Check for loose belts and missing or damaged parts. Replace any parts needed or take your equipment to a qualified service representative for servicing.

3. Drain old fuel. Never leave fuel sitting in the gas tank of your equipment for more than 30 days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems and, in some cases, damage to the fuel system.

4. Protect your power by using only E10 or less fuel in outdoor power equipment. Some gas stations may offer 15 percent ethanol (E15) gas or higher-ethanol fuel blends but any fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol can damage—and is illegal to use in—small engine equipment not designed for it.

5. Store fuel safely. Label your fuel can with the date of purchase and ethanol content of the fuel. Never put “old” gas in your outdoor power equipment. If you don’t know the date of purchase, dispose of the fuel in the can safely and buy fresh fuel. Always store fuel out of the reach of children or pets and in approved containers.

6. Clean equipment. Remove any dirt, oil or grass stuck to it. Clean equipment will run more efficiently and last longer.

“Now is also a good time to assess your outdoor power equipment needs,” adds Kiser. “Whether you’re needing battery-, gasoline-, propane-, diesel- or hybrid-powered equipment, there is a product to fit your unique needs that can handle any job.”

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4 tips for creating less chaotic, more productive mornings

When the alarm rings each morning, do you arise quickly, eager to take on whatever the day brings?

Or do you drowsily reach for the snooze button?

Your answer could be crucial because the mindset you start the day with can play a significant role in whether the rest of your day is filled with successes or setbacks.

“Every time the sun rises, so do new opportunities to grow, develop and improve,” says Dr. Rob Carter III, co-author with his wife, Dr. Kirti Salwe Carter, of The Morning Mind: Use Your Brain to Master Your Day and Supercharge Your Life (www.themorningmind.com).

But to make the most of those opportunities, you may need to adjust your morning routine to better prepare your mind and body for what’s to come.

“Your morning routine can be as little as 15 to 20 minutes if you like,” Carter says, “but the idea is to have time dedicated to you and habits that support you.”

Carter offers these suggestions for starting the day right:

Plan your day the night before. A peaceful morning can quickly turn chaotic if you don’t have things carefully planned out. “It’s not unusual for people to be heading out the door and discover they can’t find their car keys,” Carter says. A lot of morning stress can be relieved by planning your day the night before, he says, such as deciding what clothes to wear, making sure your phone is charged, and writing the next day’s to-do list.

Make time for yourself. If you’re married with kids, this can be a challenge. But Carter says everyone needs time for reflection, which is unlikely to happen unless you make it a priority. Set aside time to meditate, pray, do yoga or even do nothing for 10 minutes. “Spending time by yourself,” he says, “allows you to reflect on life’s happenings and can increase productivity and focus, and make you appreciate time with others more.”

Minimize noise and distractions. Many people start the day by turning on the TV, the radio or other devices. Avoid that urge, Carter says. Instead, devote your energy to getting yourself mentally focused for the day. “You definitely want to avoid watching the news if at all possible,” he says, “because the often-stressful images you’ll see aren’t conducive to a peaceful morning.”

Create a morning-exercise routine. Exercising gives you a sense of achievement to start the day with, provides you with more energy for the rest of the day, improves your mood, and makes you feel in control of your life. “Research shows that people who exercise in the morning are more consistent with their routine than those who try to fit exercise into their schedule later in the day,” Carter says.

“The most important thing about a morning routine is that you create one that you enjoy so much you will stick to it,” Carter says. “If you begin to realize that any aspects are not making you feel good, then get rid of them and replace them with something better.”

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Mosquito Madness: Protecting your pet from heartworms as warm weather hits

Spring and warmer weather are upon us, which means outdoor activities and, unfortunately, the return of pesky mosquitos. In recognition of Heartworm Awareness Month, the Humane Society of Missouri and its Animal Medical Center of Mid-America emphasize the importance of heartworm disease detection and share preventative tips to protect pets year-round.

Here’s what pet owners need to know about heartworm disease to keep their furry friends safe and healthy.

· What are heartworms? Heartworms are parasites that can live in the major organs of an animal’s body such as the heart, lungs and connected vessels. Pets can only contract heartworms after being bit by infected mosquitoes, making prevention extremely important.

· What are the risk areas? While the threat of heartworm disease is greater in warmer months due to an increase in disease-spreading mosquitos, the risk is always present, especially in the Midwest where weather can be unpredictable.

· Who does the disease affect? Heartworm disease affects both indoor and outdoor dogs and cats. Mosquitos often find their way into homes, and one bite is all it takes to infect a pet.

· What are the symptoms? Heartworm disease symptoms are often unnoticeable until six months after a pet is infected and the worms multiply. Symptoms start off with a cough and transition into the more extreme including exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, nosebleeds and, eventually, collapse due to complete blockage of blood flow to the heart.

· Can a pet recover from heartworm disease? While dogs can be treated for heartworm disease, the process is lengthy (6-8 weeks), expensive, painful for the dog and hard on their system. It’s also difficult for the owner as the dog must be kept as inactive as possible during the treatment period. There is no effective treatment for heartworms in cats. Therefore, prevention is obviously the best option.

· What’s the best prevention? Puppies and kittens should begin heartworm prevention medication at eight weeks old. Dogs should be tested prior to starting heartworm preventatives, or if they are less than 6 months of age, they should be tested once they reach 6 months of age. Dogs should then be retested yearly for heartworm disease and preventative medication should be administered year-round.

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The perils of potholes: Tips for drivers:

How can I avoid damage, and what does my auto insurance cover?

As winter becomes a memory, the telltale sign of the season is the sudden increase in the number of potholes.

A close encounter with a car crater can lead to totaled tires, wheels, and suspension. Vehicle repairs from a pothole can cost drivers from $300 to $700 or more. A recent AAA study estimates that potholes cost drivers nearly $3 billion each year. Potholes can occur in any climate, but are prominent this time of year in areas that have experienced ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. The freezing and thawing cycles allow moisture to seep into the road surface, which causes the road to crumble.

Pothole-Related Driving Tips from State Farm

Not much can be done to prevent the deterioration of driving surfaces, but there are five things you can do to protect yourself and your vehicle:

· Slow down and don’t tailgate. Give yourself a chance to see the pothole.

· If you can’t avoid a pothole, do your braking before impact. There’s less damage when a tire is rolling than when skidding over a hole during braking (which can damage the braking system).

· Try to take roads you know well. Your familiarity will help you avoid potholes.

· At night, travel on well-lit roads so you can see the surface.

· If you hit a pothole, inspect your tires and wheels for damage. Note how your car handles. If it “pulls” one way or the other or the steering feels wobbly, you may want to have your car checked by a professional.

Does My Auto Insurance Cover Pothole Damage?

Potholes are a fact of life for anyone who drives. These road hazards are not only a nuisance, but they can also do extensive damage to your vehicle. If you hit a pothole and your vehicle is damaged, there are a few of ways to address your issues:

• The damage to your car would generally be covered under the collision portion of your auto insurance and subject to the deductible.

•Tires are not covered if that is the only part of the vehicle that is damaged.

• Contact your insurance agent to report damage and discuss your specific coverage and deductible, to determine whether it’s worth filing a claim.

• Report the pothole to the local or state agency responsible for maintaining the road.

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Container gardens for every occasion

By MELINDA MYERS

Make every occasion special by designing and growing containers for summer holidays, weddings, anniversary parties or other special celebrations. Pick a color scheme appropriate for the occasion or a variety of colors and shapes sure to add a festive touch.

Look for opportunities to include edible and flower filled planters. Set containers at your front entrance to welcome family and guests. Use smaller containers to line a pathway and decorate each table. Fill large pots with tall plants and ornamental grasses to provide privacy and define spaces.

Boost your confidence and eliminate the guesswork by including winning varieties trialed and proven for their performance in gardens and containers. All-America Selections (AAS) is a non-profit trialing organization with test sites across the U.S. and Canada. Volunteer judges rate entries based on their improved performance, flavor and unique qualities. Visit the AAS website for help selecting edibles and flowers suitable for container gardening. (all-americaselections.org)

Then pick a color theme. Red, white and blue combinations are perfect for patriotic holidays like the fourth of July. Or pick one color and display it in patriotic pots. For reds consider Summer Jewel red salvia, Viking XL Red on Chocolate begonia and Double Fire Zahara zinnia. Add a light airy touch with Sparkle White guara and Gypsy White Improved baby’s breath. Evening Scentsation petunia, Strata salvia and Lavender Lady lavender provide the blue. Add an explosion of texture with fiber optic grass or Fireworks penstemon.

Host a sports event using flower colors or containers of your favorite team. Add to the festivities by growing them in a football, baseball or soccer shaped planter.

Gold is always a great choice when celebrating anniversaries, golden birthdays or any special occasion. Dress up the tables with the plump blooms of Marigold Big Duck Gold or the feathery blossoms of Fresh Look Gold celosia. Let them know they’re special by including Super Hero™ Spry marigold. The maroon and golden yellow flowers top 12” tall plants and the name says it all. All these golden beauties will continue to flower and thrive long after the party ends. Combine them with other bright colors like South Pacific Orange canna, and Calliope® Medium Dark Red geranium to create a festive atmosphere.

Bring the garden to the party with a few edible containers for a bit of interactive dining. Encourage guests to harvest herbs and vegetables as they create a salad, season their dinner or flavor their favorite drink. Then dress up the meal with edible flowers like calendulas and Baby Rose nasturtium with its peppery flavored flowers and leaves.

Make any outdoor wedding, reception or rehearsal dinner at your home memorable by creating planters that complement the bride’s color scheme. Include white flowers, like Summer Jewel White salvia, Mont Blanc nierembergia, Starlight rose zinnia and Gypsy White Improved gypsophila. White is the perfect neutral and lights up any evening celebration.

Once you experience the difference specially-designed containers can make, you’ll be looking for more opportunities to host events and grow more planters.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Widow Asks About Survivor Benefits

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away 7 years ago at the age of 64, at which time he was receiving SS Disability. I was 58 at the time he passed and could not apply for his Social Security. I was still working but let SS know he was deceased, so his check was no longer deposited. I am now 65 and my age to reach full benefits without penalty is 66. I plan to work three more years before applying for Social Security. My question is: Can I apply for my deceased husband's SS benefits now and not my own without any penalties? And if so, what is the process? Thank you for your time and the information and resources you provide. Signed: Widowed Wife

Dear Widowed: Yes, as a widow you have the choice of claiming either your survivor’s benefit or your own benefit but claiming either before your full retirement age will reduce it. If you claim your survivor’s benefit before you reach age 66 it will be somewhat reduced from 100% of what your husband was receiving when he passed. Since you’re now 65, the reduction won’t be too severe (about 0.4% for each month before your full retirement age of 66). Your own benefit would be reduced by about 0.69% for each month before your full retirement age.

I suggest you evaluate which of your future benefits will be greater – the survivor benefit at maximum or your own benefit at maximum. Your survivor benefit reaches maximum at your full retirement age of 66, but your own SS benefit can continue to grow until age 70 when it would be 32% more than it would be at age 66. You may want to set a goal to claim in such a way that you can get the highest benefit for the rest of your life. If you know what your own benefit will be at your full retirement age, add 32% to that, and compare that number to the benefit your husband was receiving at his death. If your own at age 70 is more than he was receiving, then it would be wise to take the survivor benefit first and let your own grow by 8% per year until 70 and then switch from the survivor benefit to your own. If your survivor benefit at your FRA will be greater than your own at age 70, then it would be wise to let the survivor benefit grow to maximum at your full retirement age and claim it then.

In any case, to answer your question – yes, you can apply for your reduced benefits as a widow now or wait until you’re 66 to get the full benefit, and the way to do that is to contact Social Security directly and request your benefit as your husband’s widow. Survivor’s benefit cannot be applied for online, so you should call Social Security (find your local office at www.ssa.gov/locator) and request an appointment to apply for survivor benefits. When you make your appointment, Social Security will advise you if they’ll require any additional documentation. And if you wish to let your own benefit grow to age 70, then be sure to specify you are applying only for your survivor benefit, not your Social Security retirement benefit.

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How to have a great lawn for your Easter egg hunt

Spring has arrived and Easter morning will be here before we know it. Families nationwide will be in their yards and seeking perfect Easter photo opportunity. Get your lawn in shape with a few tips from the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), is an international trade association representing power equipment, small engine, utility vehicle, golf car and personal transport vehicle manufacturers and suppliers.

“You want to spruce up your lawn before the kids are out there hunting for eggs,” said Kris Kiser, President and CEO of OPEI. “If you tidy up the lawn before Easter morning, they’ll have a great time and you’ll get better pictures,. And, a great lawn, starts with a great trim.”

Here are a few tips to help:

Tidy the yard. Remove leaves, branches, and sticks. Make sure pathways are clear and ready for foot traffic and mowing. Clean up playsets and other items that spent the winter outside.

Assess the lawn’s condition. Look for dog poop, holes in the ground, pests, or other hazards—and remove or repair them. Spring is the time to fix bare patches in the lawn by re-seeding or re-sodding. Remove thatch (decaying items like leaves, grassroots and stem accumulation) so nutrients and water can reach grass roots, and disease and pests are discouraged from nesting.

Plan where the Easter egg hunt will be. Use rope, tape or ribbon to mark boundaries so children know where they can go. You’ll want to avoid having excited little feet trample any bare lawn patches you are re-seeding or repairing, so avoid these areas if you can. Most grass varieties are hardy and can withstand foot traffic, but keep more delicate plants, such as flower beds, from eager hands and feet.

Cut your grass a few days in advance. Your lawn will benefit from the clippings being left behind on the grass, so it’s better to cut a couple of days before the egg hunt so clippings dry and don’t stick to the eggs. Use a freshly sharpened mower blade, for a clean cut, and always mow to the recommended height for the grass variety you have,, the season, and the growing conditions. Proper mowing, including choosing the correct height of grass, creates a low-maintenance, more drought-tolerant lawn.

Keep by-standers indoors while mowing (and hiding eggs). Children and pets should be inside and supervised when any outdoor power equipment is being used. Plus it will be easier to keep the egg hunt a secret from your kids—and curious pets!

Hide with safety in mind. Consider your child’s age when selecting hiding locations for the eggs. Young children will run around the lawn and find eggs. Older children might need more complexity such as hiding eggs in shrubbery.

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What a waste

New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) routinely collects seal scat [more commonly known as poo] to track the lifestyles and travels of Leopard Seals. About a year ago they picked up a bit of deep sea scat and put it in a freezer for safe keeping. When they thawed it out and examined it recently, they found a USB computer memory stick. It turned out that the USB device was none the worse for wear, considering where it had been. When they plugged it in, they made an “ironic” discovery. It contained, as NIWA put it, “photos of sea lions at Porpoise Bay in the Caitlins and a video of a mum and baby sea lion frolicking in the shallows.” The Caitlins is a coastal region in the southeastern corner of New Zealand.

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A very rara avis, indeed

Authorities will tell you that male cardinals are brilliant red in color and that the female of the species is pale brown. But, a very rare yellow cardinal appeared in Karem Maldonado’s back yard in Theodore, AL recently. Luckily, she was taking pictures at the time and was able to snap photos of the rara avis to prove her sighting of the one-in-a-million mutant bird. It gives new meaning the hit 1960’s calypso song with the lyric, Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me.”

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This little piggy

Pigcasso is quite the talented porcine. Fortunately, she was rescued from a South African slaughterhouse when she was just a piglet and handed over to the folks at an animal sanctuary]. It was there that her talent for painting was discovered. Her art sells for thousands of dollars reports Reuters. The news agency notes that the money she earns is earmarked for animal welfare causes.

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Early birds & night owls

Whether you are an early bird or a night owl could affect your mental health. Through a genome-wide analysis of nearly 700,000 people, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine discovered that being a morning person lowers risk for schizophrenia and similar disorders, while being an extreme night owl is linked to greater risk of mental health issues. The next step, said Penn psychiatrist Philip Gehrman, is to determine exactly which genes are associated with circadian tendency and with issues such as insomnia.

Not always green

When tech companies move into a city, they often encourage a sustainability mindset. However, new research from Daniel Aldana Cohen of the University of Pennsylvania and collaborators from the University of Georgia, Southwestern University, and Portland State University, shows that they also lead to gentrification and emissions that either stay the same or increase. “When density results from more high-income residents, the low-carbon benefits of that density get wiped out,” Cohen says. Addressing these issues requires investments in affordable housing, sustainability interventions, and awareness of the issue.

Fertility decline

The U.S. fertility rate hitting 1.77, the lowest it’s ever been, is not necessarily cause for alarm. A decline was inevitable, due to the recession, less immigration to the U.S., and the difficulty individuals have maintaining pre-parenthood lifestyles after having children, according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Population Studies Center. The low fertility rate may be surfacing now, but it has been years in the making. “Would the current trends undermine living standards? I don’t think there’s any concern for that at this time,” says demographer Hans-Peter Kohler. “In fact, if the U.S. population grows somewhat less rapidly, it may even be a good thing because right now, you’re pushing up against resources.”

Second cured HIV patient

News that a second person may have been cured of HIV is being greeted with both hope and hesitation. The so-called “London patient,” who had both HIV and cancer, underwent a stem-cell transplant using a donor with a unique mutation that confers HIV resistance. The transplant seems to have successfully vanquished the virus. However, University of Pennsylvania researchers urge caution. “Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it’s a solution or a cure for all people who have HIV,” said Pablo Tebas of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, who underscores the risks of a stem cell transplant. Bridgette Brawner of the Penn School of Nursing called the London news "phenomenal" but stressed the importance of continued support for people who are living with the virus today. “There is a concern that money may be getting thrown at a cure for ‘one day,’" she said, "when there are already people around the world who may not have access to the drug regimens that are helping them live longer, healthier lives today."

Treatment for depression

The FDA has approved esketamine for people with treatment-resistant depression. Known as Spravato, it is the only approved drug to treat depression that is administered via nasal spray. "All of the newer antidepressants introduced over the prior 30 years were variations or slight modifications of the existing classes of medications, such as Prozac,” said Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "It is not a miracle solution. But it’s a wonderful thing if you get a nice response to it if your depression is debilitating. Having another treatment that can help many long-suffering people is a good thing."

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Use prescription pain medications safely

By Bob Moos

Southwest public affairs officer

U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Medicare wants to help you use prescription pain medications safely.

Prescription opioid medications – such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine – can help treat pain after surgery or after an injury, but they carry serious risks, like addiction, an overdose and death.

Those risks increase the higher the dose you take or the longer you use the pain medications, even if you take them as prescribed. Your risks also grow if you take certain other medications, like benzodiazepines (commonly used for anxiety or sleep), or if you get opioid medications from many doctors or pharmacies.

More than 11 million Americans misuse prescription opioids every year. In fact, opioid misuse has become so prevalent that the government has declared it a public health emergency. Opioid overdoses accounted for 47,600 deaths in 2017, and 40 percent of those deaths involved a prescription opioid medication.

For years, Americans overestimated the benefits of opioids and underestimated the risks. Many people became regular users of the pain killers, often quite innocently, with a prescription from a doctor after surgery or an injury or as treatment for a chronic condition. Few thought their growing dependence would lead to addiction.

Medicare is working closely with drug plans, pharmacists and health care providers to ensure that beneficiaries use these powerful pain medications appropriately. Federal health care officials recently introduced new guidelines for opioid prescriptions in the Medicare Part D drug program. Here’s a brief overview of the safety measures:

Your Medicare drug plan and pharmacist may do safety reviews of your opioid pain medications when you fill a prescription. The reviews are especially important if you have more than one doctor who prescribes these drugs. In some cases, the Medicare drug plan or pharmacist may need to talk to your doctor before filling the prescription.

Your drug plan or pharmacist may do a safety review if they determine you’re taking potentially unsafe opioid amounts, or if you take opioids with benzodiazepines (like Xanax, Valium or Klonopin) or if you’re using opioids for the first time. New users may be limited to an initial seven-day supply or less to reduce the possibility of long-term use and addiction.

If your pharmacy can’t fill your prescription as written, the pharmacist will give you a notice explaining how you or your doctor can contact your drug plan to ask for a coverage decision. If your health requires it, you can request a fast decision. You may also ask your plan for an exception to its rules before you even go to the pharmacy, so you’ll know if it will cover your medication.

Some Medicare drug plans will have a drug management program to help patients who are at risk for prescription drug abuse. If you get opioids from more than one doctor or pharmacy, your plan may talk with your doctors to make sure you need the medications and are using them safely.

If your drug plan decides your use of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines may not be safe, the plan may limit your coverage of those drugs. For example, you may be required to get your medications only from certain doctors or pharmacies to better coordinate your health care.

Before the drug plan places you in a drug management program, it will notify you by letter, and you’ll be able to tell the plan which doctors or pharmacies you prefer to use. If your plan decides to limit your coverage for these medications, it will send you another letter confirming that. You and your doctor can then appeal if you disagree with the decision or think it is a mistake.

It’s important to note that the safety reviews and drug management programs generally won’t apply to you if you have cancer, get hospice, palliative or end-of-life care, or live in a long-term care facility.

Talk with your doctor about all your pain treatment options, including whether taking an opioid medication is right for you. You may be able to take other medications or do other things to help manage your pain with less risk. Decisions to start, stop or reduce prescription opioids should be made by you and your doctor. What works best is different for every patient.

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5 outdated IT practices that companies need to eliminate

Technology changes nearly as quickly as the calendar flips. A new device or upgrade that was trending not long ago may become antiquated or obsolete before you know it.

Information technology is integral to most businesses today, but keeping up with the interrelated parts of IT and the advancements – from software to cyber security to social media platforms – isn’t always prioritized. IT experts say companies falling behind in that category could see their business slip as a result.

“Over the last several years, many IT practices have become fixed and inflexible,” says Chris Hoose (www.choosenetworks.com), an IT consultant who works with small businesses. “While older concepts are a good springboard, some have become ineffective. There are many you can reconsider and/or eliminate.”

Hoose looks at five IT practices he thinks businesses should stop using:

Outdated software. One of the biggest security vulnerabilities a company can face is one of the simplest to address: outdated software. “There are many risks associated with using unsupported or outdated software, and hackers love to exploit these gaps,” Hoose says. “Then there are the inevitable problems of a system failure or antiquated workflows that slow a company’s productivity. Although upgrading software – including your operating systems – can be time-consuming and expensive, doing so can safeguard your organization and create more room for innovations.”

In-house server hosting. Much of today’s modern software is hosted in the cloud. “Most cloud vendors are able to provide public, private or hybrid cloud hosting based on your requirements,” Hoose says. “With such extensive cloud capability, there is no reason anymore to rely on in-house server hosting. Migrating to these versions can not only help save your business the costs of purchasing and maintaining software, but also the costs of maintenance and upkeep on servers.” Another plus of cloud computing is the added security of cloud disaster recovery, a backup and restore capability that enables companies to recover data and switch to a secondary operational mode.

Inflexible work environment. The new wave of the workforce is an IT strategy that includes video cameras and laptops for team members to facilitate remote work and remote communications. “If your firm doesn’t have that flexibility, they risk being left behind,” Hoose says. “Flexible work arrangements improve a company’s effectiveness and morale. It’s one of the best uses of today’s IT.”

Newsgroups and discussion forums. These popular mediums once served as portals where questions were raised from the team and answers were provided in a question-and-answer format. Better alternatives, Hoose says, are options like Facebook, Hangouts or Slack. “The format is far more intuitive and user-friendly with social media pages than with conventional discussion forums,” he says. “Also, multiple answers can be handled easily with social-media pages.”

Unnecessary complexity. Hoose says an overly complex structure is the core failing of legacy systems. “Rethink your architecture and prioritize for simplicity,” he says. “When modernizing your systems, less is more in terms of both architecture and functionality. You can start by implementing only the most important features. Make sure the new application will work well with the rest of the tools used in your business by default. Whatever applications you choose, make sure you use a solid and future-ready technology stack to deliver optimal performance.”

“Many executives are unsure, or even unaware, of the risk that obsolescence presents to their technology portfolios,” Hoose says. “Their uncertainty stems from not having the right data and dealing with conflicting points of view on priority, value, and risk.”

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History Matters

Ponce De Leon, the Spanish explorer, discovered Florida on April 2, 1513 during Easter Week, which in Spanish is celebrated as the festival of Pascua Florida. That’s how Florida got its name. Fifty-two years later, on September 8, 1565, during the settlement of St. Augustine, FL [America’s oldest city] the state was claimed as a Spanish colony by Admiral Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. In attendance at the ceremony were Spanish colonists and members of the indigenous native American Timucua tribe, all of whom were invited to a commemorative communal meal.

Some claim that event was the original Thanksgiving celebration, predating the festivities at Plymouth by more than half a century. The story has been chronicled by children’s author, Robin Gioia, in her book, America's Real First Thanksgiving: St. Augustine, Florida, September 8, 1565. The Grateful American Book Prize believes that tale might inspire your children to learn more about history.

After General Robert E. Lee’s army withdrew from Richmond, VA, the capital of the Confederacy, the city surrendered on April 3, 1865 to the Union Army. Six days later, General Lee yielded to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, VA, officially ending the Civil War—the bloodiest, most destructive “conflict” in America’s history. The death toll is estimated to have been between 620,000 and 850,000 Union and Confederate soldiers—all of them Americans.

If you want your children and grandchildren a get a “look” at the War Between The States from a kid’s point of view, give them Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s Like a River: A Civil War Novel. The book won the inaugural Grateful American Book Prize in 2015. It was written especially for middle-grade readers and provides an exciting perspective that has a particular appeal to young readers.

James Earl Ray perpetrated what is considered a “crime of the century” when he assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN. Ray was captured, he confessed to the murder, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison—which he never completed. He died at Columbia Nashville Memorial Hospital in Tennessee from complications related to kidney disease at the age 70 in 1998. Dr. King, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964, was an iconic civil rights leader who was known for advancing the cause of racial equality through nonviolent activism.

The Grateful American Prize recommendation for young readers interested in learning about Dr. King’s life, death, and the capture of his murderer is James L. Swanson’s Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president to win four consecutive terms. He lived and served through some of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history; he guided the country through the Great Depression and World War II during which the U.S. fought in Europe and the Pacific, simultaneously. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945—less than five months before the war ended.

The only other person who tried to abandon the term limit tradition was another Roosevelt; Franklin’s distant cousin, Theodore. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1951, officially limited U.S. presidents to two terms (8 years) in office.

Albert Marrin’s FDR and the American Crisis is a definitive biography of Franklin Roosevelt, and an easy, interesting read for those who are 12 and up, says the Grateful American Book Prize.

President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while he was attending a performance of the play, “Our American Cousin”, at Ford’s Theater in Washington on April 14, 1865. He died the following morning—six days after the end of the Civil War. His accomplishments were legion, and interest in Mr. Lincoln continues; more has been written about him than any other person in history--with the exception of Jesus Christ.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends for readers 11 and older another book by author James L. Swanson, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. It’s a taut, well-sourced detective story with the power to prove that a lesson in history need not be boring.

About the Grateful American Book Prize

The panel of judges for the 2019 Grateful American Book Prize is now accepting submissions for books published between July 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019. Historically accurate books of fiction and nonfiction written for middle schoolers are eligible. Entries for the Prize will be accepted until July 31.

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Simple strategies for a larger tomato harvest

By Melinda Myers

Nothing is more frustrating than investing time, money and energy in planting and growing tomatoes only to watch them succumb to disease. We can’t change the weather conditions that support disease problems, but we can tweak our growing strategies to reduce this risk.

Select and grow the most disease-resistant varieties suited to your growing region. Consult your local University Extension Office for a list of recommended tomatoes and always check the plant tags before purchasing plants.

Plant tomatoes in a sunny location, that receives at least eight or more hours of sunlight, with rich well-drained soil. Your plants will be healthier and better able to fend off insects and tolerate disease.

No room – no problem. Grow your tomatoes in containers filled with a quality potting mix and drainage holes. Many of the newer containers, like Gardener’s Victory Self-Watering Patio Planter are designed to increase success with less effort on your part. Look for containers with built-in trellises, large reservoirs and other features that promote healthy growth and productivity.

Properly space plants to increase airflow and sunlight reaching all parts of the plant. This reduces the risk of disease and increases a plant’s ability to produce more fruit. Leaving space between plants also helps reduce the spread of disease from diseased plants to nearby healthy plants.

Further reduce the risk of disease by lifting the plants off the ground. Supporting plants with strong tomato cages improves air flow and light penetration while keeping the plants and fruit off the ground and away from soil-borne insects and diseases.

Avoid flimsy tomato towers that tend to topple and bulky cages that consume too much storage space. Consider investing in one of the stronger supports like the Gardener’s Vertex Lifetime Tomato Cage that stores flat and is strong, but flexible to encourage stouter growth. Another benefit is that it opens, so you can easily place them around larger plants; just in case you waited too long to set the cages in place.

Use soaker hoses or irrigation systems like the Waterwell Irrigation System that target water to the soil around the plant. Placing water just where it is needed – on the soil – conserves moisture while keeping the foliage dry. Overhead irrigation uses more water and increases the risk and spread of many common tomato diseases.

Boost your tomato plants’ productivity by as much as 20% with red mulch. The USDA and Clemson University developed a red mulch that reflects far-red wavelengths upward into the plants stimulating growth and development. For more help growing tomatoes successfully and boosting your tomato harvest visit gardeners.com.

Rotate plantings from one garden, or area within a garden, to another. Moving related plants to different locations each year reduces the build up of insects and diseases, reducing the risk of future problems. Consider rotating your tomato plantings into containers if space is limited. Start with fresh soil, a clean container and disease-resistant plants.

With these few changes and a bit of cooperation from the weather, your new challenge may be finding ways to use and share your bumper harvest. Your surplus tomatoes and vegetables are always welcome at food pantries and meal programs in your community.

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Digital dentistry is revolutionizing the patient experience

Dentistry is undergoing a revolution as “digital dentistry” moves from concept to reality.

“Digital dentistry allows for a wide variety of advanced techniques to be used to not only make the patient experience better, but it also allows the dentist to utilize quicker, easier and less expensive techniques,” says Dr. Doug Depew, author of “Change Your Smile, Change Your Life: Your Guide to Orthodontic Treatment” ((https://www.depewsmiles.com). “Dental dentistry advancements will continue to revolutionize many different aspects of the dental profession.”

Digital dentistry incorporates computer-controlled components to carry out dental procedures rather than using mechanical or electrical tools, or plaster tooth models. More dentists are embracing the technology because it improves efficiency, accuracy and potentially produces more predictable outcomes than non-digital techniques.

Not all dentists are embracing the technology due to the significant investment required, a steep learning curve for both doctors and technicians, and a natural resistance to change, especially for those nearing retirement.

The benefits, however, are worth it, says Dr. Depew. He says the following areas are where digital dentistry is making a difference:

Computerized patient rooms. The first area that most dentists start with in digital dentistry is putting computers into each patient room. This allows for a variety of state-of-the-art techniques as well as enhanced patient education.

Digital patient education. This includes technologies already available in other industries, such as voice-activated and/or touch-screen computer and software instruction, live video and rapid recall of photos and educational components.

Digital Radiography. X-rays no longer require film or chemicals. “The main advantages include lower radiation, significant time reduction, ease of storage and organization, and image enhancements for quick and improved viewing,” Dr. Depew says.

Cone Beam CT. This is being quickly adopted by most specialties and becoming the proposed standard for diagnosing of a myriad of conditions; and for planning surgical procedures, including implant placement, third-molar removal, and endodontics. “Future advances and changes will see improved software diagnostic capabilities to automatically take measurements and propose implant positions, and algorithms that automatically look for problems,” says Dr. Depew.

Intra-oral Scanning. Instead of the gooey impressions, the dentist puts a wand in your mouth that makes a three-dimensional reproduction of your teeth. “Scanning teeth and preparations is becoming increasingly easier and faster” says Dr. Depew

Digital Design. Using special CAD/CAM software the doctor and laboratory use the data from the methods mentioned above to design aligners for tooth movement, crowns, and other oral appliances.

3D Printers. Designing software, tooth models and even appliances can be printed instead of using outdated plaster models.

Lasers. Diode lasers allow for advantages in simplifying surgical procedures, and an expanding use in many dental procedures make this area of digital dentistry highly desirable. The current trend is small, portable, cordless, low-cost diode lasers.

“Combining these technologies, our treatments can be faster, more economical, predictable, consistent, and even more accurate,” says Dr. Depew. He believes digital dentistry is already changing the dental profession and that it will lead to even more remarkable technological advances in the future.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Social Security’s “First Year” Rule

Dear Rusty: I’ve been trying to determine the best way to proceed with retirement and could use some help. I’d like to retire on or about my 62nd birthday this September. Waiting for “full retirement” does not motivate as I have income replacement through my real estate investments. I’ll have way over any earnings limits for 2019, but I don’t want to have my benefits reduced. Can I apply as SSA suggests three months before my 62nd birthday without running afoul of SSA’s arcane benefit reduction rules? Or should I quit first then apply? Please don’t refer me to my Financial Advisor or local SSA office, they just confuse. Signed: Anxious to Retire

Dear Anxious: Well I’m afraid I can’t offer you any obscure methods to avoid Social Security’s rules & regulations, but perhaps I can clarify some things which will help you manage the timing of your application for Social Security benefits. From what you’ve said, I assume you mean you plan to retire from your working career in September, but by that time you will have greatly exceeded Social Security’s annual earnings limit (which is $17,640 for 2019). Again, from what you’ve said, you wish to claim SS as soon as possible but you don’t want to lose any benefits because of exceeding the earnings limit. So, if you wish to claim SS as soon as you turn 62, you’ll be happy to know that there is a special rule which applies for your first year of collecting benefits before your full retirement age (66 ½ in your case).

That “first year rule” essentially says that if you start benefits in mid-year, earnings prior to the month your benefits start don’t count; instead you’ll be subject to a monthly earnings test for the remainder of that year, once your benefits have started. So in your case, your first month of eligibility for SS would be the month of October (you must be 62 for the entire month to be eligible for benefits), and your benefit payment for October would be paid the following month (the payment date will be either the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Wednesday of the month, depending on the day of the month you were born). Then, starting with the month of October, if you do not have earnings from working which exceed $1,470 in any of the remaining months of 2019, your benefits will not be cut; but if you have earnings from working which exceed that monthly amount in any month for the rest of 2019, then you will not be entitled to SS benefits for that month. Exceeding the monthly limit by any amount (even by $1) will cause Social Security to take back the full benefit for that month. So, if your plan is to retire from your working career in September and depend upon your savings and investments for income, and if you claim Social Security as soon as you’re eligible in October and you have no further earnings from working, you’ll not suffer any loss of benefits in 2019.

But just as a caution, after 2019 you’ll still be subject to the annual “earnings test” because you’re claiming Social Security before you reach your full retirement age, and the annual earnings test will apply until the month that you reach your full retirement age (after that, there is no longer a limit to what you can earn). As for when you should apply for benefits, Social Security recommends that you apply 3 months before you wish your benefits to begin. When applying, you can specify the month you want your benefits to start, so if you wish that to be at age 62 simply specify October 2019 as your benefit start month. Applying prior to September and specifying October as your benefit start month will not expose you to any extra earnings limitations over those explained above.

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Unsure what to do with your 401(k) when you switch jobs? Here are 5 options

The average American changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime. With each new job comes new offices, new co-workers – and possibly a decision about what to do with the 401(k) plan they started at their last job.

Selecting the right course of action for what becomes of that money can be crucial because the 401(k) has essentially replaced pensions as an employer-sponsored retirement savings vehicle.

“You have to look at where you are in life,” says Christy Smith (www.thepresleygroup.net), founder of Presley Wealth Management and an Investment Adviser Representative. “If you’re in your 40s with many working years left, it might be better to roll the 401(k) into your new company’s plan. If you’re just a few years from your planned retirement, putting the money into the new company’s plan is possibly not the best thing.”

Smith outlines five 401(k) options to consider when taking a new job:

Direct rollover to the new company’s 401(k). A direct rollover is a transfer of assets that allows those retirement savings to grow and remain tax-deferred without interruption. It goes directly into the new employer’s retirement plan without ever passing through your hands. “If you’ve got at least another 10-12 working years left with the job change, this is often a preferred route to take,” Smith says. “One of the advantages is a 401(k) offers lower-cost or plan-specific investment options.”

Direct rollover to a traditional IRA. People roll over a 401(k) to an IRA to have wider investment options and more control over their money. You don’t pay taxes on IRA contributions or gains until withdrawing the money, which you can do starting at age 59 ½. “With a traditional IRA you contribute pre-tax dollars, and that money grows tax-deferred,” Smith says. “This might be a better option for those closer to retirement. At that point you want lower-risk investments, and moving your money from a 401(k) to an IRA will give you a variety of fixed-income options.”

Convert to a Roth IRA. Contributions to a Roth are taxed when they’re made. The upside is you can withdraw contributions and earnings tax-free at age 59 ½. “If you have a relatively small 401(k), maybe it’s worth it to convert to a Roth and pay the taxes up front,” Smith says. “I certainly think Roth conversions can be a great situation, but they have to be done delicately.”

Leave it behind. Leaving your money in your former employer’s plan may make sense if you like the investment options it offers, or if you’re taking time to explore other options. “The downside is you’re no longer contributing to it,” Smith says.

Cash it out. Smith says this is almost never a good idea, due to the tax implications and the hit your overall retirement fund takes. “People who have financial distress will take the 401(k) distribution, but if there’s any way to avoid that they should,” she says. There’s a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59 ½. The exception to this rule is if you are leaving or losing a job at age 55 or later, but the distribution counts toward that year’s taxable income.

“Whatever one decides,” Smith says, “the key considerations are continuing the tax-deferral of these retirement funds for as long as possible, and to avoid current taxes and penalties that can take big chunks out of what you’ve saved and invested.”

Music hath charms

Some might find hip hop music annoying, but now the Swiss may have proven that it can be “cheesy,” as well. It seems that researchers in Burgdorf, Switzerland, recently tested the effect music might have on Emmental cheese. They found that hip hop music outdid opera and classical rock when it came to the impact on “flavor, smell and taste.” According to the report produced by the Bern University of Arts scientists who conducted the research, “the hip hop sample topped the list of all cheese exposed to music,” significantly increasing fruitiness, smell and taste.

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Dog gets ‘seeing eye pup’

Charlie, an 11-year-old golden retriever belonging to the Stipe family of Mooresville, NC lost its eyesight and so the family adopted a puppy named Maverick to be a companion for Charlie. The dogs quickly bonded. In fact, Mrs. Stipe told reporters that when they would play, Maverick would realize that Charlie would lose the toy sometimes, so [Maverick] would pick it up and put it back in front of him to re-engage playtime." And, when out of doors, the puppy would guide Charlie much the same way a seeing eye dog might guide a blind person. Maverick became a regular “seeing eye pup.”

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A big, but not the biggest baby

Harper Buckley who was born in Elmira, New York, on March 15, 2019, weighing 15 pounds, 15 ounces at birth may hold the record for heaviest neonate ever born in New York State, according to her doctors. But, the folks who chronicle world records at Guinness would consider her a lightweight. The world record holder was a boy who weighed in at a whopping 22 pounds when he was born at home in Saville, Ohio, to 7 feet, 11 inches, tall Anna Bates and her husband, Martin, who was just 7 feet, 9 inches tall.

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Senior citizens & dog walking

Fractures related to dog walking have more than doubled between 2004 and 2017 among older patients. The rise in injuries can be attributed to increased pet ownership and a greater emphasis on physical activity at older ages, according to a study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “This study highlights that, while there are undoubtedly pros to dog walking, patients’ risks for falls must be factored into lifestyle recommendations in an effort to minimize such injuries," said medical student Kevin Pirruccio, the lead author of the study.

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Doctors & sleep

Allowing first-year doctors to work longer shifts does not result in chronic sleep loss or reduced patient safety. That’s the conclusion of a study from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “Although there was a lot of concern about shift limits, they really don’t seem to have an effect on any important domains, such as patient safety, when applied in the current context,” said David Asch of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "We were able to use a single study to examine the impact of resident on-duty hours on their sleep and alertness, the safety of the patients they cared for and the education the residents received, all at once. In the past, what research there has been only looked at one of these factors at a time.”

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Homicides & guns

Gun-related homicides in states with strict gun laws increase when neighboring states have lax gun laws, and 65 percent of guns recovered in more restrictive states originate from elsewhere. These findings from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, suggest that "the benefits of firearm laws might not be fully realized until either all states reach a certain threshold level of firearm legislation, or more universal federal firearm legislation is enacted," said Mark. J. Seamon, the senior author on the study.

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Cancer & the liver

When cancer spreads, it is more likely to move into the liver more often than into other organs. Hepatocytes, the primary functional cells of the liver, respond to inflammation by activating the STAT3 protein. this activation increases the production of other proteins that remodel the liver and create the "soil" needed for cancer cells to "seed." “The seed-and-soil hypothesis is well-recognized, but our research now shows that hepatocytes are the major orchestrators of this process,” said oncologist Gregory L. Beatty of the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. He said that using antibodies to block inflammatory signals can limit the risk of cancer spreading to the liver.

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Redefining gender in the workplace

Many employers have responded to awareness of transgender workers by developing new policies aimed at accommodations, but there is still much progress to be made. The question of gender in the workplace has only grown more complicated, in part because “gender in general has been in the air with the #MeToo movement,” said Nancy Rothbard of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “That really brought gender to the forefront of people’s conceptualization around what’s going on in the workplace, what influences how we experience work.” Stephanie Creary, also of Wharton, said, "There wasn’t as much expectation for being authentic at work until around 10 years ago. And that has changed.”

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Western bias in genetics

The vast majority of participants in genetics studies are of European ancestry, and this lack of diversity has serious consequences for biomedical research and the treatment of diseases. “Leaving entire populations out of human genetic studies is both scientifically damaging and unfair,” said Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the commentary. “We may be missing genetic variants that play an important role in health and disease across ethnically diverse populations, which may have deleterious consequences in terms of disease prevention and treatment.” A more complete understanding of human genetics and its relationship to disease requires studies of people representing the full “landscape of human variation.”

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Why prison reform is about changinghearts and minds – as well as the system

Prison reform efforts in many states have often been about reducing the inmate population in an effort to save money, but for prison reform advocates this is more than just a pocketbook issue.

“Criminal justice reform isn’t just about passing laws to reduce prison sentences or promoting policies to reduce prison populations,” says Khalil Osiris, a former prison inmate and author of the book A Freedom That Comes From Within (www.khalilosiris.com). “It’s about changing the way we think about crime and punishment.”

States are experimenting with reducing mandatory sentences, and giving judges and prosecutors more discretion in sentencing. Other reforms include coming up with alternative settings for the mentally ill, which some studies show is more than 30 percent of the prison population. Reforms also include enhancing educational opportunities, which is what helped Osiris turn his life around.

His path to prison began when he was a teenager, and at one time he was facing the possibility of a 75 year sentence. But by the time of his release, he had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University, and wrote the manuscript for his first book – The Psychology of Incarceration: A Distortion of the State of Belonging. During this time, Osiris also became pen pals with Makaziwe Mandela, the daughter of Nelson Mandela. This friendship led him to South Africa where he worked for seven years and launched several educational and social reform initiatives – including a re-entry program in prisons.

Osiris thinks there is plenty of room for more effective prison reforms in the United States. His suggestions include:

Better data collection. “We should start developing more effective practices and processes for collecting data on incarceration in order to develop a clearer understanding of what is happening and why, particularly on a state and local level,” Osiris says. “There are vast disparities in state statistics on prison and criminal justice reform. We must develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of those differences in order to quantify what progress means.”

Increase employment opportunities. Employment for formerly incarcerated citizens is foundational to criminal justice reform efforts. The most successful employment program Osiris has seen in America is Ready4Work, an anchor initiative of the Jacksonville, Florida based organization called Operation New Hope. Ready4Work provides a practical way to turn our national concern about criminal justice reform into effective, scalable action.

Increase indigent defense and plea bargaining guidelines. “To ensure prosecutorial oversight, it’s important to require judges to enforce the plea bargaining guidelines. It is also important to secure legislative adoption of the guidelines in states with directly elected county district attorneys,” Osiris says.

Develop prosecutorial guidelines. “Prosecutors have more discretionary choices and power in the criminal justice system than any other stakeholder, including judges,” Osiris says. “They can have more impact on mass incarceration numbers than any other stakeholder. Yet they have very few established guidelines regarding sentencing.”

“Prison reform is a critical issue, and it can indeed save states money,” Osiris says. “But my mission is to transform the hearts and minds of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated citizens by inspiring them to think differently and make better choices.”

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4 tips for creating less chaotic, more productive mornings

When the alarm rings each morning, do you arise quickly, eager to take on whatever the day brings?

Or do you drowsily reach for the snooze button?

Your answer could be crucial because the mindset you start the day with can play a significant role in whether the rest of your day is filled with successes or setbacks.

“Every time the sun rises, so do new opportunities to grow, develop and improve,” says Dr. Rob Carter III, co-author with his wife, Dr. Kirti Salwe Carter, of The Morning Mind: Use Your Brain to Master Your Day and Supercharge Your Life (www.themorningmind.com).

But to make the most of those opportunities, you may need to adjust your morning routine to better prepare your mind and body for what’s to come.

“Your morning routine can be as little as 15 to 20 minutes if you like,” Carter says, “but the idea is to have time dedicated to you and habits that support you.”

Carter offers these suggestions for starting the day right:

Plan your day the night before. A peaceful morning can quickly turn chaotic if you don’t have things carefully planned out. “It’s not unusual for people to be heading out the door and discover they can’t find their car keys,” Carter says. A lot of morning stress can be relieved by planning your day the night before, he says, such as deciding what clothes to wear, making sure your phone is charged, and writing the next day’s to-do list.

Make time for yourself. If you’re married with kids, this can be a challenge. But Carter says everyone needs time for reflection, which is unlikely to happen unless you make it a priority. Set aside time to meditate, pray, do yoga or even do nothing for 10 minutes. “Spending time by yourself,” he says, “allows you to reflect on life’s happenings and can increase productivity and focus, and make you appreciate time with others more.”

Minimize noise and distractions. Many people start the day by turning on the TV, the radio or other devices. Avoid that urge, Carter says. Instead, devote your energy to getting yourself mentally focused for the day. “You definitely want to avoid watching the news if at all possible,” he says, “because the often-stressful images you’ll see aren’t conducive to a peaceful morning.”

Create a morning-exercise routine. Exercising gives you a sense of achievement to start the day with, provides you with more energy for the rest of the day, improves your mood, and makes you feel in control of your life. “Research shows that people who exercise in the morning are more consistent with their routine than those who try to fit exercise into their schedule later in the day,” Carter says.

“The most important thing about a morning routine is that you create one that you enjoy so much you will stick to it,” Carter says. “If you begin to realize that any aspects are not making you feel good, then get rid of them and replace them with something better.”

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Are you so focused on retirement you are missing out on your life?

Mary and Pete saved every penny for retirement. They never went on vacations, they rarely went out to eat, and they lived a frugal lifestyle secure in the knowledge that when they retired, they would be able to live comfortably.

In short, they worried so much about retirement that they forgot to experience all that life has to offer.

“Saving for retirement is a worthy goal but there must be a balance between that and living life to the fullest,” says John Hagensen, founder and managing director of Keystone Wealth Partners (www.keystonewealthpartners.com).

Hagensen says he has clients who scrimped and saved all their lives so they would have plenty of money for retirement. But when they do retire, they still don’t want to spend any money to enjoy themselves because they have been so programmed during their working lives to save every penny until the day they die.

“The trick is to find that balance between saving to have a good retirement and managing your money so you can be rich in experiences,” he says.

Hagensen says this concept was driven home to him when a 20-year-old friend died in a traffic accident while driving across the country to start a new church.

“She lived a life of kindness and joy and had wonderful adventures in her life,” he says. “I saw the people she had impacted and it really hit home to me that life is short. Saving for retirement is a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. We need to know that if we died tomorrow, we would be happy because we lived richly, not that we died rich.”

Hagensen offers these tips for people who want to live richly instead of dying wealthy:

Have a comprehensive plan. Design a life plan around all your financial goals – both short term and long term – and how you plan to reach them. If you are unsure how to devise such a comprehensive plan, seek the advice of a qualified financial planner.

Stop procrastinating. Stop making excuses about making comprehensive plans about your financial future. The future will be here sooner than you think. “We think we have an infinite amount of time – we don’t,” Hagensen says.

Take risks. Those who experience life to the fullest sometimes have to take risks, both professionally and personally. “You will only regret the risks you never took. Everything else is just a learning experience,” Hagensen says.

Get out of the mindset of fear and scarcity. Hagensen says we should ask ourselves “what is the worst that can happen?” when taking a big gamble, such as moving to another city for a job. Once people ask themselves that question, he says, many are able to overcome their fears because they know they can handle that worst-case situation.

“Yes, it is important to be able to have a comfortable retirement,” Hagensen says. “But we only go around once in life and it is also important to live richly while our health is good so we don’t have any regrets when we do retire. You don’t want to be short of money, but you also don’t want to be short on experiencing life.”

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Inside the interrogation room: Manipulation brings false confessions

By BRIAN LESLIE

True crime shows comprise one of the most popular genres in the entertainment culture. People are fascinated with who did it and why; how they got caught or got away.

More and more, though, it seems the storyline is “falsely accused” and “false confession.” Curiosity and fascination deepen when the possibility emerges that the convicted criminal may actually be an innocent victim. Recent developments regarding the central figure in Netflix’s controversial documentary series, “Making a Murderer,” is a case in point.

In numerous cases where prime suspects end up in jail, defense attorneys later go back to the beginning and, with the help of forensic and interrogation experts, expose flaws in the evidence gathering and, often, in the way investigators interviewed suspects. In “Making a Murderer,” Steven Avery is in prison for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Avery denied carrying out the crime, and his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, recently won a request that could help lead to a new trial.

The conviction was based in part on the confession of also-convicted 16-year-old Brendan Dassey, Avery’s nephew. However, the teen later recanted the confession, which he gave without a lawyer present. It was claimed that Dassey was coerced and intimidated by investigators. Attempts by Dassey's attorneys to have his confession overturned have bounced through state and federal courts since his conviction.

Without his confession, there wasn't much of a case. With a suspect like Dassey, who has reported intellectual disabilities, interrogators often try to build a rapport so the suspect will see them as being good guys trying to help. That’s particularly effective with someone as young as Dassey. You can convince a 16-year-old of anything, especially if they're in a vulnerable position.

The Netflix series investigated the law enforcement and judicial procedures in the case and suggested: 1) evidence may have been planted and, 2) that Dassey’s confession came due to interrogators pressuring him.

The latter occurrence, statistics show, happens a disturbing amount of the time in law enforcement, and the public isn’t aware of it. Let’s take a peek inside the interrogation room and see how forced and false confessions happen.

There’s a misnomer about what occurs inside the interrogation room. One of the issues is that what juries see in an interrogation video is not necessarily what’s really occurring. Some of the interviewing language and techniques that are used are sometimes not explained to juries.

Remember, the whole point of an interrogation is to get a confession, and it can lead to all kinds of tricks to get just that.

The “narrative trap.” When investigating how interrogations went down, I look at how the questions were constructed, and also how law enforcement got to the point where they targeted the suspect. The narrative trap is when a question is constructed in such a way by the interviewer that the context may not be understood completely by the suspect. Thus he or she provides an answer that may be incriminating.

But when a jury looks at that video, they don’t know why certain questions are being asked. Or, why is a rapport being built between the interrogator and the suspect? Or, why during rapport-building was the suspect given their Miranda Rights – their right to silence – which they soon forgot in an hour during the interview?

Blackout confessions. Drug use and drinking get brought up in interrogations, and interrogators sometimes will use it as a way to establish having something in common with the suspect. The questioner will say something like, “Yeah, I’ve had a few too many drinks and done things I didn’t remember. A lot of us make mistakes like that. Maybe you had too much that night.” The interrogator engages in rapport-building, and questions can come in a sneaky way, eliciting responses that can be seen as incriminating. The innocent suspect gets tricked into a confession. He or she leaves the interview thinking everything is fine, and the next thing they know, they’re arrested.

Minimizing and maximizing. Interrogators talk suspects into a confession sometimes by telling them “coming clean” will result in a minimized sentence. Otherwise, they say, it could be the maximum. The pressure builds on the suspect to confess.

One of the key issues is the pressure of the press and local community. The police believe they’ve targeted the right person, but there can be biases and a lack of information or hard evidence. That happens because they’re not using the inductive method of investigation, which considers all evidence – not just the part that fits their original theory.

You have to ask yourself: Why would someone confess something he or she didn’t do? Sometimes they’re being led down a garden path by interrogators. The suspect believes they’re helping interrogators solve the problem – when in reality they’re on a path to prison.

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5 ways young people (and everyone else) can fight for the environment

Climate change continues to draw attention globally, from governmental debates on pollution solutions to people protesting against a lack of action.

In Europe, teenage girls and young women are leading a large student environmental movement, and organizers in the U.S. are planning to join an international day of action on March 15. Against this backdrop, those engaged in environmental issues say that while there is strength in numbers during protest events, the difference often starts with individuals doing the right things daily for clean air and water – when no one is watching.

“Creating awareness on a massive stage is wonderful, but how many realize the responsibility each of us has in this critical battle and how it can’t be won unless we all make the necessary changes?” asks Leslie Landis (www.chendell.com), author of Chendell: A Natural Warrior, a fantasy novel with environmental themes.

Landis hopes her novel will expand awareness of climate change and inspire young people to work together and foster environmental improvements. The characters in her book have a special relationship with nature and that leads to a superhero who fights for environmental issues.

“Anyone can be a hero in the fight against pollution; anyone can step up for any of the environmental problems that plague us and be a natural warrior,” Landis says. “From everyday habits to small lifestyle changes, doing those things daily can make a huge difference.”

Landis lists five ways to be a natural warrior for the environment:

Take a tote. “Ditch the plastic shopping bag and opt for a more versatile alternative like a reusable tote bag,” Landis says. “States like California are already doing their part to reduce the use of plastic bags, and you can help carry that movement forward by keeping a handful of reusable bags in your house and car.”

Think before you drink. “Say goodbye to plastic water bottles by getting a reusable canteen or thermos,” Landis says. “Not only do these items help Mother Nature by cutting down on plastic waste, they also reduce your exposure to BPA and help keep your beverages insulated.”

Get thrifty. “The fashion industry creates a lot of unnecessary waste,” Landis says. “But you can help slow it down by giving discarded clothes a second chance. Shop at thrift stores, second-hand shops and vintage boutiques. By sporting looks from the past, you’ll actually be helping the environment in the future.”

Don’t put the pedal to the metal. Environmental experts talk about how we all leave carbon footprints by the modes of transportation we use. “It’s a lot larger than you think,” Landis says. “Fortunately, there are many alternative means of transportation. Whether you ride your bike to work, carpool to school, or walk, you’ll be saving yourself from the high price of gas while helping reduce carbon emissions in our air.”

Grow green. Whether you’re planting trees to combat the carbon emissions or planting an edible garden to cut back on store-bought waste, Landis says, “Putting your green thumb to good use will always have a positive effect on the government.”

“It’s great to see young people in particular get involved in large numbers regarding climate change,” Landis says. “But it’s amazing how simple it is for everyone to get involved to save our most precious resources.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Increasing your Social Security Benefit Amount

Dear Rusty: I turned 67 in September 2018. My benefit estimate is $1478 a month if I claim benefits now. I work and will continue working as long as I can. My 35-year earnings period includes about ten years of zeros when I was married (twice for about 5 years each). If I claim benefits now will my monthly amount go up if I continue to work? I read that the SSA recalculates each year and uses your high years. I make about $57k a year now and hopefully will continue to do so. Does the SSA replace one of the zero years with the years I work after claiming benefits and raise my monthly benefit accordingly and how much? I truly appreciate your help with this as I would like to decide this month. I have read on SSA that if I don't claim it will go up 8 percent but I also have read I could be drawing benefits and working too, and this would be a better financial situation. Signed: Working Senior

Dear Working Senior: Yes, if you have 10 years of zeros in your 35-year earnings history, your more recent earnings each year will replace one of those zero years, if the earnings are what Social Security considers “substantial” (which your $57,000 income would be). Social Security gets your earnings information from the IRS as soon as your W-2 is available each year and makes any benefit adjustment necessary at that time (if you’re self-employed the adjustment is made after you file your income taxes). When Social Security receives your income information each year, they will recompute your “average indexed monthly earnings” (AIME) with your revised 35-year earnings history (including one less zero year), adjust your “primary insurance amount” (or “PIA”), and increase your benefit accordingly. I can’t tell you how much of an increase it would be because I don’t have access to your lifetime earnings records, but you shouldn’t expect it to be a major increase each year. After all, your new earnings will only represent 1/35th of your AIME, so the increase to your benefit won’t be big. But if you continue to work with significant earnings your benefit will continue to increase over time and each increase you get will last for the rest of your life.

You are correct that for each year you delay claiming benefits beyond your full retirement age of 66, you’ll earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) of 8 percent, up until you are 70 when your benefit would be 32 percent higher than at your full retirement age. You’re earning those DRCs now at a rate of 2/3rds of 1percent each month after your FRA and will continue to earn them until you claim (but not after age 70). However, if you are trying to compare the increase you will get by claiming benefits and continuing to work, versus the 8 percent per year increase you will get by delaying claim of your SS, please be aware that the 8 percent annual increase will be much more than any increase you’ll get from working and replacing a zero year. And the fact is, if you continue to delay and also continue to work, you’ll still be improving your eventual benefit from your earnings and you’ll still earn those delayed retirement credits until you are 70. In other words, you can do both.

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House calls

By Dr. Daniel Knight

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

Q: My husband’s elbow swelled and the doctor said it was a bursa. What causes this and how is it treated?

A: The bursa, of which the human body has more than 150, is a small sac filled with lubricating fluid located between bone, muscle, tendons and skin. Shoulder, elbow, knee, foot and hip joints are more likely to develop bursitis, which occurs when a bursa becomes inflamed or irritated.

Bursitis is often caused by repetitive motions but less often, results from a sudden, more serious injury. Other causes include rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriasis, thyroid disease or an unusual drug reaction.

Treatments to reduce pain and inflammation may include rest, splints, cold and heat application, anti-inflammatory and non-steroidal drugs, corticosteroid injections, physical therapy and when other treatments aren’t effective, surgery.

Since bursitis is usually due to overuse, the best treatment is to avoid or modify the activities that led to it.

Most cases of bursitis improve without treatment after a few weeks, but those experiencing pain that interferes with normal daily activities or a soreness that doesn’t improve, a recurrence of bursitis, or a fever with the affected area becoming red, swollen or warm should see their physician.

Q. Is it more important to stretch before or after exercising or both and why?

A. Stretching is a good idea, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. The ACSM recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least twice a week for 60 seconds for each exercise. The slow, sustained lengthening of the muscle is one of three types of exercises, the others are aerobic and strengthening.

Those performing flexibility exercises should stretch as far as possible before easing back. Each stretch should be done gently and without sudden jerking or bouncing movements. Be sure to breathe naturally and avoid holding your breath. Instead, exhale during exertion and inhale during relaxation. Those stretching should expect to feel tension but not pain. Maintaining a regular routine of stretching two to three times a week will provide the best benefits to those who do so.

Studies about the benefits of stretching are mixed; some concluding doing so before or after exercise has little or no benefit. Other research concludes that while stretching doesn’t prevent injuries or lessen soreness, it can improve flexibility, range of motion in joints, prepare muscles for activity, and allow the muscles to work most efficiently.

Q: What is a conversion disorder?

A: This is a neurological condition that causes physical symptoms, such as a paralyzed arm, while a physician can’t find any injury or physical cause. Instead, the body is converting psychological and emotional stress into a physical response. Researchers believe this condition, which often develops suddenly, is usually triggered by a stressful situation and other mental disorders. Women are more likely to have this and it occurs more often to individuals with a history of emotional trauma or those who struggle with expressing their feelings.

Symptoms, lasting a few days to several weeks, usually involve the central nervous system and include tunnel vision or blindness, loss of speech or smell, uncontrollable movements, and numbness or paralysis. Since the cause is unknown, diagnosis is made by ruling out other physical, mental or neurological causes. Symptoms can cease as quickly as they began. Often, learning it is not a serious physical condition can lead to the symptoms to stop. Psychotherapy treatments are most often used, but other treatment may include occupational or physical therapy, counseling, hypnosis, antidepressants or antipsychotic drugs. The best methods for preventing conversion disorder are managing stresses through physical exercise, meditation or yoga.

Q. What are the pros and cons of bariatric surgery?

A. Bariatric surgery is a drastic step with a high rate of complications. It also requires patients to make radical, lifelong dietary and lifestyle changes, and permanent weight loss is not guaranteed.

There are several types of bariatric surgery, the most common being gastric bypass surgery, which shrinks the size of the stomach and also bypasses part of the digestive system to limit food absorption. Others are adjustable gastric banding in which an inflatable band is placed around the uppermost part of the stomach to separate it into two parts and limit the amount of food consumed.

While not always the best choice for everyone who has a lot of weight to lose, bariatric surgery can be lifesaving. About 95 percent of those who have weight loss surgery report their quality of life improves and studies suggest they live longer compared to those equally obese who don’t have the surgery.

Surgery carries risks, with up to 10 percent of patients experiencing complications. Those can include pulmonary embolism, leaks in the new surgical gut connections, bleeding ulcers and heart attacks.

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News and trivia 

This was no birdie

A golfer in British Columbia started his first round of the season recently with a birdie that turned into a dubious hole-in-one. His tee shot landed on the green where the birdie in question was basking in the sun. It was an eagle, to be precise, and it picked up the golf ball when it landed and eventually dropped it into the hole. According to the golfer, "Despite the rules of golf saying I need to replace it (which I did and missed the putt), this will still go down as my hole in one story for life."

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A new spin on spin exercise

Spin classes are becoming all the rage among those seeking the ultimate in fitness exercise., A young and very agile Ukrainian personal trainer has developed a new take on spin workouts. So intense is Olena Sheremet’s stationary bike workout routine that it has gone viral on the Internet.

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Thrift store purchase came with a warning

The donations manager at a North Carolina thrift store was warned by the donor that the furniture in question was haunted. According to the store’ Operations Director, Elizabeth Brady, "he was told 'you don't want those, they're haunted.' And he said 'well, now I definitely want them'." The buyer, Ricky Scott, gladly paid $1,000 for the hand carved haunted bedroom suite saying, "maybe it will be a nice ghost."

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4 reasons it’s a mistake to remove permanent teeth when getting braces

Like many industries, orthodontics has advanced to the point where some long-time methods are considered usually unnecessary, if not obsolete.

Those considering braces are glad to hear that one of those mostly outmoded approaches is pulling teeth. At one time, 75 percent of orthodontic cases included the removal of at least one permanent tooth, usually to give the other teeth more room, but in the vast majority of today’s cases, extraction isn’t done.

“These days, most orthodontists consider this a last resort rather than a first option,” says Dr. Jamie Reynolds, an orthodontist, national and international lecturer and author of World Class Smiles Made in Detroit (www.AskDrReynolds.com). “In my practice, I’d say that less than 1 percent of patients need to have a permanent tooth removed.

“Fortunately, the number of cases best treated by extractions has drastically reduced due to early orthodontic intervention and advanced treatment options.”

There are times when a patient might require an extraction of a permanent tooth before getting braces. But Reynolds says if that’s the first recommendation, it’s prudent to get a second opinion.

“While baby teeth are meant to come out in due time, permanent teeth are supposed to be, as the name applies, permanent,” Reynolds says. “Removing a permanent tooth is a big deal.”

Reynolds points out some important considerations to keep in mind about having a permanent tooth pulled for orthodontic treatment:

The consequences. Two of the long-term benefits of braces – enhanced oral health and smile – can be somewhat lessened. “Pulling permanent teeth can compromise the health of gum and bones,” Reynolds says. “It can also result in long-term negative effects on facial structures, such as seen in the aging process. That’s a huge deterrent to extraction. As people age, their lips naturally flatten out, and for patients who had permanent teeth extracted, this flattening is significantly magnified because support for the lips was reduced.”

Modern research. “In the past, orthodontists believed that teeth crowding was due to teeth that were just too big to fit in your mouth,” Reynolds says. “Research has shown that this is not the case at all. Crowding is a result of smaller dental arches. Instead of pulling permanent teeth, treatment should focus on creating additional room for crowded teeth.”

Gentler wires. “Today’s wires provide a much lighter and gentler force on the teeth than traditional, stainless steel wires,” Reynolds says. “This gentleness allows the bone to adapt and change with the movement of teeth, increasing the ability to treat more cases without pulling teeth.”

Better braces. Traditionally, braces were tightened with small wire tires or colored elastics. They kept the wires in place but caused friction and prevented the teeth from sliding freely. “Nowadays, braces have a door or clip that opens and closes to hold the wire in place,” Reynolds says. “This new type of brace does not require ties or elastics, so teeth are free to slide and don’t need to be pushed as hard to move. That’s largely eliminated the need for permanent tooth extraction.”

“These advanced technologies and discoveries allow orthodontists to make room for teeth, rather to remove them,” Reynolds says. “If a doctor recommends the extraction of permanent teeth, be sure to advocate for yourself or your child and consider getting a second opinion.”

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Don’t let your Social Security check go on vacation

If you are like most people on Social Security, you need that check every month to buy groceries and to keep a roof over your head. But believe it or not, for a fortunate few that check is essentially bonus money, totally unnecessary for day-to-day survival.

““That situation is not as unusual as many may think,” says Jeffrey Eglow, the Chief Investment Officer for Guardian Wealth Advisory (www.guardianwealthadvisory.com). “Some people may have inherited an income, won a lottery or had investments that did really well.

“But just because they don’t need that Social Security money to live on, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make the most of it. There are some specific things they should do to make sure they are getting the maximum benefit.”

Eglow said that many baby boomers see their investments and retirement income differently than they did before the 2008 recession. They are looking for sources of guaranteed income instead of more risky investments. While Social Security is guaranteed income, if they are wise about how they leverage it, they can have even more guaranteed income, he says.

Eglow says strategies for people who are in this situation include:

Don’t take Social Security until you are 70. This is the best strategy since there are few investments that offer a similar low risk, guaranteed 8 percent annual growth. By waiting until age 70 to receive benefits, your monthly payments may increase by as much as 32 percent, not including any cost of living increases that may be added to this amount. For example, someone who could get $2,000 a month at the "full retirement age" of 66 would get $2,640 if they postponed taking Social Security until they were 70.

Spend the Social Security check instead of 401(k) or IRA funds. Most people are taxed on only 50 percent to 85 percent of their Social Security benefit. But they are taxed on 100 percent of any withdrawals from traditional IRAs or 401(k) accounts.

Give it to the kids. Use the Social Security checks to pay premiums on life insurance policies so your heirs will receive a larger inheritance. Your heirs will receive this death benefit tax free.

Don’t delay getting Social Security past 70. Since the benefit stops growing at 8 percent once the beneficiary reaches 70, it makes no sense to delay the start of getting the checks past that age.

Eglow says even if some people don’t need their Social Security check for day to day living, it is still foolish to not maximize its value so it can benefit them and their families.

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4 ways to be a positive force in the lives of others

Do you think you have an impact on others? The truth is we impact everyone around us every day – both positively and negatively.

“We can make a huge difference if we become more intentional about having a positive impact on others,” says Dr. Bobby J. Grossi, a motivational speaker and author of the book Destiny is Not Hereditary: How Becoming A Better You Impacts Others (www.drbobbyjgrossi.com). “Those who go through their lives focused on themselves and their own needs never realize the immense power they have.”

Grossi says even something as simple as opening a door for a stranger may put that person in a better mood and possibly change their interactions with others.

“Many people don’t see the full extent of the impact they make because one action can set off a chain reaction that reaches far beyond the starting point.” Grossi says.

“There are many ways you can choose to be intentional about how you impact others. You also can choose to be positive and supportive rather than negative and critical.”

Grossi offers a few suggestions on how to have a more positive impact on those around you:

Become a mentor. Sharing your skills with others will give you a sense of responsibility and pride while the receiver will be on their way to mastering something entirely new. “Someone, somewhere is keen to learn the skill you possess,” Grossi says.

Spend time with a senior citizen. You can light up an older person’s day by spending quality time with them over a cup of tea and a nice chat, Grossi says. You also may find they have plenty of wisdom to share with you.

Become involved in a charity. There is a charity for virtually every worthwhile endeavor. What are you passionate about? Find a charity where you can share your passion and impact the lives of others. Plus, you will meet others who are as passionate as you are.

Change your “script.” Instead of asking “what can I get?” ask “how can I help?” “We have many programmed responses we make every day in life that are automatic,” Grossi says. “We never even think about them.” Changing your script can be as simple as saying “thank you” instead of “ok.” Small changes in your internal scripts can make a big difference not only in the lives of others, he says, but how you feel about yourself.

“Some people think they don’t matter enough to make an impact on other people,” Grossi says. “This is because they might not see the full extent of the impact they make because one action can set off a chain reaction that reaches far beyond the starting point.”

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Poor planning could lead to 5 big retirement problems

Ideally, retirement is a time someone anticipates eagerly – a reward for a lifetime of hard work and solid financial planning. But nearly half of workers who haven’t reached retirement yet aren’t that excited about the so-called golden years. In fact, they have big concerns.

A Gallup poll showed 46 percent of those not yet retired expect they’ll be financially strapped when they do retire. Gallup’s tracking of that metric has reflected persistent concerns with retirement through the early 21st century. Fifteen years ago, only 36 percent of workers said they wouldn’t have enough money to be comfortable in retirement.

“A lack of sufficient retirement savings is a common problem, but there’s a lot more to the pie chart of a comfortable retirement,” says Chris Hobart, (www.hobartfinancialgroup.com), a financial professional and CEO of Hobart Financial Group. “Even people who have saved and invested wisely don’t factor in enough of the costs in retirement, from health care to single living and taxes.”

Hobart notes five common retirement-planning mistakes:

Underestimating health-care costs. It’s estimated that the average 65-year-old couple will need $280,000 in today’s dollars for health-care costs, and that number doesn’t include long-term care. “Typically, we look at longevity as a blessing, but the longer we live, the more likely we are to have health-care issues,” Hobart says. “The No. 1 solution is being intentional about segmenting a portion of money to address long-term health-care issues and studying the applicable insurance products. Many Americans ignore this problem and hope they don’t have to deal with it, and then when they do, it’s too late.”

Not having a plan for the surviving spouse. On average, women outlive men. “But for either spouse, the main factors to consider for a surviving spouse plan are the potentially reduced income, taxes as a single filer, where they’ll live, and paying for the deceased spouse’s final expenses,” Hobart says. “Another problem results if the surviving spouse was never engaged much in the couple’s financial planning. It pays for both spouses to have a good working knowledge about it.”

Counting on Social Security to cover expenses. The monthly Social Security check usually won’t pay the bills, especially if you still have mortgage payments. “You’ll need to make up the shortfall with other sources of income,” Hobart says. “The important thing to look at here is, in a world where few people have pensions anymore, the onus on saving is on the individual retiree. It’s more important than it’s ever been.”

Thinking you can dictate when you retire. One study showed that 51 percent of retirees retired earlier than they planned – and less than half did so by choice. “You have to expect the unexpected and plan for it well ahead of time,” Hobart says. “Many things can happen – downsizing, health issues, taking care of a family member.”

Signing up late for Medicare. The initial enrollment period is three months leading up to your 65th birthday, during the birthday month, or three months later. But if you don’t enroll, your Medicare premiums can increase by 10 percent for each year you were eligible and didn’t enroll. “Whether you like Medicare or not, you don’t want to pay more for something when you didn’t have to,” Hobart says.

“There is no reason you should trip over these things that you can avoid early on,” Hobart says.

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Ask Rusty – No special “extra dollars” for veteran’s monthly benefit

Dear Rusty: I am within a few weeks of applying for SS. My 70th Birthday is in April and I have stayed in my job for the maximum benefit from SS. I am also a veteran and so am taking my DD-214 with me to apply for the $300.00 or so extra dollars that is offered per month. Are there any other extra items I need to apply for? I keep hearing about a $16,000 benefit that I should apply for from SS but of course they never actually give you the specifics. Signed: Veteran Applying for SS

Dear Veteran: Please accept my gratitude for your service to our country, and congratulations for choosing a great strategy by waiting until you are 70 to get the maximum Social Security benefit available to you. However, I’m afraid I must clarify something regarding that “$300 or so extra dollars that is offered per month.” What you’re referring to is called “special extra earnings” for military service, but that provision doesn’t provide you with $300 in additional monthly SS benefits because of your military service. Rather it is a provision, which adds dollars to your recorded military earnings, with the amount added dependent upon the years during which you served.

Those who served between 1957 and 1977 get $300 added to their military earnings record for each quarter of active duty service. For example, if their actual military earnings for a given year of active duty were $2,700, their military earnings for that year for Social Security purposes will be shown as $3,900 ($300 per quarter times 4 quarters = $1200 additional earnings for that service year). Those who served between 1978 and 2001 would also receive an addition to their military earnings record, but it would be computed somewhat differently – they receive an additional $100 in earnings for every $300 in active duty military pay, up to a maximum of $1,200 additional for each service year.

But these credits are not added to your monthly Social Security benefit payment; they are additions to your military earnings record, which may influence the amount of your Social Security benefit if your military service years are among the 35 years used to compute your SS benefit amount. Put simply, your earnings records for each year of active military service are increased by up to $1200 per year for each year of active duty so that when your SS benefit is computed the higher earnings may increase your benefit amount. You can read all about this at the following link to Social Security’s rules on this topic: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/military.html. As you will see in this document, if you served between 1968 and 2001 you do not need to do anything to receive these additions to your military pay record; the special extra earnings have already been credited to your military pay records. And no “special extra earnings” are credited for military service after 2001.

As for your question about “any other extra items” you need to apply for, there really aren’t any for you. By claiming your SS benefit to start in the month you attain 70 years of age you will be getting a benefit which is 32 percent more than you would have received at your full retirement age of 66, and that is the maximum you can receive.

Regarding what you hear about “a $16,000 benefit” you should apply for; those advertisements are marketing hype designed to get you to buy something or enroll in some program. If you keep digging (as I have) you will find that they’ll finally suggest that you may be able get that much more if you delay claiming benefits until you are 70 years old, which, of course, you have already done. Please keep this adage in mind – “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” And once more, thank you for your military service and congratulations for choosing a Social Security strategy that yields you the highest possible Social Security benefit available.

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What’s in your pocket?

Finally, the accessory we just can’t do without-- a tee shirt with its own pizza pocket. No more will your hot slice of pizza go cold on you before you can munch away at it. Mike Hourani of Medford, New Jersey, says he’s raised more than enough money to bring his “better mousetrap” to market. He posted on his Kickstarter.com page that “we have already surpassed our goal! The Pizza Pocket Hoodie will be brought to the masses all because of you guys! I can't thank you enough.”

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A truly Great Dane

A Great Dane named Cleo put the maternity team at the Kingman Animal Hospital in Arizona to the test recently. It took 11 staffers to perform a C-Section on the expectant mom that produced an incredible litter of 19 pups, all of which are “doing great” the hospital reported. That is eleven more pups than the typical Great Dane litter of 8 puppies.

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Doomsday preppers, attention!

The ultimate bomb shelter is for sale-- an $18 million, five bedroom, six bathroom underground bunker complete with a guest house, a pool and a spa. It’s located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and it features a lighting array that mimics a sunrise in the morning, balmy daytime illumination and a sunset to put you to sleep. The property listing boasts that the "concrete and steel doomsday bunker was designed to survive cataclysmic events in comfort."

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Preventing digital damage: 4 tips for managing your child’s screen time

The digital age has given new generations of parents something extra to worry about:

How much screen time is too much?

Physicians, teachers and psychologists generally agree that spending inordinate amounts of time immersed in computers, smartphones or social media can negatively impact a child’s developing mind and body. A screen time study published recently in JAMA Pediatrics found a link between excessive screen time and later development milestones.

Other studies have associated digital overuse with teen depression, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines suggesting daily limits on screen time for different age groups.

“It’s the responsibility of the parents to get control of this and guide their children, from a young age, on the positives and negatives of screen time,” says Christine Kyriakakos Martin (www.youvegotthisparenting.com), an early education expert and author of You’ve Got This! Keys To Effective Parenting For The Early Years.

“Parents can often think it’s acceptable for a young child to spend a couple hours with an iPad, but the type of education the iPad game is providing isn’t always the type of learning most needed at that stage.”

Martin has suggestions for how parents can manage screen time and decrease a child’s risk for screen-related health or developmental problems:

Distinguish screen time from play time. Play is a fundamental learning tool for young children, but parents, Martin says, should not think of screens as toys for play time. “When screen time is limited and separated from other types of play, parents show their children the importance of setting boundaries, using their imaginations, and being active.”

Get involved. Parents who engage with their children about on-screen activities can help them increase their communication skills and teach them how to navigate digital media. “Parents can talk with their children about the videos they watch and games they play like they would discuss characters and plotlines in a book,” Martin says. “When there is parental engagement like this, a child’s vocabulary and literacy skills develop and family communication gets stronger.”

Make mealtimes screen-free. “Eliminate screens from the meal table, including when you’re out at a restaurant,” Martin says. “While it can be tempting to pack the iPads to have some adult conversation while you’re out to eat, doing this doesn’t teach your children about manners, properly engaging in conversation, or being mindful of other patrons.”

Set a good example. It will be harder for a child to disengage from screens if his or her parents are consistently looking down at their own phones or tablets. “Remember,” Martin says, “your children learn from your example. If they see you spending a lot of time with your face in front of a screen, they’ll also want to use technology at the same time. Try your best to save your time on social media for your lunch break, during nap time, or after your children have gone to bed.”

“Learning how to use screens, verbally communicate or socially interact will have a positive impact on language skills, relationships and overall health,” Martin says. “Spending time with their parents, learning through play is what young children need and want.”

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From garden to bouquet – Growing your own cut flowers

By MELINDA MYERS

Keep your flower vases filled all summer long with beautiful blossoms picked right from your own garden and containers. Growing seeds, plants and tender bulbs that can double as cut flowers makes it easy to create casual, fresh-cut bouquets for your dinner table, guest room or to share with family and friends.

For early spring flowers, look to spring-blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils, and cool weather annuals like pansies and snapdragons. Clipping branches from trees and shrubs such as forsythia, quince and daphne is another good way to bring spring into your home. Your perennial garden can provide bleeding heart, iris, hellebores, peonies and much more.

If the selection in your own spring garden is limited, strike up a trade with a friend. Pick some of theirs in the spring and share some of yours in the summer. Then make a note to add more spring-blooming bulbs and perennials to your landscape.

Gladiolas and dahlias add pizazz to summer and fall bouquets. These spring-planted bulbs combine nicely with other summer flowers and they continue to bloom well after other flowers have faded in the heat of late summer. Get some free help planning your additions with the “How to Design a Cutting Garden” article found at longfield-gardens.com.

The flower-packed spikes of gladiolas are available in a rainbow of colors that will inspire your creativity. These inexpensive bulbs are easy to plant and take up very little space. Pop them into containers, flowerbeds or even your vegetable garden. Start planting in mid spring and continue every two weeks until midsummer for months of colorful flower spikes.

With dahlias, you can choose from dozens of different flower sizes, flower styles and colors. For easy, eye-catching bouquets, plant a color-themed blend such as the Sugar Plum Mix from Longfield Gardens. Another option is to select colors that will harmonize with flowers that are already in your gardens such as phlox, sunflowers, asters and lilies.

Hybrid lilies are perennial garden favorites as well as fabulous cut flowers. Plant the bulbs of Asiatic lilies, Oriental lilies and Oriental-trumpet lilies in spring, for color and fragrance that lasts all summer long. To ensure months of flowers, be sure to plant a few bulbs of each type of lily.

Annuals play an essential role in any cut flower garden. Extend your budget by starting zinnias, sunflowers, larkspur and cosmos from seed, and supplement with greenhouse-grown transplants of snapdragons, celosia, amaranth and statice.

Foliage can elevate an ordinary homegrown bouquet from good to great, and your garden can provide all sorts of interesting options. Incorporate the leaves of perennials such as hosta, baptisia, artemesia and sage as well as flower farmer favorites such as bells of Ireland, bupleurum and dusty miller. Shrubs such as ninebark, boxwood, viburnum and holly are another source of attractive foliage and some offer colorful berries as well.

Cutting and arranging flowers is a fun way to exercise your creativity and bring the beauty of your garden indoors. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and you’ll soon be sharing your flowers with friends, neighbors, family, coworkers and everyone who stops by.

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Four reasons everyone should care about America’s Everglades

It’s been called one of the world’s great biological wonders.

And since there’s nothing quite like Everglades National Park, efforts have been made for decades to protect and preserve its fragile ecosystem.

But just how well protected the park is can be confusing, especially with two recent events that seem at odds. An appeals court ruling could pave the way for oil drilling in at least one part of the 1.5 million-acre park. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently proposed spending $360 million for Everglades restoration projects.

Regardless of such conservation contradictions, there’s no denying that the Everglades is a national environmental treasure, though a swampy one that many people haven’t explored up close and personal.

“Even people in Florida don’t always realize what they have here, much less people elsewhere in the country,” says Clyde Butcher (www.clydebutcher.com), a nature photographer who since the 1980s has helped bring national attention to the Everglades through stunning black-and-white photographs that have been compared to the works of Ansel Adams.

“People just don’t realize how unique and beautiful the Everglades are. When I first moved from California to Florida in 1979, I didn’t either. Now I’ve fallen in love with a swamp.”

Butcher over the years has dared to wade into regions of the Everglades that most people never see. He’s making plans to put his latest photographic exhibit, “America’s Everglades: Through the Lens of Clyde Butcher,” on a national tour. Right now the exhibit is on display through May 26 at the Appleton Museum in Ocala, FL, and in 2020 will be in Youngstown, Ohio.

Butcher has photographed other locations, but it is the Everglades that became his greatest subject. He suggests 4 reasons why everyone, whether they live in Florida, Ohio or Oregon, should care about this natural wonder:

The uniqueness. Unlike rivers, lakes and mountains, there is no other Everglades. The planet has just one to care for. “There is no other place on earth like the Everglades,” Butcher says. “It’s beautiful in its primeval essence.”

The need for clean water. Everyone can identify with the need for fresh, clean water to support life. By saving the Everglades we save the water, Butcher says, and by saving the water, we save ourselves. “If we don’t clean the water, our own drinking water will fail, thus destroying the economy of both coasts of Florida,” he says.

The impact on the ocean. Saving the Everglades also helps save the fish nurseries along the coast, and thus saves the ocean.

The example that will be set. By saving the Everglades, Butcher says, we can show the world that we can save a precious environment and give other communities and countries the inspiration to do the same. As Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of the book The Everglades: River of Grass, said, “If we can save the Everglades we can save the world."

Butcher says everyone can help make the world a better place, by speaking up for places that are wild and endangered; by volunteering in state and local parks; and by personal choices related to how we treat nature.

For Butcher, photography is his contribution.

“Through my images,” he says, “I hope people will come to a greater understanding of the beauty they will lose if the preservation and restoration of our environment is not in the forefront of our thoughts.”

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Inside the interrogation room: Manipulation brings false confessions

By Brian Leslie

True crime shows comprise one of the most popular genres in the entertainment culture. People are fascinated with who did it and why; how they got caught or got away.

More and more, though, it seems the storyline is “falsely accused” and “false confession.” Curiosity and fascination deepen when the possibility emerges that the convicted criminal may actually be an innocent victim. Recent developments regarding the central figure in Netflix’s controversial documentary series, “Making a Murderer,” is a case in point.

In numerous cases where prime suspects end up in jail, defense attorneys later go back to the beginning and, with the help of forensic and interrogation experts, expose flaws in the evidence gathering and, often, in the way investigators interviewed suspects. In “Making a Murderer,” Steven Avery is in prison for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Avery denied carrying out the crime, and his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, recently won a request that could help lead to a new trial.

The conviction was based in part on the confession of also-convicted 16-year-old Brendan Dassey, Avery’s nephew. However, the teen later recanted the confession, which he gave without a lawyer present. It was claimed that Dassey was coerced and intimidated by investigators. Attempts by Dassey's attorneys to have his confession overturned have bounced through state and federal courts since his conviction.

Without his confession, there wasn't much of a case. With a suspect like Dassey, who has reported intellectual disabilities, interrogators often try to build a rapport so the suspect will see them as being good guys trying to help. That’s particularly effective with someone as young as Dassey. You can convince a 16-year-old of anything, especially if they're in a vulnerable position.

The Netflix series investigated the law enforcement and judicial procedures in the case and suggested: 1) evidence may have been planted and, 2) that Dassey’s confession came due to interrogators pressuring him.

The latter occurrence, statistics show, happens a disturbing amount of the time in law enforcement, and the public isn’t aware of it. Let’s take a peek inside the interrogation room and see how forced and false confessions happen.

There’s a misnomer about what occurs inside the interrogation room. One of the issues is that what juries see in an interrogation video is not necessarily what’s really occurring. Some of the interviewing language and techniques that are used are sometimes not explained to juries.

Remember, the whole point of an interrogation is to get a confession, and it can lead to all kinds of tricks to get just that.

The “narrative trap.” When investigating how interrogations went down, I look at how the questions were constructed, and also how law enforcement got to the point where they targeted the suspect. The narrative trap is when a question is constructed in such a way by the interviewer that the context may not be understood completely by the suspect. Thus he or she provides an answer that may be incriminating.

But when a jury looks at that video, they don’t know why certain questions are being asked. Or, why is a rapport being built between the interrogator and the suspect? Or, why during rapport-building was the suspect given their Miranda Rights – their right to silence – which they soon forgot in an hour during the interview?

Blackout confessions. Drug use and drinking get brought up in interrogations, and interrogators sometimes will use it as a way to establish having something in common with the suspect. The questioner will say something like, “Yeah, I’ve had a few too many drinks and done things I didn’t remember. A lot of us make mistakes like that. Maybe you had too much that night.” The interrogator engages in rapport-building, and questions can come in a sneaky way, eliciting responses that can be seen as incriminating. The innocent suspect gets tricked into a confession. He or she leaves the interview thinking everything is fine, and the next thing they know, they’re arrested.

Minimizing and maximizing. Interrogators talk suspects into a confession sometimes by telling them “coming clean” will result in a minimized sentence. Otherwise, they say, it could be the maximum. The pressure builds on the suspect to confess.

One of the key issues is the pressure of the press and local community. The police believe they’ve targeted the right person, but there can be biases and a lack of information or hard evidence. That happens because they’re not using the inductive method of investigation, which considers all evidence – not just the part that fits their original theory.

You have to ask yourself: Why would someone confess something he or she didn’t

do? Sometimes they’re being led down a garden path by interrogators. The suspect believes they’re helping interrogators solve the problem – when in reality they’re on a path to prison.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Maximizing Social Security Benefits

Dear Rusty: I am currently 68 and am waiting to take maximum benefits at age 70. I have been retired for 3 and a half years. My wife turned 62 in February of this year. She stopped working around 1994. What is the best way to maximize our SS benefits? Both of us have longevity on our side. My wife’s parents lived into their 80s, her grandmother lived to 96. My mother lived to 84, my father to 98. We are both very active, no big health issues. Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning: You’re already on a path to maximize your benefits by waiting until you are 70 to claim. Given that both of you are in good health and assuming you both live a long life, maximizing your wife’s benefit will yield you the most in cumulative Social Security benefits.

Assuming you are the higher-earner, your wife’s highest benefit will probably be her benefit as your spouse, so maximizing her spousal benefit would be an excellent strategy. Although your wife is eligible to collect her own SS benefit at age 62, if she does so her eventual spousal benefit will be reduced to something less than 50 percent of your full retirement age (FRA) benefit.

Here’s how that works: A spousal benefit, if taken at one’s full retirement age (66 ½ for your wife), is 50 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s benefit at his full retirement age (not the increased benefit you get by waiting until age 70). But if the spousal benefit is taken earlier than full retirement age it is reduced actuarially according to the number of months before FRA it is claimed. If your wife claims her own SS benefit at age 62, her eventual spousal benefit will be less than 50 percent of your benefit, because the spousal boost is added to her early benefit amount. Said another way, any time a Social Security benefit is taken earlier than one’s full retirement age it is reduced. In your case, when you claim your benefits at age 70, your wife will be 63 ½. If she is already receiving her own SS benefits she will be automatically deemed to be filing for a spousal benefit at that time, and the amount of her spousal benefit will be reduced due to starting it earlier than her FRA.

However, if she is not yet receiving her own SS benefit, she will not be deemed as filing for her spousal benefit until she files for her own SS on her own work record. The only way your wife can get the full 50 percent of your FRA benefit amount is by waiting until her full retirement age to claim her benefits. And if you are both in good health and expect to live at least until your mid-80’s, your wife waiting until her FRA to apply will give you the most in cumulative lifetime benefits (as well as the highest combined monthly benefits).

But keep in mind that the decision of when to claim benefits must always take into account current financial needs, current health and lifestyle, and anticipated longevity. If you don’t need the money right now, and if you’re both in good health and expect a long life, then maximizing both of your benefit amounts as described above would be a very sound strategy.

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In the big picture, is streaming bad news for Hollywood?

A Netflix Film’s Big Night At The Oscars Magnified

How Streaming Disrupts Modern-Media Consumption, Author Says

Streaming is taking America by storm – and it’s even taking home Oscars.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans have some form of streaming service, and over half of U.S. streamers subscribe to Netflix. As streaming dramatically changes the media habits of Americans, its disruption of an American tradition – Hollywood filmmaking and the Academy Awards – is making waves.

Iconic film director Steven Spielberg is pushing for a rule change that would prevent Netflix from duplicating the statues it got in February in next year’s Academy Awards. The Netflix film “Roma” took home three Oscars. To do that, it met existing Academy rules while simultaneously putting the movie out on its worldwide streaming platform.

Spielberg and others say the industry’s highest honors have always been a competition among studios that make movies for theatrical release.

“Most studios don’t have a platform that enables instantaneous, worldwide release,” says author Meredith Jordan, whose book, Below The Line: Anatomy of a Successful Movie, provides a rare behind-the-scenes look at the making of an A-list Hollywood film. “The issue isn’t whether Netflix can compete as a studio. It just needs to compete as a studio, without using the tools of its larger streaming business.”

Currently, Academy rules stipulate that a movie needs seven consecutive days in theatrical release in either New York or Los Angeles to qualify for award consideration. Spielberg reportedly seeks a change that would require a one-month theatrical release.

“It’s not unreasonable to think about streaming in the context of what happened when television went mass market,” Jordan said. “If this were 1975, ‘Roma’ would be a truly outstanding made-for-TV movie being put on one of the major networks while also going into theaters for a couple of weeks, and then qualifying for competition as a feature.

“The Academy periodically updates its rules to address cultural shifts, most recently in 2012,” she said. “This is one of those times.”

Jordan says streaming’s disruptive impact on Hollywood and modern media in general comes down to three main factors:

Building massive scale in subscribers and content. Netflix is rapidly approaching 150 million subscribers. Continually increasing capital allows Netflix to create tons of content. Last year, Netflix reportedly spent over $10 billion on new content. “They say ‘Roma’ cost $15 million to make and Netflix spent more than three times that advertising ‘Roma’ for the Oscars,” Jordan said. “Most studios use traditional marketing and distribution methods, and then later make additional advertising spends to promote a movie in contention.”

Luring big stars. “Netflix is playing a different game,” Jordan says. “It’s outbidding studios for top talent. While it doesn’t provide the back-end perks of traditional studio deals, Netflix replaces those with generous upfront payments.” In 2018, Netflix’s original films included starring roles by Will Smith, Sandra Bullock, and Jennifer Aniston.

Having distribution control. A subscriber-based business model at a relatively low fee has been a huge key to Netflix’s and other streamers’ success, providing what industry observes say is better customer value than TV or cable. “By owning the direct relationship between customer and content, Netflix and other subscription-based streamers have a big advantage over TV, which is predicated on advertising,” Jordan says. “That’s something studios don’t have. Netflix is making movies as a studio and then using its role as a platform to promote those efforts. That isn’t fair, at least not for the Oscars.”

“Streaming had already put most of the media incumbents – Hollywood, TV and cable – into a state of chaos,” Jordan says. “The Oscars – a very big stage – amplified that.”

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3 tips for creating a clear vision to ensure business success

Running a business is similar to taking a family vacation. To be successful, both require meticulous planning, clearly defined roles for everyone involved, and a predetermined destination.

“Not having a clear vision and specific goals is a proven way to ensure you’ll never achieve them,” says John Collopy, author of the book The Reward of Knowing (www.johncollopy.com). “That’s why articulating your vision is a critical first step toward success—to give yourself something to aspire to besides some general idea of ‘making it.’”

Collopy knows a thing or two about having a vision and then setting goals to make the vision a reality. He is the owner and broker of RE/MAX Results and its subsequent 38 offices across Minnesota and Wisconsin. Setting goals in his personal life helped him overcome his addiction to alcohol. Now he is dedicated to helping others find the right steps to achieve their dreams, but he says there can be many roadblocks.

“Having an unclear vision can also make it difficult to stay motivated and passionate about your work,” says Collopy. “Identifying a clear vision and set of goals can keep us going through tough times, and give us energy when we want to give up. That’s because, even when you’re in a rough patch, you know you’re working toward something.”

In contrast, a vague, half-formed vision may leave you feeling lost and powerless, he says.

“Eventually, you may even give up entirely,” Collopy says. “You may decide that, based on your record of failure, success just isn’t in the cards for you. And that’s the saddest result of failing to articulate your vision.”

Collopy has the following tips for those who are ready to set goals to achieve their vision:

Be specific and realistic. Be specific about your goals, and the steps you need to take to reach them. “If you don’t, be ready to deal with challenges now and in the future,” Collopy says. Also make your goals attainable but not too easy. You want to have pride when it is accomplished. If you set the bar too high, you may get discouraged. And if you set it too low, you will not feel a great sense of accomplishment.

Make goals measurable. Any good goal that is worthy of your time should be measurable so even if you don’t make it, you can measure your progress. It will be easier to measure your goals if they are clear goals that are attainable, relevant and time-based.

Write it down and tell someone. Write down your vision, make copies and leave those copies where you will routinely see them – on your refrigerator, in your car, on your dresser, in the bathroom. “This will remind you about your vision throughout the day and keep you on task,” Collopy says. In addition, the more people you tell about your vision and your goals, the better. They will encourage you because the next time they see you, he says, they will probably ask you about your progress.

“Once you have attained your goal, take some time to celebrate your victory with your team,” Collopy says. “Even if the goal wasn’t a team goal, invite others that work with you or for you to share in your accomplishment.”

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Lawn equipment: Keep safety in mind

When spring is on its way, home owners are often eager to get outside and spruce up their yards. It’s important when doing so to keep safety in mind.

“Before you use a mower, trimmer, blower, chain saw, pruner or other piece of outdoor power equipment this season, it’s important to refresh yourself on handling and safety procedures,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), an international trade association representing outdoor power equipment, small engine and utility vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. “We’re all eager to get outside and enjoy the living landscape after a long winter, but take the time to do basic maintenance now to ensure your equipment operates safely for the season and is ready to get the job done.”

These six tips can help:

1. Read your owner’s manual. Follow all guidelines for your outdoor power equipment and familiarize yourself with the controls. If you have lost your manual, look it up online (and save a copy on your computer for easy reference in the future).

2. Inspect equipment. Check for loose belts and missing or damaged parts. Replace any parts needed or take your equipment to a qualified service representative for servicing.

3. Drain old fuel. Never leave fuel sitting in the gas tank of your equipment for more than 30 days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems and, in some cases, damage to the fuel system.

4. Protect your power by using only E10 or less fuel in outdoor power equipment. Some gas stations may offer 15 percent ethanol (E15) gas or higher-ethanol fuel blends but any fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol can damage—and is illegal to use in—small engine equipment not designed for it.

5. Store fuel safely. Label your fuel can with the date of purchase and ethanol content of the fuel. Never put “old” gas in your outdoor power equipment. If you don’t know the date of purchase, dispose of the fuel in the can safely and buy fresh fuel. Always store fuel out of the reach of children or pets and in approved containers.

6. Clean equipment. Remove any dirt, oil or grass stuck to it. Clean equipment will run more efficiently and last longer.

“Now is also a good time to assess your outdoor power equipment needs,” adds Kiser. “Whether you’re needing battery-, gasoline-, propane-, diesel- or hybrid-powered equipment, there is a product to fit your unique needs that can handle any job.”

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4 undiscussed but serious side effects of sleep apnea

It’s estimated that 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, and that 80 percent of moderate to severe cases are undiagnosed.

Also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS), the condition affects between 5 and 20 percent of adults and 10-20 percent of children. While many are familiar with some side effects – loud snoring, disturbed sleep, and daytime sleepiness – other related issues are talked about less, but can be quite severe.

“The disruption of nasal breathing can affect digestion, brain function, mood, attention, growth, heart health, head pain, metabolism and much more,” says Dr. Edmund Lipskis (www.drlipskis.com), director of the Centre For Integrative Orthodontics and co-author with his wife, Dr. Lynn Lipskis, of Breathe, Sleep, Live, Smile: Integrative Treatments for TMJ/TMD, Sleep Apnea, Orthodontics. “But sleep apnea in children can be treated at a young age. The symptoms include irritability, lack of concentration, poor school performance, pseudo ADHD, and nighttime bed wetting.”

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when a blocked airway prevents the body from getting the oxygen it needs. Breathing can stop for several seconds numerous times during the night.

“This causes the brain to wake up so the sleeper can breathe,” Dr. Lipskis says. “People with OSA usually don’t remember every instance of waking up, but the result is fragmented sleep.”

Dr. Lynn Lipskis adds that proper diagnosis, combined with advanced technology, can lead to successful treatment. She says there are more than 100 FDA-approved appliances for treating sleep apnea and proper selection is key to addressing the individual’s special needs.

“For adults, that can mean therapy using an oral appliance,” she says. “For children, it can mean orthopedic orthodontics for airway development and correction.”

The Lipskis team points out four of the less-discussed but serious side effects of sleep apnea:

Depression. Depression is linked with OSA and works both ways. “That is, people who are depressed are more likely to develop OSA, and people with OSA are more likely to develop depression,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “One study found that slightly less than half of people with OSA showed depressive symptoms. This is not so surprising, considering that restful sleep is so important for physical and mental health.”

Chronic pain. As with depression, chronic pain may be a cause of, or may be caused by, OSA. A study found that over half the people with OSA had chronic widespread pain and that the risk was higher in women than in men.

Hormone disruption. Sleep is a critical time for the body to regulate hormones. “An important one to note is the growth hormone HGH, which is produced during Stage 3 sleep,” Lipskis says. “It helps with cell reproduction, cell regeneration, and metabolism. If Stage III sleep is cut short, or never reached, HGH can’t perform its job. So rather than repairing itself during sleep, the body continues to break down.”

Nocturia. This is the frequent need to urinate at night. “People with OSA are more likely to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom,” Dr. Edmund Lipskis says. “That’s because it affects the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which prevents fluid from filling the bladder and prevents the need to urinate during the night. When ADH can’t do what it’s supposed to, the bladder fills and the urge to urinate appears. This is yet another way that OSA disturbs proper bodily functions and compounds disordered sleep.”

“If you suffer from OSA or suspect you do, have a sleep study done, which includes a diagnosis by a medical physician,” Dr. Lynn Lipskis says. “This is the only way to correctly diagnose OSA or other sleep disorders. OSA should be treated as a serious medical condition because the consequences go far beyond daytime fatigue.”

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The 5 biggest disruptors wreaking havoc on your hormones

Some people are taking a “new year-new you” approach. They’re determined to make self-improvements that provide a fresh, positive outlook and strong sense of well-being.

But sometimes health factors undermine those good intentions, such as depression and its link to hormone imbalances. There are myriad ways both men and women suffer adverse effects to their hormones, says Don Colbert, M.D., and many of them are avoidable.

“We are exposed to thousands of toxic chemicals on a regular basis in the air, water and food,” says Colbert (https://drcolbert.com), author of Dr. Colbert's Hormone Health Zone. “Some of them are hormone disruptors because they disturb your endocrine system, wreaking havoc and creating hormonal imbalances.

“Not only are the effects of all these disruptors depressing to think about; they actually cause depression, along with countless other ailments such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and more. But the basic principle is this: decreasing the number of disruptions will improve your health.”

Dr. Colbert breaks down the top hormone disruptors affecting men and women along with ways to minimize the disruption or stop it:

Lifestyle choices. “Whether it’s weight gain and a lack of exercise, anger and unforgiveness, drinking too much alcohol or some other thing that can be controlled, your hormone levels drop and you begin a slow slide to poorer health,” Dr. Colbert says. “Make better choices, and that dramatically decreases the chances of having any hormone deficiency symptoms.”

Medications. Medications affect the body’s cells, and sometimes side effects manifest in major problems. For example, Dr. Colbert cites Mayo Clinic research showing a prescription statin drug that lowered cholesterol could result in liver damage, memory loss or type 2 diabetes. “I estimate that 55 percent of the entire US population is taking pills that directly and negatively affect hormone levels,” Dr. Colbert says. “Get off these harmful medications you hate.”

Things you touch. Chemicals entering the body through the skin can cause long-term damage. Dr. Colbert notes phthalates, disruptors found in household cleaners, cosmetics, toys and numerous other products. “Phthalates negatively affect both men’s and women’s ability to use the testosterone that is in our bodies,” Dr. Colbert says. “Another is BPA (bisphenol A), found on the inside of metal-canned foods and plastic food-storing containers. Specifically, BPA has been found to cause or contribute to cancer, fertility problems, developmental issues and heart disease. I recommend buying glass jars of food and storing in ceramic containers.”

Diet deficiencies. “The standard American diet is usually low in key nutrients that support a healthy thyroid,” Dr. Colbert says. “Many patients with hormone imbalances have low iodine. The best solution is eat more vegetables, ideally raw or steamed.”

Aging. Dr. Colbert says estrogen levels for women begin to decline around the age of 50; for men, testosterone levels can drop low around age 45-50. “Aging is a natural combatant as a hormone disruptor,” he says, “but we can slow the acceleration of the effects of aging by optimizing our hormones. Healthy habits can make a huge difference.”

“Symptoms of serious problems indicated by hormonal imbalance can be reversed by those who focus on health in their diet, lifestyle and living environment,” Dr. Colbert says. “Then they can enable all of their systems to function optimally.”

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It happened in Iceland

Texan Judith Streng was captivated by a throne-shaped chunk of ice on a recent visit to Iceland and just had to sit in it. "I thought it [would] be quite fun. You know I always wanted to be queen. I mean, come on, that was my chance." But the iceberg carried her off far offshore. Meanwhile, her son was snapping pictures as mom was swept away by a strange destiny on the ice cold North Atlantic Ocean.

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Baby, it’s cold outside

Wendy Lange really didn’t mean it when she posted the message, “I hate Iowa, please buy my house,” on Facebook. She was quick to tell reporters that she really doesn’t hate Iowa, “it’s just too cold” and she wants to move to a warmer climate. She said that she had no idea that her Facebook post would go viral, but it’s been reported that the “accident” might attract new interest in her home, which has been on the market for the better part of a year.

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The doorbell cam caught it on video

You never know what those new-fangled doorbell cameras will capture. It could be a potential burglar or it might be an epic lightning strike that set a neighbor’s house on fire. It happened in Fort Bend County, TX and a good thing it was, too, because the residents of the home with the video doorbell were able to alert their neighbors to the fire so no one was injured.

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3 tips for planning your retirement during uncertain times

Retirement planning can be fraught with worry in the best of times, but when the market turns volatile and uncertainty reigns, people in or near retirement may give way to anxiety or unease to an even greater degree than normal.

And as a result, those dreams of carefree golden years may transform into sleepless nights.

“Plenty of people remember what happened with their 401(k)s when the recession hit a decade ago, and that naturally can make you nervous,” says Jeffrey Eglow, the Chief Investment Officer for Guardian Wealth Advisory (www.guardianwealthadvisory.com).

“But that makes it all the more important to make a plan and not leave everything to chance.”

The good news, Eglow says, is anyone can start taking steps now that can improve the odds retirement will be fulfilling and joyful.

Certainly, each person’s circumstances will be different, and just because a specific financial strategy worked for your neighbor doesn’t mean it will work for you. But Eglow offers a few general tips for navigating the financial road ahead to help give you a more secure retirement:

Don’t underestimate your retirement’s length. People are living longer than ever, which means retirements can last longer, too. Many people may assume they need to plan for 20 years, when in fact their retirement could last 30 years or longer, Eglow says. As you figure out how much money you will need, make sure to plan for what could be a long retirement. “Having a target amount in mind is critical,” Eglow says. “Without a target amount, you have no way of measuring whether you are on track to meet your goal.”

Know where your retirement money will come from. Social Security likely will help fund a portion of your retirement, but it won’t be enough to replace your weekly paycheck, Eglow says. Some people have pensions, but those are fast disappearing for most workers. “That means personal savings, such as in an IRA, a 401(k) or other investments, will play a major role in whether you have a satisfying retirement or whether you struggle to make ends meet,” Eglow says. “Unfortunately, studies have shown that many Americans aren’t doing a great job with their savings.” It’s important to sit down with your financial professional, determine where you stand, and make a plan so you don’t run out of money, he says.

Determine your risk tolerance. At some point, as you create a financial plan and determine the best investment strategy for reaching your goals, you will need to do a little self assessment, Eglow says. “Some people are fine with taking risks with their money,” he says. “Others become uneasy at the thought that they could suffer a big loss if the market takes a sudden turn for the worse.” Each individual investor needs to decide whether the potential rewards of an aggressive investment strategy outweigh the stress they might feel about the uncertainties of how the market will perform. In addition, you likely will want to re-assess your risk as you draw closer to retirement because you’ll have less time to recover if the market does take a plunge.

“If you’ve been stashing money away for retirement, that’s great,” Eglow says. “But you should do more than save. If you want to reach your financial goals efficiently, you need to have a good, solid plan that will get you there.”

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How an early orthodontist visit can head off a child’s jaw problems

While it may seem premature to take a 7-year-old child to the orthodontist, such an early visit can save thousands of dollars in future dental issues.

“Jaw issues especially are much more easily fixed when children are young,” says Dr. Stuart Frost, an orthodontist and author of The Artist Orthodontist: Creating An Artistic Smile is More Than Just Straightening Teeth (www.drstuartfrost.com). “This includes imbalances of the muscles of the face along with tongue and tooth-positioning problems.”

It is easier to correct skeletal jaw problems at an early age while guiding the teeth into the mouth correctly. Doing so maximizes the ability to create or maintain space in the child’s jaws to allow teeth to grow in, and minimizes the opportunity for the teeth coming in wrong, says Dr. Frost.

Dr. Frost says that after about age 9, the window closes on fixing most of the problems easily. At that age, he says, the seam in the roof of the mouth fuses into solid bone and once it does, widening the upper palate from side-to-side is nearly impossible. If the problem is addressed before that happens, the upper jaw can be more easily expanded to create the space needed for all the teeth to come in, he says.

If a child snores, has sleep issues, bedwetting or is grinding their teeth they should have an airway evaluation done by an orthodontist as soon as possible, says Dr. Frost.

“Waiting even a few years can have a lifetime impact,” Dr. Frost says. “By the time the child hits 11 or 12 years old and the adult teeth are coming in, the problems multiply. If we can fix the issues while the child’s bones are still developing, it will be easier and a lot cheaper to accomplish instead of after all the damage has been done.”

Many of the issues can be remedied by the orthodontist applying braces and an expander appliance to coax the structures into balance.

Not tackling these issues early can cause issues such as a flaring of teeth, underbites and adult teeth erupting sideways through the gums.

Dr. Frost says other issues that could get complicated if they are not treated early include:

Breathing problems. These breathing issues lead children to thrust their tongues and heads forward when asleep, causing further misalignment of the jaw and interrupted sleep. Adults with sleep apnea are fatigued and unrefreshed, causing their bodies to break down as the cells become slowly malnourished.

Immune system Issues. Immune system issues unknown to humans in past generations are common today. The immune system can be impacted by dental problems at an early age.

Increased allergy problems. Allergies can play a crucial role in childhood development of the face, jaw, and teeth. They can be an early warning sign that your child’s teeth aren’t growing properly.

Jaw alignment problems. -Misaligned jaws lead to chronic head, neck and shoulder pain.

“The bottom line is that an early investment in your child’s health will almost certainly pay off in time and money,” Dr. Frost says, “as well as enhance their future health.”

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Blockbuster or flop? Film tax credits offered by states bring mixed reviews

The entertainment that movies provide is deeply embedded in American popular culture. And in recent years, the making of them in many states has become an important consideration in their economic strategy.

States have lured Hollywood movie production with tax credits, banking that shooting films in their area will substantially boost their economy. As of 2018, 31 states offered film tax incentives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

While the move has been controversial in some states and spurred legislative debate, largely over lost tax revenue and budget pressure, it has been a hit in others, such as Georgia, with Atlanta now being called “Hollywood East.” The state claims an economic impact of $9.5 billion since the film tax incentives were passed in 2008. Georgia doled out $600 million in incentives alone in 2016.

Meredith Jordan, an author who chronicled the making of Last Vegas, which was shot in Atlanta, Ga. and Las Vegas, says film tax incentives have proven to be mutually beneficial and are likely to stay.

“Tax credits have reshaped the face of movie production in the United States,” says Jordan (http://www.belowthelinebook.com), author of Below The Line: Anatomy of a Successful Movie, a rare behind-the-scenes look at an entire movie production. “To understand why much of the movie happened in Georgia is to take a quantum leap into the business of Hollywood in the new millennium. This movie had a $36 million budget, but with tax credits it became a $30 million movie for filmmakers.

“Tax incentives have come and gone in a lot of states. They’ve worked for the states that stuck with them.”

Some state politicians and economic experts say the benefits states receive in asso