A compendium of news, facts, questions and answers

News and trivia

Undress for success?

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing many of us to work from home using such 21st century technologies as video conferencing. It turns out that quite a few make sure their video cameras are turned off during these online meetings. Why? A survey shows that 12% of those polled admitted it is because they don’t want to get dressed up for those sessions, Some say they take the calls in their pajamas and even in the nude. The survey was conducted by Mentimeter, a company that offers platforms for interactive presentations.

Determination is what a marathoner is made of

What is a marathoner to do when he is home bound by the CLOVID crisis? Frenchman Elisha Nochomovitz, was distraught when the pandemic caused the cancellation of the Barcelona Marathon. So he decided to run his own marathon while sheltering in place in his apartment located in the southwestern French town of Balma. It took him six hours and forty-eight minutes of running back and forth on the apartment’s 23-foot long terrace but he made sure his run was the equivalent of a standard 42.195 kilometer [26 mile] marathon.

Giving thanks

Hoarders have come out in droves across the country due to the COVID-19 outbreak and it appears they particularly seek to load up on toilet paper. This has caused empty shelves in drug stores and supermarkets and dismay for all of us who are home bound for the duration. There have also been reports of public bathrooms being raided for toilet paper. But Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hoping that a kind reminder might just be the trick that can help keep their public conveniences at Boyd Lake State Park well stocked. An electronic sign at the entrance to the park reads: "Thank you for not stealing our toilet paper!!!” In addition, they’ve tweeted the message: "To those that haven't stolen toilet paper at our #ColoradoStateParks, thank you,"

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Are coronavirus worries keeping you awake? Stretches in bed will calm you

Anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus is leading to sleepless nights for some people – and that can result in even more health problems.

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep weakens the immune system, the last thing anyone needs when a potentially deadly virus is making the rounds.

The question many bleary-eyed people face is how they can remedy their insomnia without resorting to medication, anything else that they have to take orally, or a significant lifestyle change. One answer: stretches done on the bed that relax the body and mind, allowing them to drift into slumber and be better prepared for the next day – and keep that immune system humming as well, says Larry Piller (www.larrypiller.com), a Certified Massage Practitioner and author of Stretching Your Way: A Unique & Leisurely Muscle Stretching System.

“I consider these the crown jewels of stretches for sleep because everyone who tries them falls asleep,” Piller says. “Just by knowing that these stretches are waiting for you anytime you want them, day or night, it will give you a feeling of tranquility as opposed to a night of anxiousness. Stretching has many benefits, and one of those is that it can help you wind down and ease the tension at the end of the day.”

So, for those struggling to rid themselves of their coronavirus worries, Piller offers a few examples of what he calls “superstar stretches for sleeping”:

Stretch 1. While lying on your back, extend your shoulder out as is comfortable and lift your hand up as though you are trying to stop traffic. Then turn your arm and your hand backward, letting your little finger be your guide. Let your little finger land where roughly the No. 7 would be on a clock. Just extend your shoulder out as is comfortable and bring your fingers back as is comfortable.

Stretch 2. While lying on your back on the bed, put your arm in a position as if showing your muscle to someone. Just extend your elbow out to the side as is comfortable for a tricep stretch. From that position, open your hand up all the way, extend your elbow to the side as is comfortable while bringing your thumb down toward you as is comfortable.

Stretch 3. While you lie on your back, just extend your shoulder and arm out as is comfortable, Piller says.

Stretch 4. While you lie on your back, bring your toes and the inner side of your foot inward to get a stretch on the side of the foot. These stretches for the side of your feet can be done lying on your side as well, as long as you have room to bring your foot or feet down or inward. You also can use a pillow between your legs to raise your foot so you can bring your foot or feet down, or hang your feet over the edge. “This by itself, or in combination with other stretches, has a high chance to put you to sleep like a little baby,” Piller says.

A recent article in Psychology Today explored how a good night’s sleep is necessary for a person’s immune system to run as efficiently as possible. A good, healthy immune system is one of the major things that may reduce the risk of the coronavirus. That makes it extremely important that people find simple and easy ways to relax at night, rather than lie staring at the ceiling as brooding fears about the coronavirus swirl around in their minds, Piller says.

“Life can be a job in itself, especially right now with all the concerns about the coronavirus,” Piller says. “Most people do not want all the difficulties that every insomnia treatment is riddled with. They don’t want to do all kinds of lifestyle changes that don’t offer solutions or guarantees, and that have minimal results at best. These superstar stretches for sleeping are the world’s easiest and safest. For me, muscle stretching is magic. You get total relief just knowing this effortless system is waiting for you at bedtime.”

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For Your Health: Watch your well-being during coronavirus distancing

By DR. GRAHAM A. COLDITZ

Siteman Cancer Center

Daily life has changed to an amazing degree in the last few weeks. As individuals and communities work to contain the spread of COVID-19, one major adjustment for most of us personally is that we now spend much more time at home. This form of physical distancing, or sheltering in place, limits contact between people, which can help curb the infection’s spread.

As necessary as this distancing is, it is a change that can also be stressful, tedious and isolating, among many other things. So, as we all work to get used to our new and, ultimately, temporary reality, here are eight ways to look after your health, your well-being and yourself during these unique times.

Be kind to yourself. The great thing about physical distancing is that by doing nothing — just staying inside — we’re doing something really important. Despite what you may see on social media, you don’t need to be writing a novel, conducting your children in a symphony or even reorganizing your sock drawer — unless you really want to. Be kind to yourself, and just take time to figure out what works best for you and your family.

Take a break from the news. Even in normal times, the sheer volume of news can feel overwhelming. These days, it’s even worse. So, be sure to carve out chunks of the day when you take a rest and shut off the news and pandemic-related social media feeds. Pick up a book. Stream a TV show. Play a board game. The news will still be there when you get back to it.

Keep up healthy food choices. When our regular routines are upended, our food choices can be, too — and often not for the better. A healthy diet can be a good way to maintain some normalcy, help keep the immune system working well and keep calories in check during these times when we’re less active and may feel urges to eat because of stress or boredom. When stocking up at the grocery store, focus on nourishing and filling foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, brown rice, fruits and vegetables (frozen, canned or fresh) and beans. And if you buy sweets and less-healthy foods, store them out of sight so they’re less tempting. With the economy hard hit, food insecurity can also be an issue for many. For food assistance, or to donate, contact food banks in your area, or visit feedingamerica.org.

Keep moving. Although gyms are closed and exercise classes canceled, it’s still important to stay physically active. It can take a little extra creativity and more planning than before, but the payoff in energy, mood and overall well-being make it well worth it. YouTube is a great source for free yoga, dance and cardio videos. Exercise apps are another option. And, for most people, getting outside for a walk or bike ride is still allowed (while keeping a safe distance from others). Don’t worry about hitting specific goals, just try to fit something in on most days. You’ll be happy you did.

Stand more. This can sound a bit odd. But, on top of staying active, try to make an effort to stand more than you normally would when you’re at home. In our normal days before COVID-19, it’d be rare to sit for most of the day. Going to class, walking to meetings, doing errands or spending time with the kids, we were on our feet a good amount. Now, while most of us are spending much more time at home, we’re probably also spending much more time sitting. Long term, sitting too much is bad for health, and short term, it can sap some of our energy and just make the long days at home feel even longer. So, try to work some standing breaks into your schedule. Set a timer that chimes every half hour to remind you to get up for a short leg stretch. Or try standing when watching TV shows, working on your computer or playing with your pet.

Stay connected — virtually. While we may no longer be able to meet up with friends and colleagues in the real world, we can still stay connected through technology. Host a trivia game over group video chat, share recipes via text message or email, or just pick up the phone and have a long talk with your best friend. The options are wide open for making connections.

Check in with your health-care provider if you have an existing medical condition such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer. See if there are any changes you should make during this time, such as rescheduling appointments, extending prescriptions or connecting remotely by telehealth rather than in person. Because COVID-19 can be more serious in some people with pre-existing diseases, it’s also especially important to follow recommendations for keeping safe, such as staying at home, avoiding groups and close contact with others, keeping surfaces clean and washing hands frequently.

Look after your mental wellness. This can be a time of stress, anxiety and loneliness for many people. So, as you’re looking after your physical health, it’s extremely important to also look after your mental and emotional health. Try to keep up with those things that can help with mood: physical activity, mindfulness and meditation, and connecting with friends using technology. Many people also need professional help. So, don’t be shy about calling a health-care provider or visiting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org) for resources. If you ever feel you’re in crisis, call 911 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) immediately.

We’ll get through this together, even as we’re safely distancing ourselves for now.

It’s our health. Let’s take control.

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The ‘Hello Girls’ of WWI and their sixty-year battle for recognition

Bells rang throughout France on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918, signifying the end of World War I. In Paris, people filled the streets in a bittersweet celebration: The war was finally over.

But while those celebrations took place, an American woman drew her last breaths in a foreign city. Inez Crittenden had been stationed in France for a year serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a telephone operator. In the final days of the war, she became bed ridden with pneumonia. She died in Paris on the day the war ended.

Crittenden was one of 233 women who served as telephone operators for the Army’s Signal Corps during the war. They were more commonly known as “Hello Girls.”

After the US entered the war in 1917, the Army desperately looked for ways to improve communications during military operations. Commanders discovered major problems with the use of two languages in exchanges between the American and French armies. At first, American men and French women were used in telephone exchanges, but both groups proved to be unsatisfactory. The Army had trouble finding qualified men for the job and looked elsewhere.

General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, requested a recruitment of women telephone operators that spoke both English and French. In America, women primarily made up the workforce of civilian telephone operators. Nearly 10,000 women applied to fill Pershing’s request. Those that were accepted into the program underwent a tough selection process and had to agree to serve for the duration of the war. The women were evaluated on tests similar to those given to Army officer candidates. Then they were individually investigated by the Secret Service. Because the nature of the work required them to handle highly confidential information, their loyalty and motivations for serving were investigated more thoroughly than the average soldier.

Their training included daily military drill. They were taught about the Army, its traditions, and military terms. They wore a uniform, were given ranks, and were subject to inspections. In every way they appeared to be soldiers. And their abilities overseas proved invaluable: They were far more effective than men in operating the military telephone and had a proficiency that was unmatched in their British counterparts. It was said that without the Hello Girls, “It would be impossible to brigade American troops.”

After she died, Inez Crittenden was given a military burial in Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial. Her grave lies alongside over a thousand other American service members who died overseas. But after the war ended, the Army decided that the Hello Girls had served as civilians, not soldiers.

While the Navy had opened enlistment to women during World War I, the Army did not. As a result, the Army did not consider the Hello Girls as servicewomen and did not issue honorable discharges to them. Therefore, the 233 Hello Girls were not considered to be Veterans of the war that they had served in. This began a sixty-year battle for them to be recognized for their military service.

It wasn’t until Congress passed the 1977 G.I. Improvement Bill that the Hello Girls finally received recognition from the government for their service. When President Carter signed it into law, the Hello Girls were given discharges from the military and granted Veteran benefits. Only 18 of them were still alive at the time.

Olive Shaw was one of those surviving Hello Girls. She had returned home to Massachusetts after the war and began working for Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers as her personal secretary. Shaw was one of the Hello Girls that led the sixty-year battle for Veteran status. When she died in 1980, one year after being granted Veteran benefits, she wished to be buried in the soon-to-be-opened Massachusetts National Cemetery. When the cemetery opened in October, she became the first burial there. The recognition of her military service, which had been denied to her for almost the entirety of her life, is now forever remembered at her grave.

But none of the other Hello Girls who died before 1977 ever had the chance to use their Veteran benefits. None of them were ever eligible to be buried in a national cemetery as a Veteran.

Marguerite Lovera died in 1959, 20 years before being granted Veteran benefits. However, it was discovered that she was interred in Golden Gate National Cemetery as an eligible spouse to Felix Lovera, an Army Veteran who had also served in World War I. Marguerite’s grave marker only read “Wife of SGT F A Lovera,” with no recognition to her own service during the war. But in 2018, a relative of Marguerite contacted the National Cemetery Administration with information that she served as a Hello Girl. Though she wasn’t considered a Veteran when she was interred in the cemetery, she was now. Not long after NCA was notified, historians verified the information and the cemetery director had a new grave marker placed for Marguerite that gives proper recognition to her military service.

Even a 100 years after the war they served in ended, these women are still slowly receiving the recognition that they deserve. These trailblazers were some of the first women to serve in the Army. In recognizing the Hello Girls, we honor their service and sacrifices to their country, their contribution to Women’s History, and their lasting legacies.

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How unconventional parents raise next gen's enlightened leaders

The American family structure has shifted dramatically in the past 50-plus years. Less than half of U.S. children are raised in a traditional setting – nearly a 30% drop since the early 1960s.

What that means in terms of quality of life for children from non-traditional families – chances of a stable upbringing, career success, etc. – isn’t always clear. But a non-traditional family structure can provide parents a great opportunity: To teach values, such as gender equality, that their children can someday apply in the workplace and with their own families.

“Growing up in a non-traditional family can help children gain sensitivity and compassion for other cultures and lifestyles, and it helps them break free of the gender stereotypes that pervade our society,” says Andreas Wilderer (www.andreaswilderer.com), a stay-at-home father and author of Lean On: The Five Pillars Of Support For Women In Leadership.

“They will not distinguish between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s duties.’ Such biases have held back countless people from reaching their potential. In a non-traditional family, parents have a prime opportunity to teach their children by example that they need not fit into anybody’s mold. They can help their children to feel more comfortable while coping with a lifestyle much different from that of some of their friends.”

Non-traditional families come in many forms – a single-parent home, a blended family led by second-marriage parents, a same-sex marriage with children, or parents like Wilderer and his wife taking on non-traditional roles. (There are an estimated 2 million stay-at-home dads in the U.S.) Wilderer offers three ways parents in non-traditional homes can help their children’s confidence as well as their understanding of gender equality:

Take them on a business trip. “The mystery of why mom goes away on business is removed,” Wilderer says. “Your son or daughter should feel your enthusiasm and dedication for what you do. It’s a great opportunity to instill a healthy work ethic and attitude, while also demonstrating that any job includes routine moments that aren’t exciting.”

Involve them in planning family activities. This could mean vacations, meals during the week, summer camps, etc. “When you give children that opportunity, you strengthen your bond with them,” Wilderer says. “When the children feel they are active participants in the family’s planning and know that someone cares enough to listen to them, their confidence will deepen, and they’ll better understand their family model and their place in it.”

Hold open, honest family meetings. Problems come up, as with any family. How they are addressed in a non-traditional family can be tricky. Wilderer says communication, in the form of regular family meetings where both the good and the bad are aired, is essential. “Give your children a voice more and more as they grow,” he says. “Meet as a family at least once a month, go over the good things that happened and the most challenging things. Of key importance is expressing feelings and finding solutions. Through it all, remain respectful and open to one another.”

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5 ways to make failure the best thing that ever happened to you

Steve Jobs once said that getting fired from Apple – the global tech giant he co-founded – was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to him.

In Jobs’ case, starting anew removed the burdens of success that he felt at Apple and freed him to enter a new and productive creative period. Jobs’ reflection on his career path illuminates the adage, “When one door closes, another door opens” – but with a twist that applies to many people trying to move on from a major setback, says Chuck Crumpton (www.chuckcrumpton.com), author of The Jagged Journey: A Raw & Real Memoir about the Non-Perfect Path of Life & Business.

“The key,” Crumpton says, “is not getting stuck in the long hallway between the closed door and new door opening. That can happen due to the piled-up mental clutter of your failures.

“Don’t let that happen. Instead, learn from those failures and let that knowledge free you to be your best. Ask yourself, ‘Have you had enough failure in your life to understand what success really is?’ ”

Crumpton offers five ways to learn from past failures and find lasting success:

Do a deeper dive than you did last time. “Too many people take big jobs with good salaries while not thoroughly researching the company and the extent of the challenge they’re getting themselves into,” Crumpton says. “You might like the thought of overcoming and making it work, but you have to do the homework and honestly assess if there are too many headaches involved.”

Know who you are. What have your failures told you about yourself? Crumpton says be honest with yourself. Was the position a poor fit, did you overreach, or did the experience shed light on your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to be productive, happy and successful? “Sometimes failure is a matter of simply falling short, and from that realizing where our real strengths lie for the next and better opportunity,” Crumpton says. “One of the best things about failure is it can give us a clearer sense of who we are and what we want. And that realization can be energizing and inspiring.”

Know who your friends are – and aren’t. Crumpton says your first rule should be to treat everyone the way you want to be treated. But that’s not always reciprocal. “You can’t forget who treated you poorly, who you couldn’t trust, and what you learned from that,” Crumpton says. “The friends you make and the work relationships that worked help us learn more about the type of people we want to be associated with. Who challenged you in a good way? Who made you think and grow as a result? And just as important are knowing the toxic types you don’t want to be around and drag down the culture.”

Remember your survival instincts. “Even in an experience that ended up in failure, we can draw strength and confidence from memories of making the best of a tough situation,” Crumpton says. “And if people blamed things on you but you gave your best effort at the time, you can build on that focus toward success in your next opportunity.”

Don’t share your secret. “Many people have been burned by telling someone near the top of a company their innermost desires for personal growth, future plans, etc.,” Crumpton says. “Keep it to yourself until you’re ready to go. Otherwise, as I was, you may get kicked out the door before you really have a plan for what’s next. I had an itch to go out on my own, but the scratch wasn’t of my own making.”

“As a society, we put so much focus on success,” Crumpton says. “Yet failure often unlocks the door to success, and for many who learn from failure, the best is yet to come.”

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Celebrating Earth Day early during an earth crisis

Earth Day may not be until April 22, but spring has arrived early in many parts of the United States, and the TurfMutt Foundation is encouraging everyone to get outside to celebrate and receive the benefits of our green space now—but right in their own backyards.

“It’s a stressful time as our country seeks to ‘shelter in place’ as much as possible,” says Kris Kiser, President of the TurfMutt Foundation. “We’d like to remind everyone that getting outside—in your own backyard—is an important activity, now more than ever, for you, your family and pets. De-stress and enjoy the healing aspects of nature in your own corner of the earth.”

Science has proven that simply spending time in our family yards is good for human health and well-being, which is important today as everyone seeks creative ways to stay well while being confined to their homes. The backyard is “safe space,” adds Kiser. “So, mow your lawn, trim bushes, throw a ball with the kids, plant a butterfly bush together, and get your hands in the dirt. Do get off the Internet and take a break from being cooped up inside.”

A Stanford University study found that walking in nature resulted in decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and produced cognitive benefits, such as increased working memory performance. Multiple studies have discovered that plants in hospital recovery rooms or views of aesthetically pleasing gardens help patients heal up to one day faster than those who are in more sterile or austere environments.

Explore these six ways to tap into the health and well-being your family yard can provide.

Keep kids learning. With kids dismissed from school, the TurfMutt Foundation offers free, online, do-at-home lesson plans and activities where kids in grades K-8 can continue to learn science and nature lessons right in their own backyards. The TurfMutt environmental education program resources are based on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) principles, and teach kids about the benefits of taking care of and spending time in nature.

Clean up your yard. The family yard is an outdoor living room, so prepare it for use. Mow the lawn, trim bushes, and tend to flower gardens. Garden supplies can be ordered online or you often can have them delivered from your local nursery. Take care of your yard, and it will provide the space to relax and recreate.

Plant something. Getting your hands dirty is good for you, says science. Soil is the new Prozac, according to Dr. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening, doing yard work, and having direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier.

Play a family game. If you have a small patch of grass, you have a badminton court, a croquet field, or a soccer field. Throw a ball to your kids -- or your dog. Run through the sprinkler if your area isn’t in a drought condition.

Play with pets or foster a rescue animal. No one appreciates the yard more than a pet. Science also has shown pets have a stress-reducing effect on people and kids. So, get outside with your furry family member and let them remind you of the joys of the outdoors.

Dine outdoors. Have a family picnic right in your backyard or set up a table and chairs to have family meals in the sun or under a shade tree.

Just be. De-stress by observing the birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife that use your yard as habitat and food. Get your toes in the grass. Watch the trees. Use outdoor time as meditation time.

“Your yard offers much during these challenging times. It has purpose,” says Kiser. “And that purpose is more important than ever. Get outdoors with your family, get your feet in the grass and your hands in the soil. Just do get outside.”

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House Call

With Dr. Daniel Knight

UAMS, chairman,

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

Q. I'm confused about whether eggs are good for my health

A. The debate regarding whether eggs increase the risk of heart disease has lingered for decades. Eggs are an inexpensive source of high-quality protein — found in their whites and essential vitamins, minerals and healthy fats — offered in their yolks. However, some nutritional guidelines advise limiting intake to three or fewer a week because of their high cholesterol levels.

A new Canadian study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that moderate intake of eggs, about one per day, does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality, even in those with a history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Previous studies, which were smaller in numbers and regional scope, resulted in conflicting findings.

The most recent study, which received no funding from the egg industry, included data from more than 177,000 people who participated in three long-term international studies. Those involved came from various income levels and most of them consumed one or fewer eggs daily. In the study, no association was found between egg intake and blood cholesterol, its components or other risk factors in both healthy people and those with vascular disease.

Q. What possible health issues may arise after the age of 50?

A. A big concern beginning at this age is having a heart attack. A 50-year-old man has a 50% chance of eventually developing heart disease. Those who maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke and exercise regularly are at lower risk. Other major health concerns include having a stroke or aneurysm. Many of the lifestyle changes to lower the risk of heart disease, including keeping blood pressure under control, eating a low-cholesterol diet and managing stress, can also lower the risk of having a stroke or aneurysm.

Other midlife health concerns include gallstones, which are more likely in those who are obese, do not regularly exercise, are diabetic, or have Crohn’s disease. Sometimes, gallstones can lead to an inflammation of the pancreas known as acute pancreatitis, which can be life threatening. Those with symptoms — severe stomach pain, vomiting, nausea and a fever — should seek help immediately.

Those over 45 should have colonoscopies and an increase in broken bones is another issue, especially for older women. Calcium and vitamin D can help slow bone loss or prevent it from getting worse, while certain drugs can assist in keeping or rebuilding bone.

Q. My husband struggles with sleeping at night because his mind keeps racing. What can he do to calm it?

A. Being more conscious about his breathing can help. While we breathe all the time, focusing on and controlling it, adjusting from short, quick breaths to slower deeper ones, can help. About six breaths a minute is optimal. Regular exercise can also help calm his mind. Just five minutes of aerobic exercise — such as a brisk walk — releases endorphins, chemicals that can improve focus, mood and sleep, while high-intensity interval training (20- to 30-second bursts of pushing harder), offers a big dose of endorphins quickly.

Listening to music, not in the background but with full attention, literally calms the activity in the brain and is especially helpful for those distracted by pain.

Taking melatonin and avoiding watching stimulating material before going to bed, reading in bed, and consuming caffeine after noon also may help with sleep.

Other ways to calm a racing mind include helping someone else, which releases endorphins, reducing stress.

Spending time outdoors has been shown in studies to lower blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones and muscle tension and improve concentration. Spending time with a pet may also help.

Q. How do I know when I need to call 911 or go to the emergency room?

A. Trust your instinct. Some symptoms that could signal a serious problem include chest pain or pressure that lasts more than a few minutes or subsides but returns. Sudden shortness of breath that prevents everyday activities could also signal a heart attack or blood clot in a lung. If it is severe or accompanied by nausea, chest pain or fainting, call 911.

Trouble seeing, along with a bad headache, vomiting, nausea, weakness, numbness, dizziness, confusion or difficulty speaking may be signs of a stroke.

A head injury accompanied by passing out, a seizure, or other symptoms requires emergency care. Sudden, intense stomach pain lasting more than 30 minutes or occurring with vomiting may signal an inflamed appendix. Serious burns and broken bones that pierce the skin or make the injured area look bluish, deformed or turn numb also require immediate medical attention.

Also seek emergency care for children age 5 and younger whose vomiting lasts more than a few hours or includes signs of dehydration and for older children and adults whose vomiting lasts more than a day or includes a high fever.

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Garden your way to better health

By MELINDA MYERS

Break out the tools and garden your way to a healthier mind, body and spirit. Gardeners know and research proves that getting outdoors, digging in the soil and gardening help strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, reduce stress and elevate our mood.

Include gardening as a major component of your workout schedule. You’ll stretch and strengthen muscles while promoting cardiovascular health and maintaining bone mass. A University of Arkansas study found that yard work as well as weight training significantly maintained bone density in women over 50.

And for those trying to lose weight, add 30 minutes of gardening to your daily or weekly routine to help shed some extra pounds. A half hour of raking burns 162 calories, weeding 182, and turning the compost pile a whopping 250. Gardening several times per week will help keep you and your landscape looking top notch.

Don’t let a lack of time, space or painful joints stop you from growing nutritious vegetables, beautiful flowers or an attractive landscape. Staying active through gardening not only increases flexibility and strengthens muscles, it helps fight anxiety and depression that arthritis sufferers and others often experience.

Those struggling with limited time, space or mobility may want to try container and elevated gardening. Both can be placed on patios, decks or balconies. Select a size and style you can easily reach and one that matches your garden design. Those on a tight budget can add drainage holes and paint 5-gallon food grade containers or nursery pots to create attractive planters.

Protect and support your hands with gloves that fit and provide support like Foxgloves’ Works gloves (foxglovesinc.com). Padding and reinforced fingertips protect your hands and knuckles from scrapes and bruises. Gloves with long cuffs or those that extend to the elbow provide added protection when working in the garden.

Select gloves that are machine washable, so you always have a clean pair ready when you venture out to the garden. Keep a pair of gloves, pruner and your favorite weeding tool in a bucket near the front or back door. You won’t waste time looking for your favorite tools plus you can take advantage of those small blocks of time to weed, deadhead or pick a bouquet of flowers to enjoy.

Enlist the help of ergonomic tools that allow you to garden longer with less pain and fatigue. Look for designs that keep your back and wrist straight when digging, pruning and raking. Select tools with soft wide grips to further reduce hand fatigue. Wrap the handles of existing tools with foam pipe insulation for added padding.

Protect your joints and muscles while gardening. Warm up, just as you would for any workout, with a few simple stretches. Protect your knees by using a stool, kneeling pad or one-legged kneel instead of squatting.

Take regular breaks. Gardening in twenty-minute intervals and resting in between to enjoy your handiwork and hydrate will pay off with less muscle strain and fatigue. You’ll then be ready for your next workout session in the garden that will invigorate your mind, body and spirit.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On April 2, 1513, Ponce de Leon arrived in the New World, focused on finding the elusive Fountain of Youth. He landed near what is now of St. Augustine, FL, and claimed it on behalf of the Spanish monarchy. Because his arrival coincided with Easter he named--what he thought was an island--La Florida, or “Land of Flowers”.

He returned eight years later to establish a Spanish colony, but the Native Americans wouldn’t have it, and de Leon immediately set sail for home. It wasn’t until 1565 that Spain was able to create the settlement of St. Augustine and, begin to colonize it.

By 1819, the entire territory was ceded to the U.S. under the terms of the Florida Purchase Treaty between Spain and America.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends the exciting, 1513: Ponce de Leon Discovers Florida by E. H. Haines.

In the 1850s, it took nearly a month for a letter to reach California; the Pony Express was created to hasten postal service.

On April 3, 1860 the inaugural relay team of horsemen--Pony Express riders—was assigned the task of delivering packets of mail: a bundle from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA—and another—traveling the same route, but in the opposite direction. It took the group headed for California ten days to make their delivery; the eastbound riders required twelve.

America in its “adolescence” was a particularly important period, says the Grateful American Book Prize; the panel suggests Pony Express: The Great Gamble by Roy S. Bloss.

John Rolfe was a tobacco planter who married a Native American princess named Matoaka, on April 5, 1614.

She is better known by her nickname: Pocahontas. And, their story was full of love, adventure and excitement.

The first English settlement in America was Jamestown, founded in May of 1607 along the shores of the James River in Virginia. The 100 colonists who settled there, survived famine, disease, and attacks by the Powhatan confederacy of 30 local Native American tribes under the leadership of Chief Powhatan, but the swashbuckling John Smith, came to the rescue, before he was taken prisoner--and then released-- when Powhatan’s young daughter, Pocahontas, took a liking to him.

But the hardships continued for the English settlers, and Smith, ailing from injuries suffered in a fire, eventually returned to England, while Pocahontas developed friendships among the settlers, and often provided them with gifts of food.

In 1610, John Rolfe arrived in Jamestown, to build a tobacco plantation. Three years later he met Pocahontas, who had been taken hostage by the British as a bargaining chip with the Native Americans. They fell in love and married. It was a union that brought peace between the tribes and the British colonists.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Camilla Townsend’s page turner, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma.

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How small changes can make a big impact on your retirement planning

By ALBERT LALONDE

Statistics related to retirement can be downright discouraging.

About 45 percent of Americans say they worry every day or almost every day about saving enough money to retire, according to the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, 28% of Americans in their 60s and 37 percent in their 50s have less than $50,000 in retirement savings, according to a TD Ameritrade survey.

It can all seem overwhelming, especially these days with the impact coronavirus has had on the economy and on many people’s retirement savings. But in the midst of the gloom there remains hope because there are always small changes you can make with your financial planning that will have a big impact down the line when it comes to retirement.

So, instead of throwing up your hands in despair, it’s important to stay positive and make continual financial improvements that will allow you to stay the course on your planning, and in the process ease any concerns and doubts you may harbor.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to do that:

Start growing your money – now. Lottery winners are the rare exception, but most everyone else needs to count on a slow and steady savings and investing plan to achieve their financial goals. The sooner you start contributing to a 401(k), an IRA, or other investments, the more time you will have to grow that money into a tidy retirement nest egg. Ideally, if your employer offers a 401(k) match, then you should contribute enough to earn the full amount of that match. But if you don’t feel you can afford to do that right now, make sure you at least contribute something. Every little bit will help, and each year you can re-evaluate whether you are able to increase the percentage of your contribution. Once again, it’s the little things now that can make a big difference later.

Preserve what you saved. Young people can take investment risks with a least a little impunity, knowing that if the market takes a tumble they have a few decades to recover. Those in or near retirement don’t have such luxuries. A big hit to your portfolio can be devastating in your later years, especially if you’re already starting to draw money from your savings to live on. Once again, a few minor adjustments are in order as you try to preserve what you have. Your financial professional should be able to help you here with asset-protection strategies and tax-efficient strategies.

Be prepared for long-term care expenses. You might not be giving a lot of serious thought to long-term care, but you should since 48 percent of Americans who reach age 65 will require long-term care at some point during the remainder of their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The cost of that care can bring even the sturdiest of portfolios to the edge of ruin. For example, the average annual cost of a private room in a nursing home is $102,200, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey. The average for an assisted-living facility is $48,612. So, another small shift in thinking to include long-term care in your retirement planning could pay major dividends to the overall health of your retirement portfolio.

No matter what the market conditions are, or what season of life you are in, you want to make sure that any changes you make – small or large – advance you toward your goal of a happy and secure retirement.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – About Working Overseas and Earning U.S Social Security

Dear Rusty: My daughter had menial jobs - part time - here in the USA during high school and college but shortly after college moved to South Korea to teach English. After 8 years there she will be going to Belgium and getting married. She will be living there and working there. Will she ever have access to any Social Security benefits? Signed: Interested Father

Dear Interested Father: It will depend upon how many U.S. quarter-credits your daughter has from her work here in the U.S. The U.S. has bilateral agreements (known as “Totalization Agreements”) with both South Korea and Belgium (and 24 other countries) and these agreements allow someone who has worked in both the U.S. and another country to aggregate their credits from both to qualify for U.S. benefits (and vice versa). But your daughter will need to have earned at least 6 U.S. credits from working in the U.S. in order for her credits from either South Korea or Belgium (or both) to be counted under the Totalization Agreement, thus entitling her to U.S. Social Security benefits.

The U.S. requires a minimum of 40 total quarter-credits to be eligible for Social Security benefits. If your daughter has at least 6 U.S. credits now and can get enough additional credits via the Totalization Agreements to achieve minimum 40 required, then she may be eligible for at least a small U.S. Social Security benefit when she is 62.

Since you say your daughter had only “menial part time” jobs here in the U.S., key for her to eventually get benefits will be if she has worked enough in the U.S. to earn at least the 6 credits which will allow her to take advantage of the Totalization Agreements and meet basic eligibility for Social Security. FYI, Social Security credits are based upon how much is earned each year, and the amount required for a credit varies annually. A maximum of 4 credits can be earned each year - for example, in 2020 a credit is given for each $1410 earned, up to a maximum of 4 credits per year ($5640 in annual earnings). Essentially, if your daughter had at least the minimum earnings for 1 ½ years of U.S. employment to earn 6 credits, she could eventually use the Totalization Agreements to become eligible for U.S. Social Security benefits.

I suggest that your daughter contact Social Security and ask how many quarters of credit she now has under the U.S. Social Security system. If she already has the minimum 6 needed to eventually qualify under the Totalization Agreements, she may be entitled to a small SS benefit when she becomes age-eligible (62).

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How companies can rethink supply chains to deal with disruptions

The coronavirus has disrupted U.S. companies in many ways, and nearly three-fourths of them have seen their supply chain significantly affected.

While China has begun slowly reopening as the number of coronavirus cases there decreased in recent weeks, reports of the illness shot up in other countries, and the epicenter of the pandemic shifted to Europe and then the U.S. Thus, multiple supply chains have been compromised as the outbreak spreads, and there’s no telling when those links in the various chains will operate at normal capacity.

“There are waves of effects coming even if Chinese manufacturing gets back to full-go,”

says Hitendra Chaturvedi (www.wpcarey.asu.edu/people/profile/3541031), a professor at the Supply Chain Department of W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and an expert on global supply chain sustainability and strategy. “As the coronavirus has spread globally, drops in different trading partners’ ability to supply is felt everywhere.

“What this is showing, especially in the U.S., is we need to reassess supply chain strategy and make it stronger to withstand unforeseen, major disruptions.”

Chaturvedi outlines some possible outcomes in U.S. supply chain strategy as a result of the coronavirus:

Learning that cost is not the only consideration. Chaturvedi says that when companies in the future plan their overall global supply chain strategy, they may decide that paying more to establish a more resilient and flexible process would be worth it by reducing risk. “Companies typically find the lowest-cost supplier, but if you have a single source, you’re vulnerable, and that’s what’s happening now,” Chaturvedi says. “This will move companies more toward mitigating risk. That requires making investments. They could stabilize their supply chains by enlisting alternative suppliers, boosting inventories or investing in more diverse ways of distribution.”

Localizing more manufacturing and transporting. “Dependence on China for their manufacturing has put small and midsize businesses in jeopardy,” Chaturvedi says. “The pandemic exposes the vulnerability of companies that rely heavily on a limited number of trading partners. What will result is businesses will look to restructure their global supply chains, and some companies will look at localizing more than they would have in the past. A shift in that direction had already started during the U.S.-China tariff fight.”

Planning for future disruptions. Another result of the pandemic’s impact on supply chains is it will compel companies to anticipate disruptions in the future and build in quick responses to their supply chain. This involves a process called mapping, in which companies engage suppliers in order to better understand their sites and processes. “It’s imperative for businesses running a global supply chain to be in the know about news that could cause disruptions,” Chaturvedi says. “You have to be proactive and not reactive. Knowing where the disruption will come from and how that will impact their products allows companies lead time and the ability to create a mitigation strategy.”

Utilizing technology. Chaturvedi expects to see a rise in the use of AI, chatbots, the internet of things, and robotic process automation to facilitate supply chains. “This will be done not only as a pretext to bring manufacturing jobs back from China,” Chaturvedi says, “but also for purely selfish reasons, because bots do not get sick.”

“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on supply chains has given new meaning to the word ‘disruption," Chaturvedi says. “We’ve never seen anything quite like this, and businesses can learn a lot from it that will help their supply chain process in the future.”

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Financial tips for when you’re newly unemployed or business is slow

Over 3 million people in the U.S. have recently filed unemployment claims as a result of the severe economic impact of the coronavirus.

Some of those suddenly jobless have limited financial resources besides unemployment benefits. Others are fortunate to have emergency savings or investment vehicles they can draw from such as a 401(k). Then there are those who are still working, but feeling the effects of business slowing down.

“Overall, the pandemic has put many people in a weakened financial condition that they didn’t expect,” says Steve Kruman (www.brycewealth.com), a financial planner and investment advisor at Bryce Wealth Management. “And there are some lessons in there that could better protect them and their loved ones going forward.”

Kruman has tips to help people weather the financial storm and learn how to plan differently for the future:

Be careful with the 401(k). “When sources of funds are limited, people should withdraw only the amount they need from their 401(k),” Kruman says. “You want to look for other sources that would be accessible without taking on the major tax hit of raiding the 401(k). Home equity loans are great, and they are at rates much lower than the tax rates of the 401(k). Also, cash value life insurance policies are good sources to borrow from as well. For those who lost their job but have adequate reserves, it’s advisable to roll their 401(k) money over to an IRA at the earliest possible opportunity. Employer-sponsored plans have several drawbacks, including limited investment options. By rolling to an IRA, you can select from a much wider investment universe.”

Don’t panic in the stock market. ”Don’t sell now,” Kruman says. “People who are being induced into panic are selling, and somebody else is buying those shares for when prices recover. The stock market always has fluctuations. It comes down to risk tolerance. You have to be prepared for volatility and be diversified.”

Don’t rely on group life insurance anymore. Many people have the majority of their life insurance through their job. But when you lose the job, you lose the life insurance. “You have to replace it with new life insurance at an older age, which means a higher premium, and with possibly negative health changes, again upping the premium,” Kruman says. “It’s vital to have a well worked-out plan of personal life insurance, which means not tied to a job.”

Find an independent financial advisor. “An independent advisor doesn’t have a company telling them what to invest clients’ money in,” says Kruman. “A client’s best interest should always be the number one priority for an advisor, and it’s easier to maintain that focus by being independent of any parent company’s fee goals or investment selection limitations.”

Consider making a Roth conversion now. When you move money from a tax-deferred retirement account into a Roth account, the money is taxed at that time. “But by making that conversion, you are putting yourself in a position to get tax-free income for life if you comply with two requirements,” Kruman says. Those requirements: be at least age 59 ½ and don’t take any gains out of the Roth for five years. Most financial professionals expect taxes to go up sometime in the future. One reason is that the recent economic stimulus will need to be paid for at some point. Another reason is that the tax cuts passed in 2017 will expire at the end of 2025 for personal rates. “So paying the taxes now at a lower rate when you make the Roth conversion is the better bet for the long run,” he says.

“Now is a tough time for many,” Kruman says, “but it is time that can be used wisely to consider the things you can differently to protect yourself and your family financially from the next period of economic uncertainty.”

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Social distancing tips: 15 ways to stay both sane and safe

MUNCIE, Indiana – Practicing social distancing to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic may sound scary or impossible to do, but there are ways to appropriately handle the process, says Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 that include recommendations for social distancing—a term epidemiologists use to refer to a conscious effort to reduce close contact between people and hopefully stymie community transmission of the virus.

“Social distancing can be tough on people and disrupt the social and economic fibers of our society,” Khubchandani said. “Given the existing crisis of isolation in societies—with probably the loneliest young generation that we have today—social distancing can also take a personal health toll on people, causing psychological problems, among many others.”

Khubchandani recommended 15 ways to counterbalance the effects of social distancing:

Maintain a routine. As much as possible, social distancing should not disrupt your sleep-wake cycle, working hours, and daily activities.

Make social distancing a positive by taking the time to focus on your personality and personal health, reassessing your work, training, diet patterns, physical activity levels, and health habits.

Carve time to cook for yourself and others in need. Add more fruits, vegetable, vitamins, and proteins to your diet (most adults in the United States do not consume enough fruits and vegetables). Get 2-3 meals a day.

Go for a walk or exercise at home. Definitely go out in nature as much as possible. Only half of American adults today get enough exercise.

Do not let anxiety or being at home lead you to indulge in binge eating or alcohol and drug use. Don’t oversleep, but do sleep at least 7 hours. Our recent study found that more than a third of Americans sleep less than 7 hours.

Social distancing can cause anxiety and depression due to disruption of routines, isolation, and fear due to a pandemic. If you or someone you know is struggling, there are ways to get help from a distance.

Think forward and try to make best use of technology to finish your work, attend meetings, and engage with coworkers with the same frequency that is required during active office hours. The good news: Working from home can make people more productive and happier.

Small breaks due to social distancing are also times to reassess your skill and training- think of an online course, certification, training, personality development, or new language to learn.

Engage in spring cleaning, clear that clutter, and donate non-junk household stuff. Household clutter can harbor infections, pollutants, and create unhygienic spaces.

Social distancing should not translate to an unhealthy life on social media. While you can certainly become a victim of myths, misinformation, anxiety, and fear mongering, you may also inadvertently become a perpetrator, creating more trouble for communities.

Based on American Time Use Survey and leisure related time-spending patterns worldwide, we spend too much time on screen. Except for 1-2 times day to watch national news for general consumption and local news to check spread of COVID-19 in your own community, you are likely over-consuming information and taking away time from yourself and friends and family.

Reach out to people and offer help. Social distancing should also help reinvest in and recreate social bonds. Consider providing for and helping those at risk or marginalized (e.g. the elderly, disabled, and homeless; survivors of natural disasters; and those living in shelters). You will certainly find someone in the neighborhood who needs some help, this can be done from a distance, on phone, or by online activities and giving.

Check your list of contacts on email and phone. Certainly, there are people you have not talked to in a while—time to check on their wellbeing and connect. This will also help you feel more connected, social, healthier, and engaged. Be kind to all; you never know who is struggling and how you can make a difference.

Engage in alternative activities to keep your mind and body active such as: listening to music and singing, trying dancing or biking, yoga or meditation, taking virtual tours of museums and places of interest, sketching and painting, reading books or novels, solving puzzles or engaging in board games, trying new recipes and learning about other cultures, etc.

Do not isolate yourself totally (physical distancing should not become social isolation). Don’t be afraid, don’t panic, and do keep communicating with others.

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New to working from home full-time? Here’s how to stay productive

As the coronavirus pandemic threatens public health and the U.S. economy, more people are working from home on a regular basis. The move follows social distancing guidelines as an attempt to slow the outbreak, but keeping scattered workforces connected and productive can be challenging for managers and employees.

“This is new terrain for all involved, but employees and their companies can come out of this stronger by learning how to work together even better while they’re physically apart,” says Dr. Jim Guilkey (www.jimguilkey.com), author of M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage — What All Executives Need To Know.

“Optimally, working remotely can sharpen the skills you have and open new avenues of training that broaden skill-sets and increase results. But technology alone can’t smooth the transition to remote working, and both employees and business leaders must learn how to implement new structures and some new or tweaked processes.”

Dr. Guilkey offers tips for both managers and associates to make working from home work out well for their companies:

For employees:

● Get started early. “When going to the office, you normally get up and out the door early,” Dr. Guilkey says. “At home, this is more difficult. Get up, take a shower, and get started.”

● Create a dedicated work space. People who haven’t worked remotely may need to experiment with different approaches to find what setting works best for them. “Just because you’re not going to the office doesn’t mean you can’t have an office. Dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to work,” Dr. Guilkey says. “You should associate your home office with your actual office. This creates the correct mindset for being productive.”

● Structure your day like you would in the office. Workers need to adopt exceptional conscientiousness when it comes to dividing their day into intensive work, communications, personal time and family life,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Have an agenda. Schedule meetings and project time and stay on schedule.”

For managers:

● Set expectations. “It is vital that employees know what is expected of them,” Dr. Guilkey says. “When will you be available? How long will it take to get back to someone?”

● Create a cadence of communication. Without daily face-to-face interaction, there’s more importance on communication. “A rhythm of communication is vital – daily check-ins, weekly one-on-ones, weekly team meetings, etc. ” Dr. Guilkey says.

● Take a video-first approach. “Video, with all the current technology, is the most effective means of remote communication,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Invest in reliable tools.”

● Maintain company social bonds. One drawback of working remotely is the potential breaking of social bonds that are necessary for productive teamwork. “Video conferencing or a quick Google chat with a colleague is vital to keep relationships strong,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Employees miss face-to-face banter and impromptu discussions in the physical office, so seeing faces on the screen daily is optimal for morale and a sense of normalcy.”

“Employees and employers can take this unprecedented time as a time to improve individually and as a company,” Dr. Guilkey says. “Working from home and working well together can go hand-in-hand when everyone is pulling even harder in the same direction.”

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Love conquers all

Love can triumph in times of adversity, such as the “new fresh hell” that is the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, there was the couple in New York City who decided recently to marry sooner than later. The city was in lockdown and so Reilly Jennings and Amanda Wheeler called on a neighborly friend, Matt Wilson, who happened to be licensed to perform wedding ceremonies. He lived just around the corner and so the couple took the short walk and stood on the sidewalk while Wilson, practicing “social distancing,” conducted the ceremony by shouting down from his fourth floor apartment.

Enough is enough

It might not ease your frustration when you find all the stores are out of toilet paper so soon after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. But a software developer in the U.K. has come up with an online toilet paper calculator. Their Website is called, HowMuchToiletPaper.com, and it tells you how much toilet tissue you’ll need to get through the confinement caused by the virus. You input the number of toilet paper rolls you have on hand and how many times family members go to the bathroom. Interestingly, techie Ben Sassoon says that the average visitor to the Website has 500 percent more toilet tissue than they need. Sassoon hopes that the staggering overabundance might help reduce hoarding.

Stressed? Smile!

An entrepreneurial restauranteur in Cambridge, Minnesota is giving his takeout customers a treat amid the COVID crisis. He’s giving away a roll of toilet paper with every $25 order-to-go. "When the customers get their order, you hear a genuine laugh and that's the best thing right now. I wanted to do something nice, I'm not making fun of it, I just hope it puts a smile on people's faces," said Sean Okerlund.

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Extend your garden season

By MELINDA MYERS

No matter where you garden there never seems to be enough time to grow all the fresh vegetables desired. Planting earlier or just providing plants with some added warmth on chilly days and nights can reduce the time from planting to harvest. Southern gardeners will enjoy the additional time for harvesting heat-sensitive plants before the stifling heat moves in and plants begin to decline.

Prepare the soil as soon as it can be worked. Cover the prepared soil with clear plastic, row covers or high tunnels for several weeks when planting earlier than normal. This warms the soil for planting and helps germinate many of the weed seeds. Lightly cultivate to remove the young weed seedlings without bringing more weed seeds to the surface. You’ll be pulling fewer weeds throughout the growing season.

Once the garden is planted, enlist some of these season-extending helpers (gardeners.com). Homemade and commercial cloches, cold frames and row covers can help you plant earlier and harvest later in the season.

Row covers made of spun fabrics let air, light, and water through while keeping the plants warm. Anchor the fabric with landscape pins, stones, boards, or other heavy items. Leave enough slack in the fabrics for the plants to grow. Lighter weight garden fabrics also protect plants from insect pests like cabbage worms and bean beetles.

Garden covers take this method one step further. These structures fit over plantings in the garden, raised beds or elevated planters. Look for those with durable greenhouse fabric covers that let water in and keep excess heat out. These types of structures protect plants from cold and wind, speeding up your harvest by as much as 25%.

Raise the roof on these structures with high tunnels and plant protection tents. These are perfect for growing tall plants like tomatoes. As temperatures rise, the tops can be ventilated or in some cases replaced with a mesh that keeps out insects and critters, while providing plants enough room to reach full size.

Or maybe you just can’t wait for that first red ripe tomato and only want to jump start a row of greens. Garden cloches have long been used for this purpose. They capture the sun’s warmth to protect plants from frosty weather. Gardener's Supply Company’s Early Season Row Cloche Set allows you to expand your protection to the desired size. These clear PVC plant protectors have water wells to capture rainwater and gently disperse it to the plants below and vents for managing the temperature.

Further boost your tomato harvest with red plastic mulch, red tomato teepees and tomato boosters. University researchers found using red plastic mulch increased the individual fruit size and weight and overall tomato harvest by as much as 20 percent. They found the red plastic mulch reflected certain growth-enhancing wavelengths of light back onto the plants.

With a bit of extra effort and investment you’ll be harvesting fresh vegetables long before your friends and neighbors. Then be sure to keep these season-extending devices handy to use again in fall. Protecting plants from those first few fall frosts can keep you eating garden-fresh tomatoes, peppers and greens well into winter.

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The best dahlias for a backyard cutting garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Dahlias are bold and beautiful flowers that are easy to grow in any sunny garden. They are also spectacular in summer flower arrangements. With just a few dahlias, you can enjoy picking your own fresh-cut flowers every day from July through September.

These spring-planted tubers make gorgeous additions to flower beds and even the vegetable garden. If space allows, the very best way to grow dahlias for bouquets is in a cutting garden. A backyard cutting garden doesn’t need to be large. Even a 3’ x 6’ raised bed will give you plenty of space for 6 to 8 full size dahlia plants. Planting dahlia tubers in rows lets you get maximum productivity with minimal maintenance.

When choosing dahlias for a small to medium size cutting garden, start by narrowing your choices. Select colors that you can imagine looking great together in a vase. This will make it easy to create lots of creative combinations on the fly.

Choose red, orange, and yellow flowers if you like energetic arrangements that mimic the colors of late summer and fall. Blossoms in cool colors and pastels, such pink, lavender and violet, will be softer and more soothing. Include purple and burgundy flowers to add drama and help unify warm and cool colors.

Floral designers know that combining flowers with different shapes and sizes makes arrangements more interesting. Dahlias offer many options and it’s one of the reasons they are such a popular cut flower.

Ball dahlias have tightly curled petals and dense, perfectly round, 3 to 4” flower heads. Varieties such as Sylvia and Jowey Mirella are perfect for adding repeating bursts of color. Decorative dahlias have the classic dahlia look, with 4 to 6” wide, open-faced blossoms and orderly layers of petals. American Dawn and Great Silence are two reliable and versatile, decorative dahlias.

The flowers of dinnerplate dahlias can measure 8 to 10” across and these enormous blossoms make it easy to make stunning summer bouquets. Popular varieties for cutting include Café au Lait, Penhill Dark Monarch and Otto’s Thrill. Add texture and movement to your arrangements with cactus dahlias. Varieties such as Yellow Star and Nuit d’Ete have tightly rolled petals that give the flowers a spiky appearance.

Single and peony-flowered dahlias are seldom seen at the florist or even in farmer's market bouquets because they don’t travel well. But home gardeners can enjoy growing varieties such as scarlet-red Bishop of Llandaff or the melon and burnt orange flowers of HS Date. These plants tend to be compact and rarely need staking.

Don’t let the many options overwhelm you. Consider starting with an assortment such as the Flirty Fleurs Sorbetto Collection (longfield-gardens.com). It includes five varieties of pink and burgundy dahlias, specially selected by an experienced floral designer.

Most cutting garden flowers are picked before they are fully open. But dahlias should not be harvested until they are fully open and in their prime. To avoid crushing the stems, make your cuts with a sharp knife rather scissors.

If you want your dahlias to have nice, long stems, take a cue from cut flower farmers. When harvesting for market or removing spent flowers, they always remove the entire stem, cutting right back to a main stalk. Though this means sacrificing some buds in the short term, the next round of flowers will have noticeably longer stems.

When selecting plants for this year’s flower garden, be sure to include plenty of dahlias. These spring-planted, summer-blooming bulbs will take your homegrown flower arrangements to a whole new level.

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Inventions that didn't get research and development tax credits

R&D tax credit specialists, RIFT Research and Development Ltd, have looked at five historic advancements that not only changed the world but would have eligible for some big R&D tax credit claims if they had come about today.

5. The Wheel

Perhaps the first invention that changed the course of mankind notably, the wheel enabled us to transport goods quicker and in greater quantities, while facilitating the birth of commerce and agriculture. Created in 3500 B.C., but only used on chariots some 300 years later in its primary function, the wheel doesn’t just help us to travel easier but it also has a wide array of other applications, such as its use within machinery.

Should the wheel be invented today through R&D it would qualify in the transport and storage sector and see an R&D tax credit claim total somewhere around £71,000.

4. The Battery

In the 1800s a lack of consistent electrical lines meant a consistent supply of power was non-existent. Then an Italian, Alessandro Volta, developed the first battery using zinc and silver discs placed alternatively to form a cylindrical pile. This new device produced a repeated number of sparks that could operate a number of devices without mainline power. Today, the battery has evolved through R&D and now almost every day to day electrical device relies on one with a focus on smaller sizes with longer battery life and the latest advancements coming through their use in cars to reduce pollution.

If invented today, the battery would qualify for an R&D tax credit claim of £80,000 within the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning sector.

3. Semi-conductors

Not the sexiest invention but semi-conductors form the firm foundation for all electrical devices and are pretty much the cornerstone of the digital world. The first device to contain one was developed by Bell Labs in 1947 but should they have waited until today, their work would be in line for an R&D claim to the tune of £105,000.

2. Mechanical Clock

Our ability to tell time is pivotal to the way we live and work and without clocks to help us we would be living in a world of unorganised chaos. The clock was technically an R&D advancement on the sundial but when Yi Xing created the mechanical clock in China in 725 AD it would be the first that was widely accessible within society and would go on to change the world dramatically.

Today Yi Xing’s work would be in line for a £107,000 R&D tax credit claim within the professional, scientific and technical sector.

1. Penicillin

Last but not least, Penicillin is probably the most important medical advancement of years gone by that would qualify for an R&D tax credit claim today. Discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and then researched and developed over the following 20 years, the drug revolutionised the way we treat a wide array of medical problems and helps fight infection without causing us harm in the process.

Like the clock, if invented today Alexander could have submitted an R&D tax claim of £107,000 for his work within the professional, scientific and technical sector.

Director of RIFT, Sarah Collins, commented:

“R&D has been changing the world before the term was even coined and in these cases, the impact of the developments made have changed the human race and created the modern world as we know it.

Of course, had these advancements been made today, the work carried out to develop them would have qualified for a pretty chunky claim where R&D tax credits are concerned. Instead, the government’s R&D pot of gold will have to remain for those making modern-day improvements in their respective sectors in today’s world.”

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COVID-19: Exploit what you can control

BY ARMY COL. ELIZABETH A. MARTIN

"Can't," "don't," "contain" and "restrict" are negative words present everywhere in the news, the media and conversation. The threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus will undoubtedly remain a challenge for everyone for months to come. Significant abrupt restrictions and closures are making many within our communities feel very controlled and unhappy.

With so much heightened fear, paranoia and global concern due to COVID-19, stress and anxiety continue to skyrocket. While the containment strategy the United States is executing is difficult, it is vital to follow directed medical and public health expert precautions, mandates and guidelines to "curtail the curve" and control the rampant spread of this highly contagious and deadly illness.

As we all do our part to help, fear is natural. However when left unharnessed, fear can lead to panic and destructive behavior. We are already seeing this in grocery stores and other shops — just try looking for toilet paper!

Recent extended school closures and activity cancellations are already tearing apart the stability that children are accustomed to, need and enjoy. Parents are grappling with new daytime extended child care requirements, unforecasted home school burdens and how to keep children productive.

Many of us feel like we can't control much in our lives right now due to the threat of this powerful virus, but what we absolutely can control is how we react and what we do. Based on prior military experience as a battalion commander and 20-plus years of service in the Army dealing with intense uncertainty and high stress, I offer the following tips for how to turn this pandemic into a productive and positive experience while concurrently doing our part to maintain social distancing in support the nation’s battle against COVID-19.

Turn Uncertainty Into Certainty. This pandemic is plaguing society with heavy uncertainty, yet there is still so much we can control. Redirect your energy away from uncertainty and focus on those aspects of life that are certain.

Community. What are you doing to help your community? What talents or resources can you share for the betterment of others within your area? Do your elderly neighbors need assistance in a manner that you can support them within local restriction guidelines? If you are allowed to shop in your local community, remember that many small businesses are struggling during this crisis so wisely consider where you spend your hard-earned money.

Immunity. Improve your immune system through diet and exercise. Eat well and enjoy Vitamin C – this starts at home. If you do get sick, you will conquer it faster and more successfully if your immunity is strong.

Time. We traditionally never have enough time in our lives. If you are a parent of a school-aged child, you likely have far less time now if schools are closed. If you are not a parent of a school-aged child, you may have a lot more availability with so many activities and events cancelled. So, what are you going to do with this opportunity? Be decisive with time and make a productive plan.

A girl is parallel to the ground while riding a swing at a playground.

Get Outside. Go camping with family, go for a walk/run/bike, and get outdoors. Enjoy spring!

Taxes. We have no excuse for not having time to get taxes done now. Knock them out.

"To Do" List. Closets and "to do" projects: now is the time. Tackle them.

Leverage Technology. Use Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, phone calls and letters to stay connected. We already have the tools and the means. Don't fret on how to pursue education or communicate: Keep living and learning. CAUTION: Don't stare at your devices all day.

A girl looks at an electronic screen device.

Unplug. Communicate with family and friends. This is an invaluable time to do so.

Opportunity. Focus on how to turn your COVID-19 prevention from a crisis into an unanticipated opportunity for growth, support, health, community and family.

Discounts and Offerings. Many local and national companies are offering exceptional deals and special accommodations to maintain their customer base. Check them out.

Invest. What financial investments can you make now to help later? Stocks are at record lows; consider buying.

Don't Hoard. So, where is all of the toilet paper for purchase across many stores nationwide, and why do people think they need it for COVID-19? This is a prime example of panic-induced purchases, and we shouldn’t selfishly hoard products that create a lack of availability for others.

Don't Mentally Suffocate; Stay Positive. Control your reactions to restrictive measures required to prevent and battle this pandemic. Positive, productive mental health is a huge component needed to fight this illness and will directly improve community response.

A girl strikes a yoga pose in front of a brick wall.

Create. Challenge yourself and your family to be more creative with resources and time. Expand your boundaries within your home. Paint a room, use a new recipe and rediscover your ingenuity.

Focus. Turn your focus from what you can't do to what you CAN do.

Win. We cannot fall victim to feeling sorry for ourselves or become hindered during this difficult time. Don't let this virus win – mentally or physically!

We will come together as a nation if we all do our part to prevent and fight the spread of COVID-19. Turning the challenges of this pandemic into opportunities to positively exploit growth individually, within our families, and to protect our communities will bind us together. As we tackle this new (temporary) normal, we can be more productive, stronger and happier if we focus on what we CAN do versus what we cannot!

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Adviser RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Using IRA instead of Claiming SS; Disability Appeal

Dear Rusty: I am currently unemployed and drawing funds from my IRA. I am 62 years old. My financial adviser instructed me to not take Social Security because once I do that the percentage of increase would stop. He said to wait until the benefits increased to the point where I could then take Social Security and leave my IRA alone. Does that seem right? Also, I have applied for SS Disability benefits and have been rejected, but I am currently appealing that decision. Is my next step a lawyer? If so do you have any recommendations? Signed: Befuddled

Dear Befuddled: If you take your Social Security (SS) benefits at age 62, your payment will be cut by about 27.5% from what it would be at your full retirement age of 66 ½. If you wait, your SS payment when you claim it will have grown for each month you delay. You only get 100% of the SS benefit you have earned from a lifetime of working when you reach your full retirement age (FRA). The rate of benefit growth before you reach your FRA is a bit more than 6% for each year you wait, so I expect that your financial advisor compared that guaranteed growth to the interest you are receiving on your IRA and concluded that waiting to claim a higher SS benefit for the rest of your life is a better deal. Provided you are in good health, that seems like a prudent suggestion. And just so you are aware, if you delay claiming SS beyond your FRA, you’ll earn an additional 8% for each year you further delay, up to age 70 when your SS benefit would be about 75% more than it will be if you take it now.

Regarding your disability appeal, I cannot recommend a specific attorney, but I suggest you seek one who specializes in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims. SSDI attorneys must adhere to Federal law and they are limited in what they can charge you. Usually that limit is 25% of whatever back SSDI benefits they can secure for you (paid from those back benefits) to a maximum of $6000. There should be no charge for an initial consultation, and you shouldn’t be required to pay anything unless they win your case for you. The easiest way to find someone to assist you is to do a search for “SSDI attorneys near me” and then do some initial research on your search results before selecting. You’ll be able to judge the strength of your SSDI appeal by whether the SSDI attorney accepts your case – they’ll only accept your case if they believe they can win and be compensated for their efforts. Only you can judge if engaging an attorney is a wise idea at this point. You still have multiple SSDI appeal levels available to you, and an SSDI attorney can be engaged at any point you choose.

Ask Rusty – Retiring from work; When should I claim Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I turned 63 August 12th, 2019. I will be retiring June 30th, 2020 from my current job. I will have made approximately $35,000 by then and am receiving severance pay of $19,000 on June 30th. Will the pay I receive through June 30th affect what I can draw from Social Security? Also, how much of a difference would it be if I wait until August 12th, 2020 to officially start drawing Social Security? Is there any other information I should be aware of before I start drawing Social Security? Signed: Anxious to Retire

Dear Anxious: First, let me assure you that the money you earned this year before your benefits start aren’t counted as part of Social Security’s “earnings test” which could affect your payment after your benefits start. When you claim, your Social Security benefit amount will depend upon two things – your “primary insurance amount” (or “PIA”) which is determined from your highest earning 35 years (adjusted for inflation) over your lifetime, and the age at which you claim your SS benefit. By claiming at age 64 in August, your benefit will be cut by about 15.6% from what it would be if you wait to claim at your full retirement age (66 plus 4 months). Your earnings for 2020 won’t be applied to your SS record until after you file your 2020 taxes in 2021, so won’t affect your benefits (if appropriate) until after that. If your 2020 earnings are more than any of those in the 35 years used to initially compute your benefit, your benefit will increase at that time. The day of the month you were born isn’t significant, only the month. So, if you apply to start benefits in August of 2020, your benefit cut will be as stated above because you’re claiming exactly 2 years and 4 months early. But if you wait longer you’ll gain another 5/9ths of 1% (.556%) for each additional month you delay up until your full retirement age (FRA).

Although you plan to retire from work, be aware that if you decide to return you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit once you are collecting benefits before your FRA, and that will be the case until you reach your full retirement age. If you go back to work after you start your SS and earn more than $1,520 in any remaining month of 2020, you’ll not be entitled to benefits for that month. Starting in 2021, you’ll be subject to an annual earnings limit of at least $18,240 (that’s the 2020 limit – limits for future years aren’t yet known but will be higher). Exceeding the annual limit will cause SS to withhold half of anything you earn over the limit. The limit is more, and the penalty is less in the year you reach your FRA and goes away once you have reached your full retirement age.

Finally, to be sure you’re aware, you can actually defer claiming SS until age 70 if you wish. After you reach your full retirement age you’ll earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) of 8% per year of delay, which are added to your benefit when you finally claim it. That would give you a benefit which is 29% more at age 70 than it would be at your full retirement age.

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From the files of the FBI

Missouri public corruption ring disrupted

A county executive in Missouri who brazenly and illegally steered government funds to his political donors has been convicted and sentenced as a result of an FBI investigation.

St. Louis County Executive Steven Stenger, who served in the role from 2015 to 2018, repeatedly directed his staff to illegally rig county contracts to benefit his political donors.

In the fall of 2014, while still campaigning to be county executive, Stenger met St. Louis businessman John Rallo, who made a $5,000 donation to Stenger’s campaign. Rallo explicitly told Stenger he was “tired of giving money to politicians and not getting anything in return,” according to court documents. Stenger assured Rallo that he would steer county business to him in exchange for the donation—a violation of federal law.

“When Rallo donated with the clear understanding that he would receive county funds in return, that’s where it crossed the line into public corruption,” said Special Agent Andrew Ryder, one of the agents who worked the case out of the FBI’s St. Louis Field Office.

After Stenger was elected, Rallo continued to donate to him, believing he would receive a county insurance contract in return. Rallo also recruited other donors, who in total gave Stenger’s campaign about $50,000.

When staff thwarted Stenger’s initial efforts to steer county insurance contracts to Rallo, Stenger and Rallo focused on getting Rallo a contract for marketing services. Although Rallo had no experience in marketing, Rallo told Stenger he could get a famous television personality he knew to do promotional work. Stenger told his staff Rallo was a donor to his campaign, and he expected Rallo’s company to get the $100,000 contract.

When the county put the marketing job out for bid, it received proposals from companies with actual experience. The St. Louis Port Authority, which controlled the funds, issued the contract to Rallo at the county executive’s direction. Stenger’s staff even tacked an additional $30,000 onto Rallo’s contract—money that was illegally funneled to another of Stenger’s supporters.

“Citizens should be able to expect honesty from their public officials, and we hope this case will send a message to future officials who might consider engaging in these illegal activities.”

Andrew Ryder, special agent, FBI St. Louis

“It was a sham contract. No actual work was done for the county,” Ryder said.

Stenger later facilitated a land deal for Rallo and worked to get a $149,000 county contract for another donor—all in exchange for donations.

After these deals began to get local media attention, several cooperators came forward to the FBI to provide information on the illegal activity. After search warrants and interviews with cooperators exposed the crimes, Stenger and Rallo agreed to plead guilty to bribery and mail fraud charges. Stenger resigned from office.

“We had a lot of cooperation in this case from St. Louis County employees who were concerned about what was going on. The culture in the government was so toxic that people were willing to talk to us about it,” said Special Agent Lindsay Wegge, who also worked on the case.

In August 2019, Stenger was sentenced to 46 months in prison. In March 2020, Rallo was sentenced to 17 months in prison.

For the investigative team, the case sends a message that public corruption—one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities—will not be tolerated.

“Citizens should be able to expect honesty from their public officials, and we hope this case will send a message to future officials who might consider engaging in these illegal activities,” Ryder said.

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The Spanish Flu, Polio and COVID-19

By DAVID BRUCE SMITH

Co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize

The past is prologue to the future, and--here we are--102 years later, in the midst of another calamitous pandemic. The Spanish Flu reached the U.S. in March of 1918; now, just after another Ides of March, the country is plagued—literally—by another deadly influenza.

This one is COVID-19.

We’ve come far since the Spanish Flu surprised the world a century ago; little was known about how to defend against--or rub out--a disease. And so, it tore through the country for more than a year:

“In 1918, as scientists had not yet discovered flu viruses, there were no laboratory tests to detect, or characterize these viruses. There were no vaccines to help prevent flu infection, no antiviral drugs to treat flu illness, and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with flu infections,” according to the Centers for Disease Control [CDC].

Now, the world is far more intricate. Shortly after the early cases of COVID-19 were reported, cities, states, and the federal government, asked people to adopt non-pharmaceutical interventions to avoid a possible infection, while laboratories--the world over--ramped up research—to somehow--reveal a vaccine.

In 1918, it took America’s public health officials nine months to educate the populace about the dangers of unprotected coughing and sneezing; the public was told to bend its routines and avoid crowds. Now, prevention from four generations back is in vogue.

No doubt, the Spanish Flu whipped up a destructive pandemic. “The Runner Up” goes to poliomyelitis, a viral disease that caused paralysis, mostly in children. During the polio epidemic of 1916, 27,000 were reported, but it didn’t peak until 1952 at 57,000.

A year later, Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, announced that he had successfully developed a vaccine. After clinical trials to prove its effectiveness, a national inoculation campaign was begun in 1955; the number of cases consistently declined through 1979—the year the disease was declared: eradicated.

For a better understanding of the Spanish Flu, Polio, and COVID-19 pandemics, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends, Makila Lucier’s novel, A Death-Struck Year, and Jeffrey Kluger’s Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio.

Falsa alarma

It was a quiet Sunday morning when the phones began to ring at the police station in the town of Molina de Segura, Spain. “A lion is on the loose,” the callers reported, asking for assistance. The “policia” responded with great success. They apprehended the creature in a flash. But, it was not a lion. Alas, it was a rather large pooch whose owner had given it a haircut to mimic the mane and tail of a lion.

This is no joke

Do you know why flamingos lift up one leg when sleeping? Because if they lift both legs they’ll fall. It is one of many such witticisms about the pink bird. But the 21-foot tall pink flamingo unveiled recently at the Tampa International Airport is no joke. The pink flamingo is the iconic symbol of the state of Florida and the sculpture, which cost more than half a million dollars, is to become the centerpiece of the airport’s main terminal.

Wine a little; Laugh a lot

Most people have hot and cold running water in their kitchens but in the Italian hamlet of Settecani recently villagers woke one morning recently and it was red wine that came out of their taps, not only in their kitchens but in their bathrooms, as well. It seems that a high pressure leak in the storage tower of a local winery allowed the vino to seep into the town’s water pipes. Many of the residents managed to bottle the beverage before the leak was fixed. After all it was Lambrusco Grasparossa, a very tasty sparkling red wine, and it would have been a shame to let it dribble down the drain.

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Make college more affordable by saving on intangible costs

When it comes to comparing the costs of various colleges, remember that on the broadest level, costs can be tangible or intangible. To save money, follow these tips from KHEAA.

Tangible costs include tuition and fees and room and board.

Intangible costs include everything else: textbooks and supplies; computers; and personal items, such as shampoo, clothes, entertainment, laundry, and other expenses.

You can save money, sometimes a significant amount, by controlling the discretionary costs of your lifestyle. That doesn’t mean skimping on shampoo, soap, food and doing your laundry; but you can cut costs by finding sales or using coupons. Always be looking out for buy one, get one free deals.

You can also save quite a bit of money by cutting back on treats such as entertainment and dining out. Doing those things less often will make them even more special when you do treat yourself.

Remember: The less you spend on the intangibles, the less you’ll need to take out in student loans. That means that after you graduate you can afford more of the things you enjoy.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

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Deer are smarter than you think

Soon spring will arrive in many regions across the country. Most of the Lower 48 can expect above-average temperatures this spring, according to The Weather Channel.

If accurate, you’ll soon see an unhappy side-effect of the milder weather; more deer will be browsing your backyard when the weather warms.

Don’t discount deer’s intelligence, they’re smarter than you think; they actually possess a memory of negative experiences, learn from them and adapt their habits accordingly. Deer know they’re greatly exposed to danger due to hunters and predators in woodlands and have moved right to the edge of woodlands, in close proximity to suburban neighborhoods, where they’ve learned they’re safe. They’re also smart enough to know danger is not present or even threatening in suburbia and they will remember your bountiful backyard food sources, too. Once in your yard, you can count on deer damage to your trees, shrubs, gardens and landscapes that you’ve invested much time, money and effort in.

The damage to residential landscapes, crops and timber from deer foraging ranges around $1 billion annually. With a single deer capable of eating a ton and a half of vegetation per year, just one or two deer can cause significant damage.

But deer don’t have to devastate your yard this spring and summer, you can use deer’s own intelligence against them to trick them right out of your yard. Just as they learn where to find safe, reliable food sources, you can “train” deer to avoid any specific area.

Negative conditioning works well to deter deer from your yard, but it’s important to choose a strategy that outsmarts them continuously. Scare tactics such as dogs barking, canned noise and scarecrows have limited effects, as deer quickly learn there’s no real harm associated with these “threats.” Fences also have limitations; deer can easily jump over any fence lower than 8 feet and few neighborhoods will approve a fence of that height.

A product that combines scent and taste deterrents, will be most effective in keeping deer away from suburban landscapes because deer will remember the unpleasant smell and taste of your backyard’s food source and they’ll pass by your yard rather than eat something they’ve already been conditioned to learn will be distasteful.

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Are you backyard ready for spring?

Your family yard is extension for your home – providing a respite from stress, offering an outside entertainment area, expanding your living space and giving kids and pets and a safe place to play. Research shows children reap numerous health, social and personal benefits from spending time outside playing.

Here are TurfMutt’s top tips to help you get Backyard Ready this spring courtesy of the TurfMutt Foundation.

Plan for Fun: Depending on your lifestyle and climate, consider an outdoor room, turfgrass for a game of croquet and a place for kids to run and play, trees and shrubs for privacy and a game of hide and seek, fire pit, pergola, sandbox (for kids and dogs to dig!), outdoor furniture, or a decorative water feature.

Plant for Kids & Pets: There are many species of turfgrass to choose from to create pet and kids play space. Your local garden center or landscaper can help you identify what will work best for your climate zone and lifestyle. And don’t forget to avoid toxic plants to pets if they are a member of your family.

Remember Wildlife & Pollinators: Grass, trees, shrubs and flowering plants provide food and habitat for birds, small mammals, and pollinators, so plant to support them.

Take Stock of Equipment: Do you need to update, upgrade or replace your outdoor power equipment, like a lawn mower, hedger/trimmer or edger? Want to install a water solution like a smart irrigation system? Invest in outdoor power equipment now so you are ready to roll for spring!

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From the files of the FBI

Stanley Finch: The bureau’s little known first leader

The former Department of Justice building at 1435 K Street NW, Washington, D.C., housed the Bureau’s early Headquarters, including Stanley Finch’s office (Library of Congress photo, circa 1914-1918)

Everyone who has more than a passing knowledge of FBI history is familiar with J. Edgar Hoover, who led the Bureau for nearly five decades.

But while Hoover was officially the first director of the organization that became known as the FBI in 1935, after he had already served 11 years, the Bureau actually traces its history back to 1908. That’s when Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte created a small investigative force through a combination of practical necessity and innovative foresight.

In assembling his “force of special agents,” Bonaparte selected a dapper, dedicated veteran of the Department of Justice to be its first leader. His name was Stanley Wellington Finch.

It was a logical choice. Born in 1872 in Monticello, New York, Finch joined the Department of Justice as a clerk in 1893. Over the next 15 years, he rose to become chief examiner, the highest-ranking investigative official in the organization. In this position, he audited the books of the U.S. Courts and Prisons and oversaw the work of other examiners. During this time, like so many other future FBI personnel (including Hoover), he was also studying at night at National University (now George Washington University) Law School. He earned two law degrees by 1909.

Fittingly, Finch helped lead the way in creating the early Bureau. Around this time, Department of Justice investigators were hired literally on a case-by-case basis; most agents were U.S. Secret Service employees working within the Treasury Department. In December 1907, Bonaparte informed Congress that he needed his own detective force. Six months later, Congress instead banned the Secret Service from loaning its personnel.

That left the Department of Justice in a bind, but Bonaparte, Finch, and their colleagues were already developing a plan. A Finch memo dated April 29, 1908 said the Department should create “a small, permanent force of special agents” to meet its investigative needs. In late June and early July, the department quietly hired 34 investigators. On July 26, Bonaparte directed his attorneys to refer most investigative matters to Finch for handling by one of these agents. The Bureau was born.

Finch led the new group capably, keeping close tabs on its work. He was officially named “chief” of the newly titled Bureau of Investigation in March 1909.

But his real passion was curbing the trafficking of young women. As urban centers grew, many criminals during this time preyed on women leaving their rural homes in search of marriage, riches, and fame, instead trapping them in a life of prostitution. What is now known as sex trafficking ensnared an estimated 250,000 women and girls nationwide, most between the ages of 13 and 25.

Finch began speaking out against this and lobbied Congress to make it a federal crime. In 1910, a bill sponsored by Rep. Horace Mann was enacted, criminalizing prostitution and the transportation of women across state lines for prostitution. Money to enforce the law quickly followed, allowing the Bureau to add dozens of new personnel.

To enforce the law, the Department of Justice created a new organization led by a separate commissioner. In 1912, Finch was named its head, leaving the Bureau of Investigation and moving his office to Baltimore. Working with a core group of agents, Finch hired upstanding citizens, usually attorneys in major cities, to work with local law enforcement to map out brothels and identify patrons and victims.

The plan was ambitious, but despite some early successes, it ultimately failed. In 1914, Finch’s organization was consolidated into the Bureau of Investigation, and Finch left government for a series of jobs in journalism and humanitarian organizations. In 1922, he returned to the Department of Justice as a special assistant to the attorney general. He also served as inspector of prisons before retiring in 1940.

Finch was not just known for fighting crime. His hobby was inventing, especially toys for children. He formed the General Novelty Manufacturing Company and went on to earn more than 100 patents. One of his ideas was for an inline skate, a prescient proposal, especially coming from an early 20th century lawyer and investigator.

Finch died in November 1951 at his home in Washington, D.C., having spent nearly half of his eight decades serving the Department of Justice, mostly in a variety of leadership roles. His four years running the young Bureau gave it a strong start, including growing expertise in investigating fraud, civil rights violations, anti-trust matters, Indian Country crime, and sex trafficking—key areas of the FBI’s responsibility that continue to this day.

Cold case solved: Decades later, murderer brought to justice

James Ricks was sitting in his car late on a summer night in 1967 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, when he was startled by tapping on his car window. Two criminals were fleeing a store they had robbed when their getaway car broke down. They stole Ricks’ car — and his life — but decades would go by before his killer was brought to justice.

The pair of criminals shot Ricks, a 27-year-old African-American father of a young daughter, and locked him in the trunk of his own 1964 Oldsmobile. After driving around with a wounded Ricks in the trunk, they shot him again in the back of the head and left him in a wooded area in rural Arkansas.

James Leon Clay, 20, and his brother Leon Junior Clay, 25, were convicted of interstate vehicle theft for stealing Ricks’ car and for the robberies they’d committed earlier that night. But the men were never charged with Ricks’ murder, despite having stolen his car and leaving fingerprints inside the vehicle. Ricks’ body was found by hikers two months later on August 27, 1967.

Cold Case Heats Up

Nearly 50 years later and 1,100 miles away in Delaware, Special Agent Justin Downen—working out of the FBI Baltimore Division’s Dover Resident Agency—received a call from a man who said his brother-in-law’s prison cellmate had confessed to the murder. Though Downen was not familiar with the killing, the story piqued his interest. So Downen and Officer Derrick Calloway of the Laurel (Delaware) Police Department interviewed the cellmate of James Leon Clay, by then in his 60s, at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Delaware. (Calloway was familiar with Clay because he had investigated the bank robbery—unrelated to the Ricks murder—that landed Clay in prison.)

Clay’s cellmate, who was imprisoned on drug charges, gave the investigators a detailed account of the killing—the circumstances, type of gun used, Clay facing Ricks’ family in the courtroom when he was charged with stealing the car. The cellmate, who slept in the top bunk, took detailed notes on their discussions while Clay talked from the bottom bunk.

Clay told the cellmate he regretted killing Ricks, and that his brother, who had since died, had told him to do it.

“I think some of it was bragging a little bit,” Downen said of Clay’s willingness to confide in his cellmate. “He’s an old man in prison, and you wonder how much he wanted people to be a little bit scared of him. I don’t know how much of it was ego and wanting people to think he was a tough guy, or how much of it was just boredom.”

After additional investigation, it became clear that the story checked out.

“There’s just no way this story isn’t true,” Downen said after listening to the story and seeing how it corroborated with known details of Ricks’ murder. “Then it was just a matter of how we would prove it. The case is 50 years old, so the only way we get a conviction is to get the guy on tape admitting to it.”

“No one would’ve criticized us if we didn’t follow through on this case from 50 years ago with nothing more than a tip from someone in prison. We knew it was the right thing to do, and we would want someone do it for us. That’s what justice is about.”

Justin Downen, special agent, FBI Baltimore (Dover Resident Agency)

Waiting Game

There were a number of challenges with getting that proof, one being that the cellmate had since moved to a minimum security prison out of state.

So the investigators decided to simply wait for Clay’s release and try to get a second confession—this time on tape.

“It wasn’t like we were working it every day or even every week, we just had to have the willingness to wait him out and take the long approach,” Downen said.

Two years went by. Downen was assigned to other cases. Calloway transferred to another police department. Given their workloads, they could’ve easily moved on from the case or not acted on the tip, but investigators were committed to seeing it through to the end.

“No one was tracking this case. No one would’ve criticized us if we didn’t follow through on this case from 50 years ago with nothing more than a tip from someone in prison,” Downen said. “We knew it was the right thing to do, and we would want someone do it for us. That’s what justice is about.”

‘Chance’ Encounter

Downen called the Delaware prison system occasionally to check on Clay during those two years. In August 2014, he got the answer he’d been waiting for: Clay was released that morning. It was time to get their taped confession.

Given where Clay and his old cellmate had met and bonded, the probation office seemed the most likely place for their “chance” meeting, so Downen, Calloway, and officials from the Delaware Department of Probation and Parole came up with a plan to have the two former cellmates in the lobby at the same time as they were arriving for meetings with their probation officers.

Right on schedule, the cellmate arrived at the probation office when Clay did, wearing a hidden recording device. Clay recounted everything, both in the office and as the two men continued to chat in Clay’s truck.

Clay was quickly arrested and returned to Little Rock, where he was charged with Ricks’ murder. After the judge declared his taped confession admissible, Clay pleaded guilty to the murder charges and was sentenced to 20 years. He was 67 at the time of his arrest in 2015 and will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Justice Achieved

For Ricks’ family, the years without justice and closure for their loved one were difficult, especially knowing that the Clay brothers had been convicted of other crimes but would be released.

Ricks’ brother described James Ricks as a friendly and fun-loving young man.

“It was hard on me,” said Julius Ricks, who is now 74 and still lives in the North Little Rock area. “I would often think about him. Me and my brother and my sister, we’d always talk about it. We wondered what happened to the guys. It was rough; I won’t lie. I really missed him.”

He was surprised to receive a phone call from the FBI that his brother’s killer had confessed.

“That was a miracle, what they did,” Julius Ricks said. “It was just a miracle when they called and said that the guy had talked in jail.”

Putting a killer behind bars—even nearly a half-century after the crime—was also worth the patient effort for Downen and the other investigators involved.

“It’s really easy to put yourself in the shoes of that family and think about what it would be like to lose a loved one under those circumstances and not have justice,” Downen said.

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Designing a beautiful garden for you and the pollinators

By MELINDA MYERS

You don’t need a prairie or large lot to attract and support pollinators. A meadow or informal, formal and even container gardens can bring in bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to help pollinate plants. It’s just a matter of selecting the right plants, adjusting your maintenance practices, and skipping the pesticides.

Create your garden by converting a few square feet of lawn, garden bed or front yard into a pollinator-friendly garden. You may want to start by switching out part of an existing garden or container to more pollinator-friendly flowers.

Expand your planting options by converting a portion of your lawn into a pollinator garden. Outline the bed with a hose or rope. Remove the sod, add compost as needed to improve drainage and you’ll be ready to plant.

Simplify and dress up your efforts by using an easy-to-assemble raised garden kit like the Pollinator Garden Bed (gardeners.com). Its long-lasting cedar planks slide into aluminum corners to create a hexagonal bed. Get creative while increasing the garden’s size by adding additional sections to create a honeycomb or other interesting design.

Mark the outline of the raised bed you select. Cut the grass short and cover with newspaper. Set your raised bed in place and fill with a quality planting mix. Mulch four to six inches surrounding the raised bed for ease of mowing and to eliminate the need to hand trim.

Once your planting bed is prepared, you’re ready to plant. Include single daisy-like black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and asters that allow visiting insects to rest and warm when sipping on nectar or dining on pollen. Add a few tubular flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. They both like bright colors and can be seen visiting salvias, penstemon and nasturtiums. And don’t forget the bees that are attracted to bright white, yellow, blue and ultraviolet colors. You’ll find them visiting these and other blossoms like catmint, sweet alyssum and perennial geranium.

Include spring, summer and fall bloomers to keep pollinators visiting and well fed throughout the season. You’ll enjoy the seasonal changes along with the color and motions the visitors provide. Include early spring perennials and bulbs to attract visitors in early spring as they search for much-needed food. Add fall flowers to help prepare them for winter or migration to their winter homes. Those in milder climates will want to add some pollinator-friendly flowers to support and attract pollinators wintering in their backyard.

Plant flowers in groups for greater design impact and to reduce the energy pollinators expend when gathering nectar and pollen from one flower to the next. Provide plants with enough space to reach their mature size. Temporarily fill in voids with annuals like salvia, single zinnias and nicotiana that also attract pollinators.

Don’t let all the plant and design possibilities overwhelm you into inaction. Gardener’s Supply Company has plans for designing gardens to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds plus tips on keeping them safe in your garden.

Mulch the soil with leaves annually. It suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, improves the soil and provides homes for many beneficial insects.

Allow healthy plants and grasses to stand for winter. These provide homes for many beneficial insects and food for birds. Wait as long as possible to clean up your garden in spring. If needed, pile clippings out of the way to allow beneficial insects to escape these winter homes once temperatures warm. Then shred and compost the plant debris in summer.

As your gardens flourish, you will want to create more pollinator-friendly spaces. Your efforts will be rewarded with beautiful flowers, increased harvest and the added color and motion these visitors provide.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

Irish Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th. The first, in 1601, was in St. Augustine, FL—then a Spanish colony. The town’s vicar was of Irish descent; the occasion was religious, but ubiquitous secular observance of the day--replete with parades and other festivities-- didn’t come until more than 100 years later-- in Boston and New York City, led by Irish soldiers serving in the British army.

The Irish immigrated to the U.S. to escape famine and oppression. Eventually, St. Patrick’s Day—along with its customs-- were “absorbed” into America’s story, and it became an unofficial national holiday.

For more information about the role of Irish immigrants in America, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests Michael Coffey’s The Irish in America.

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry’s voice boomed, “Give me liberty or give me death!” He delivered a rousing speech at the Second Virginia Convention, less than a month before the start of the American Revolution. Henry’s words ramped up the militia’s might, and Virginia’s venom; it was the largest American colony in favor of defying British rule. Henry’s plea resonated with his audience, all the other colonists—and--succeeding generations.

Henry’s story is an inspiration for young learners, says the Grateful American Book Prize, which recommends Thomas S. Kidd’s Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots.

Poliomyelitis has plagued mankind for centuries. It is a disease that attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis. In 1952 more than 58,000 new cases of polio were reported in the United States; of those, 3,000 died. Medical scientists were desperately seeking a vaccine. Finally, on March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh, reported that he had devised a way to immunize the population against the scourge that favored children.

For more information the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Jeffrey Kluger’s Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio.

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They had a craving

To what lengths would college students go for a savory fast-food treat? Members of the track team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY had a craving recently for Chick-Fil-A but the chain’s nearest eatery was an hour and a half away. It turns out, however, that there is a Chick-Fil-A outlet inside the Albany International Airport located less than 20 minutes from campus. So, the track team ponied up enough cash to buy a $98 ticket, the cheapest ticket available, allowing teammate Vincent Putrino to clear security and purchase a $227.28 team lunch.

She used just her bare hands

You don’t want to mess with Kathleen Krausse. The German strongwoman recently broke the Guinness World Record for crushing and rolling up frying pans. She destroyed seven aluminum pans with her bare hands in just one minute.

Brett to the rescue

There you are having a beer at your favorite pub, when you look down and spot a gecko in your mug. It happened recently to a regular by the name of Brett at The Amble Inn in Corindi Beach, New South Wales. His first thought was that the bartender was having him on but it turned out that the little lizard was drowning. So Brett unflinchingly went to the rescue and began performing CPR on the poor little critter, alternating between applying chest compressions and giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until the gecko was able to breath on its own.

This is no ‘fish story’

Justin Hamlin got lucky on Valentine’s Day this year but his luck didn’t last long. He caught a record-breaking fish in Keystone Lake near Tulsa that Friday -- a paddlefish weighing in at about 157 pounds. But, alas, he could not claim the record. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation made him release it. It seems that the American paddlefish is classified as a vulnerable species and so the state’s fishing regulations require paddlefish caught on Mondays and Fridays must be released. Though he can’t claim the record, he does have the satisfaction of knowing his catch outweighed paddlefish that won the state’s record [132 pounds] and the world record [144 pounds].

A virtuoso performance

How do you pass the time when you are lying there on an operating table undergoing brain surgery. Dagmar Turner played her violin. It happened at King’s College Hospital in London during an operation to remove a brain tumor. Ms. Turner plays with the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Keyoumars Ashkan, who performed the surgery, explained that playing the instrument during the operation helped ensure that her musical abilities were not impaired. Dr. Ashkan said that her tumor was too close to the parts of the brain that control motor skills. "We perform around 400 resections (tumor removals) each year, which often involves rousing patients to carry out language tests, but this was the first time I've had a patient play an instrument.”

Pigeons Power

PUTIN ordered a fly-by over downtown Las Vegas recently, but it wasn’t the Russian president. Rather, it was a group calling itself Pigeons United To Interfere Now, which outfitted each of the pigeons in the flock with red Make America Great Again [MAGA] hats. PUTIN says it organized the demonstration in support of President Trump. One of the birds even wore a wig mimicking the president’s hairstyle.

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Create your own low maintenance relaxation garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Create an outdoor space to relax and recharge. Transform a corner of your landscape, deck or balcony into your own escape from everyday deadlines and stress.

Use decorative fencing, sheer curtains or plantings to define the space and create a bit of privacy. An outdoor carpet, steppers or groundcover can also help define the space and create added comfort.

Provide a bit of protection from the blazing hot sun with a shade tree, pergola, umbrella or retractable awning. Deciduous trees and vines add shade during hot summer months, but let the warm sunlight shine through during the cooler months of the year.

Reduce maintenance by growing plants suited to your climate and growing conditions. Use fewer varieties and more of each to provide unity while reducing maintenance. Include permanent plantings of low maintenance trees, shrubs and perennials. Further reduce maintenance by selecting All-America Selections (AAS) winning plants (all-americaselections.org) that have been trialed across the US and Canada and selected for their performance in home gardens and containers.

Select varieties known for being low maintenance. Interspecific Supra Pink and Jolt dianthus are both such plants. Their showy flowers brighten the garden all summer long despite the heat and with no deadheading.

Add some therapeutic fragrance to your space by growing a pot or patch of Lavender lady, an English lavender. Brush your hand over the foliage and flowers to enjoy its relaxing fragrance. This compact variety flowers just 90 days from sowing and is hardy in zones 5 to 9.

Perfume the air with blue Evening Scentsation petunia. Perfect for containers and hanging baskets, its fragrance peaks during the evening hours. Set a container of compact Deep Purple nicotiana near your chair or entryway for a fragrant greeting in the evening.

Get a boost of color and health benefits by inviting birds and butterflies into your sanctuary. Being in nature lowers your blood pressure and improves your mood and adding bird watching to the mix increases these benefits.

Plant Tip Top Rose nasturtium to bring in the hummingbirds and butterflies. This compact plant boasts showy rose-colored flowers that bloom all season long. Pluck a few of the edible leaves and flowers to enjoy in your salad.

Summer Jewel Salvias include red, white, lavender and pink flowered wind and rain tolerant beauties. You’ll enjoy the butterflies and hummingbirds visiting the flowers and goldfinches feasting on the seeds.

Extend your enjoyment into the evening with some night lighting. Drape a string of lights over a pergola, arbor or tree. Lead the way to your retreat with some solar powered path lighting. Within the space, light a few candles or lanterns for more intimate lighting.

Brighten the night garden with a few flowers that shine during the darker hours. Gypsy White baby’s breath is a non-invasive species and has better branching and heat tolerance, making it an attractive low maintenance option.

Mega Bloom Polka Dot vinca’s bright white flowers are a standout in the garden. Its pure white petals with bright pink center provide a nighttime glow as well as daytime interest.

Be sure to include a comfortable chair, hammock or glider to relax into the space. Add the soothing sound of water to help mask any unwanted noise.

Then grab a good book, your favorite beverage and escape to your own backyard retreat. You’ll leave the space refreshed and ready to embrace and enjoy whatever comes next.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Does Social Security Ever Make Mistakes on Benefits?

Dear Rusty: Can or does the Social Security Administration occasionally make mistakes in determining the benefits due? I’m now 72, but I retired early at age 61 and knew that my benefits would be reduced. I’ve always wondered if my monthly benefit calculation was incorrect but did not know how to address my concerns. If it is possible, could you direct me in how to handle with the SS Administration? Signed: Skeptical of My Benefit

Dear Skeptical: Can the Social Security Administration ever make mistakes? Of course they can, and do, but not really very often considering that they are dealing with tens of millions of beneficiaries, and especially when it comes to computing benefit amounts. Since nearly all benefit computations are done by computer, the usual source of any error is almost always from using incorrect input data. The actual benefit computation formula, while complex, is very standard and well proven; if an error occurs in a basic benefit computation, it is usually because a person’s lifetime earnings record contains an error. Having said that, let’s explore why you feel your benefit may not be correct.

When you say you “retired early at age 61” I assume that means you claimed your Social Security early at age 62 (the minimum age). Since your full retirement age is age 66, that means that by claiming at age 62 your benefit was cut by 25% from what it would have been at age 66. Also, any benefit estimate you had from Social Security prior to claiming made the assumption that you would continue to earn at your current level until you reached your full retirement age. If you “retired” and stopped working and earning at age 61, the benefit you are entitled to is less than that estimate you had from Social Security at age 61.

So, how can you address your concerns? I suggest the first thing you do is get a copy of your lifetime earnings record from Social Security. You can do this by calling them and requesting it or, if you have a “My Social Security” personal account, you can obtain it online. You should verify that all of your lifetime earnings are properly reflected in Social Security’s records (SS gets your earnings data from the IRS). Note that only your earnings up to the maximum payroll tax for each year count because that’s all you paid SS FICA tax on; if your actual earnings in any year were more than the annual payroll tax cap, only the amount up to that year’s tax cap is used. Be aware that if you find an error, you will need to prove it to Social Security by showing them a copy of your W-2 or your Federal Income tax return for the year(s) in question. If your lifetime earnings record is in order, then you are almost certainly getting the correct benefit. When computing your benefit, Social Security adjusts each year of your lifetime earnings to today’s dollar value, so inflation shouldn’t be a factor either. The highest earning 35 years over your lifetime (adjusted for inflation) are used to determine your benefit amount.

If you’re still uncomfortable that you may not be getting the correct benefit, you should call Social Security directly and ask them to review your benefits to make sure you are receiving the correct amount. Social Security has all of your lifetime earnings data immediately available and can quickly determine if your benefit amount is correct based upon the earnings history shown in your record.

Dear Rusty:. My husband is 70 and has been taking Social Security for several years. His benefit is $2,100 per month. I am 60 and will turn 61 in March. I have very little built up and my expected SS benefit at my full retirement age is $1163 and $829 if I choose to take it at age 62. We are comfortable with our current income, but the benefit at 62 is enticing. I want to know how taking it at 62 would affect my situation if my husband predeceases me. Would I then be able to exchange my benefits for his? Please advise. Signed: Planning Ahead.

Dear Planning: Taking your own SS benefit early (before your full retirement age) won’t affect the amount of your survivor benefit should your husband predecease you. The only thing that would affect your survivor benefit is the age at which you claim it. So yes, you could claim your own benefit first and then switch to your survivor benefit later without hurting your eventual survivor benefit. If you have reached your full retirement age (FRA) when your husband passes, your survivor benefit will be 100% of the amount your husband is receiving at his death, instead of your own smaller benefit. But if you take the survivor benefit before your FRA, it will be actuarially reduced according to the number of months prior to FRA it is claimed. To be clear, if your husband were to pass before you reached FRA, you have the option to wait until your FRA to claim the survivor benefit (so you can get 100% of his benefit). In other words, you could continue to collect your own benefit until your survivor benefit reached 100% at your FRA (a survivor benefit reaches maximum at FRA).

Be aware, though, that there is another consideration if you claim your own SS benefit before you reach your full retirement age. If you are still working and claim your benefit before your FRA, you’ll be subject to Social Security’s “earnings limit” which, if exceeded, will cause SS to take back future benefits equal to 50% of the amount you exceeded the limit by (the 2020 limit is $18,240, but it changes annually). If you have substantial earnings from working, that could mean you will go some number of months without benefits (depending upon your earnings level). In the year you reach your FRA (but prior to your FRA) the earnings limit goes up by 2.6 times and the penalty is less, and once you reach your FRA there is no longer an earnings limit. But, I want to make sure you’re aware that collecting early and exceeding the earnings limit will affect your benefits. If you go months without benefits because you exceeded the earnings limit, SS will give you time credit for those months when you reach your FRA, which will result in a small increase in your own SS benefit at that time.

But the bottom line is that collecting your own Social Security benefit early will not affect your eventual survivor benefit. Only the age at which you claim it, if earlier than your FRA, will affect the amount of your survivor benefit. And, by the way, your FRA as a widow is 4 months less than your normal FRA because SS takes 2 years off of your birth year to determine your “widow’s FRA.”

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Housecall

By DR. APPATHURAI BALAMURUGAN

Assistant professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Email your health questions to housecall@uams.edu.

Q. How can I tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

A. While viruses cause both the common cold and the flu, the symptoms may not always be similar. In general, colds develop gradually and worsen over time, while the flu hits suddenly and harder. Symptoms of the flu are worst in the first two to three days and then begin to subside over the course of one or two weeks. Colds can linger as long as 10 days.

A cold may include mild head and body aches, while the flu brings more severe, widespread pain.

A stuffy or runny nose always accompanies a cold, but only sometimes does with the flu. Coughs with the flu tend to be dry, while coughs from a cold tend to be associated with mucus. Sneezing or a sore throat can occur with both a cold or the flu.

Chills and sweats, headaches and fatigue that drains energy and appetite are typical of the flu.

The first line of defense against the flu is getting an annual flu vaccine each fall. The second line of defense is antiviral medications prescribed by a doctor, but treatment must begin within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Q. I recently injured my knee. What can I do to help it heal faster?

A. Some of the most common injuries include sprained ligaments, runner’s knee (a broad term used to describe pain stemming from several knee problems), an inflamed or irritated tendon, and a tearing of the rubbery knee cartilage that cushions the shinbone from the thigh bone.

Treatments include rest, pain relievers and physical therapy. A minor injury should improve after one or two days of rest, but severe injuries will take longer and some will not heal on their own. Be sure to visit your doctor if it does not improve after a couple of days or you have ongoing knee-related issues.

While resting the knee, apply ice to decrease inflammation and elevate the leg to prevent swelling. Also, wrap the joint to offer support and reduce fluid buildup and if needed, use a cane for additional support.

Once rested, increase activity with low-impact exercises such as water workouts to prevent reinjuring it. Those carrying extra pounds should lose weight to reduce additional strain on the knee and don’t forget about your feet, as wearing cushioned insoles in your shoes can reduce stress on knees.

Q. I think my wife has depression. How can I know for sure and what can I do to help her?

A. You should encourage her to talk to her doctor or a mental health professional. Be sure to share your support and hope that she will feel better with treatment and time. Remember that depression can also affect her physically, with problems including stomach issues, headaches, cramps and pain. Depression also leads to higher risk of heart disease.

Common symptoms may include eating or sleeping more or less, feeling tired, having trouble concentrating or making decisions and thinking about suicide. While men are more likely to be irritable and lose interest in hobbies or work and turn to alcohol or other drugs when depressed, women are more prone to feel worthless, guilty or sad. While tough situations can trigger depression, that is not always true. Treatment may include exercise for mild depression, lifestyle changes, counseling or medication. Once treatment is sought, it will take a while for symptoms to improve, possibly with appetite and sleep being the first to get better.

Those with depression should exercise even when they don’t feel like it, as exercise improves mild depression.

Q. Will intermittent fasting really help me to lose weight?

A. Intermittent fasting, an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and abstaining — along with healthy food and exercise — may help in weight loss, easing inflammation and lowering cholesterol levels, according to a recent review in the New England Journal of Medicine. However, check with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting to make sure it is safe for you.

There are several types of intermittent fasting, ranging from the twice a week method that caps calories at 500 for two days each week, alternate days of fasting capping calories at 500 on fasting days, time-restricted eating with set fasting and eating windows, and fasting completely for 24 hours one or two days each week.

Intermittent fasting can be addicting, as going without food can give some people a feeling of being “high” similar to alcohol or cigarettes.

Intermittent fasting is designed for short-term use only and taking part in one too often can reset and slow your metabolism, making it more difficult to keep off lost weight and lose more later. Also, any weight lost from an intermittent fast will be from loss of water and muscle, not fat.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On March 3, 1913, 5,000 suffragettes-- including the legendary journalist, Nellie Bly, and Helen Keller, took to the streets in Washington D.C. to fight for the right to vote. An unruly crowd of onlookers tried to shout them down; it looked as though a riot was about to break out, but a contingent of soldiers under the orders of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, restored order. The commotion occurred the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson who, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, was not in favor of giving women the right to vote, noting that “it gave him a chilled, scandalized feeling.”

It took six more years to happen-- for Congress to pass the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Winifred Conkling’s Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the battle for the Ballot.

The U.S. Congress-- or legislature-- is one of the three branches of government, where the federal laws that govern the nation are made. It is comprised of the Senate, and the House of Representatives; they convened–for the first time–under a newly adopted U.S. Constitution, in New York City, on March 4, 1789.

Eight years earlier, on March 1, 1781 --and two years prior to the end of the American Revolution--the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution, established Congress as the sole governing body of the soon-to-be independent American nation.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Lee H. Hamilton’s How Congress Works and Why You Should Care.

Medicine has progressed considerably since the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918. When it reached America, about a third of the population caught the flu, and more

than 600,000 died from it; globally, it is estimated that 20 million to 50 million people perished from the illness.

These days, a less deadly variety of flu is commonplace in the fall and winter, but the surety of death is usually held in check by modern medicine.

The Spanish Flu was cause for alarm, but it also incited a rush to discover a prevention. A good read about the outbreak is Makila Lucier’s novel, A Death-Struck Year.

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Tips to Find the Perfect Rental Home

By DAVID HOWARD

Roughly 37 percent of American households rent, rather than own, their homes. That's the highest share in more than 50 years.

Increasingly, people are renting simply because it fits their lifestyles better -- not because they can't afford to buy. Americans are especially flocking to single-family rentals, rather than apartments or duplexes. In fact, the single-family rental industry is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. housing market, accounting for more than one in three rentals. The industry has grown 30 percent since 2007, double the rate for multifamily rentals.

Could a single-family rental be right for you? Here are five questions to ask yourself:

1. Would you like a more responsive landlord?

It's often difficult for apartment companies to oversee the hundreds or even thousands of units they manage. So it's easy for an individual tenant to get lost in the crowd.

Landlords who rent out single-family homes are far more responsive. Most own fewer than ten units -- so they're quick to fix broken appliances or resolve other issues. And many of the larger single-family rental companies employ experienced property managers who work in teams -- so someone is on-call 24/7.

These single-family landlords are also leveraging technology to make tenants' lives easier. Renters can submit maintenance requests via smartphones, pay online, and even set up "Smart Home" technology.

2. Would you like to live closer to your grandchildren?

Most grandparents dream of spoiling their grandchildren after school.

Single-family rentals make it easy for Baby Boomers to downsize and move closer to family. Empty-nesters can rent quiet homes in nice neighborhoods, without pouring their retirement savings into a down payment.

3. Are you drowning in student debt?

U.S. student loan debt reached an all-time last year. Americans with student loans owe an average of $35,000 each -- and many middle-class families find themselves paying off these loans well into their 30s and 40s. Renting lets these folks live in suburbia without the financial commitment of home-ownership.

Consider that the median down payment for a home in 2018 was about $15,500 -- while median monthly single-family rent clocks in around $1,600. And single-family rentals cost less per square foot than apartments.

As long as they pay their rent on time, youngsters who rent can build credit for future purchases.

Another perk? Unlike apartments, single-family homes offer 3 or more bedrooms -- which means renters have the flexibility to start a family.

4. Are you dreaming about a new job?

Considering a career change? Thanks to a hot job market, millennials are job-hopping more than other generations. About one in five millennials changed jobs in 2016 alone -- three times as much as non-millennials. And 60 percent say they're open to a switch.

Single-family rentals give these workers the ability to easily relocate for new careers.

5. Do you crave a home that truly feels like "home?"

Many renters find themselves in swanky apartment buildings that more closely resemble hotels than homes.

Single-family rentals offer young families the space and privacy of a home -- perhaps a yard for their dogs and kids -- without the financial commitment of home-ownership. Plus, single-family rentals are more likely to be in good school districts than traditional apartments.

Millions of Americans are choosing to rent, rather than own, single-family homes -- for good reason. Single-family rentals are affordable, spacious, and provide all the advantages of suburban living without the downsides of home-ownership.

David Howard is the executive director of the National Rental Home Council.

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Compare award letters to find the best college deal

Most high school seniors headed for college will soon be receiving financial aid award letters. Seniors and their parents should read those letters carefully, according to KHEAA.

The letter will usually show the total cost of attendance for one year, including tuition, fees, room, meals, books, supplies, transportation and personal expenses.

It may also show the expected family contribution (EFC), which is how much the student’s family is expected to pay toward those costs. The EFC is subtracted from the total cost of attendance to get a student’s financial need. The letter will then list various sources of financial aid offered to cover that need. Students can accept or reject any or all of those proposed sources.

Students can also appeal the awards if their family’s financial circumstances have changed.

One thing to carefully consider is how much of the financial support being offered consists of federal student loans, which must be repaid. If the package includes federal loans and isn’t enough to pay all expenses, students may have to turn to a private loan. Comparison shopping is a must in that case.

But students shouldn’t choose a school based simply on cost. A more expensive college may be a better choice for the student than a less expensive one that isn’t a good fit.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

KHEAA also helps colleges manage their student loan default rates and verify information submitted on the FAFSA. For more information about those services, visit www.kheaa.com.

In addition, KHEAA disburses private Advantage Education Loans for its sister agency, KHESLC. For more information about Advantage Education Loans, visit www.advantageeducationloan.com.

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Early spring preparation for a beautiful summer garden

By MELINDA MYERS

As winter fades into spring, gardeners can’t wait to get busy in the garden. Pruning, cutting back perennials and ornamental grasses and preparing the garden for spring planting are just a few of the tasks. Keep yourself and the pollinators overwintering in your garden safe as you start the cleanup process.

Always prune with a purpose. Start by removing any damaged and diseased stems from shrubs and roses. Watch for insects like swallowtail butterflies that overwinter in protective cocoons and the egg masses of some like the hairstreak butterflies. Prevent problems by destroying overwintering non-native pests like the gypsy moth. Search the internet and insect books for help identifying the good and bad guys you may find in your landscape.

Additional pruning may be needed to manage the size and shape or encourage better flowering and bark color. Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs like lilacs and forsythia if you want maximum flowering. Prune these shrubs right after flowering before they set their floral buds for next spring.

Keep yourself safe by wearing safety glasses and gloves. It’s too easy to focus on the task and end up with a stick in the eye. Heavy duty gloves protect and support your hands, allowing you to garden longer with less stress, scratches and bruises. Consider synthetic leather gauntlet style gloves like Foxgloves extra protection gloves (foxglovesinc.com) that protect hands and forearms from harm yet are supple enough to allow you to work efficiently. The breathable fabric is durable, machine washable and puncture resistant.

Lightly rake any debris off the lawn and add it to the compost pile. Check for damage and lightly tamp any disturbed areas back in place. Reseed bare spots so grass, not weeds, fill in these spots.

Brush leaves off the crowns of perennials but leave the rest in place for insects that spend winter or summer in the leaf litter. Plus, the leaves help preserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as they break down.

Pull mulch away from tree trunks and shrub crowns that may have shifted over winter. Keeping mulch off the stems reduces the risk of future problems that can lead to decline and even death of the plants.

Leave perennials and grasses stand as long as possible since many are homes for beneficial insects. Bundle grasses for easy cutting and removal. Once cut, loosely stack or stand perennial stems and grasses at the edge of the garden or natural spaces. This allows any insects still present to safely emerge when it’s time to move to their summer homes. Plus, birds will appreciate the easy access to nesting material.

Enjoy the changing of the seasons and the beauty of nature hidden among the plants in your garden. Protect yourself when preparing the garden for spring so you won’t lose time recovering from injuries. And keeping the pollinators and other beneficial insects safe will improve your garden’s health and productivity throughout the growing seasons.

Love was in the air

The introduction for the old time radio show, Grand Central Station, noted that the New York City railway terminal was the “Crossroads of a million private lives! Gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily.” But, the senior advocacy organization reports that there were only two people sharing that stage for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner this year, Macy and Spencer Wise. The couple, married for just two years, won a promotional contest and were regaled with a repast in the middle of the terminal in the middle of the night [it gets too crowded during the day]. The meal was prepared and served by one of the City’s finest restaurants. And, to ensure an air of romance, a pianist served up a medley of classically amorous melodies.

The value of love

Online dating didn’t work out for Jeff Gebhart. The Prairie Village, KS bachelor was pushing 50 years of age when he came up with a new way to find the love of his life. He built a website offering a $25,000 reward for some lucky matchmaker who could set him up with a date with a suitable companion -- a woman with whom he could build a relationship. It is the 21st Century, after all, so why not use technology to find the girl of his dreams.

Valentine’s Day, the German way

Hessian farmer Steffen Schwarz wanted to surprise his fiancé with a marriage proposal and while he was at it, he managed to surprise anyone who uses the Internet. Schwarz planted corn rows in his field in the heart of Germany in a way that when the corn grew it spelled out the words, “willst du mich heiraten” -- will you marry me. He then gave his girlfriend a drone equipped with a camera who flew it over the field. She was, indeed, surprised when she spotted the proposal. So was Schwarz’s aunt, who lives halfway around the world in Canada. She happened to be browsing the Google Earth website and accidentally came across her nephew’s proposal and wasted no time sending him a screenshot.

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5 health benefits of our green spaces

As you get outside this spring, have you ever considered how our green spaces contribute to our health? Studies show that green space and landscaping contribute to health, happiness, and intellect.

It’s natural to long for spring when it’s cold outside. But did you know, there’s a good reason why you may pine for green? Living landscapes are an important part of the outdoor lifestyle that Americans enjoy, but the benefits go beyond the barbeque and backyard baseball. Green spaces are necessary for your health.

“The advantages of grass and landscaping surpass the usual physical benefits that result from outdoor activity,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI). “Numerous studies have found that people who spend more time outside or are exposed to living landscapes are happier, healthier and smarter. As you get ready to get outside this spring with your lawn mower and other outdoor power equipment, it’s great to know being outside is good for you.”

Researchers have studied the impact of nature on human well-being for years, but recent studies have found a more direct correlation between human health, particularly related to stress, and the importance of people’s access to nature and managed landscapes.

Getting dirty is actually good for you. Soil is the new Prozac, according to Dr. Christopher Lowry, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. Mycobacterium vaccae in soil mirrors the effect on neurons that Prozac provides. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening, doing yard work, and have direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier.

Children who are raised on farms in a “dirtier” environment than an urban setting not only have a stronger immune system but are also better able to manage social stress, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Living near living landscapes can improve your mental health. Researchers in England found that people moving to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least three years after they moved. The study also showed that people relocating to a more developed area suffered a drop in mental health.

Greening of vacant urban areas in Philadelphia reduced feelings of depression by 41.5% and reduced poor mental health by 62.8% for those living near the vacant lots, according to a study by a research team.

Green spaces can make you healthier too. People who live within a half mile of green space (such parks, public gardens, and greenways) were found to have a lower incidence of fifteen diseases by Dutch researchers — including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines.

A 2015 study found that people living on streets with more trees had a boost in heart and metabolic health. Studies show that tasks conducted under the calming influence of nature are performed better and with greater accuracy, yielding a higher quality result. Spending time in gardens, for instance, can improve memory performance and attention span by 20%.

Living landscapes make you smarter. Children gain attention and working memory benefits when they are exposed to greenery, says a study led by Payam Dadvand of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, In addition, exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in children.

This applies to adults as well. Research has also shown that being around plants helps you concentrate better at home and at work. Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture believes that spending time in gardens can improve attention span and memory performance by as much as 20 percent.

A National Institute of Health study found that adults demonstrate significant cognitive gains after going on a nature walk. In addition, a Stanford University study found that walking in nature, rather than a concrete-oriented, urban environment, resulted in decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and produced cognitive benefits, such as increased working memory performance.

Living landscapes help you heal faster. Multiple studies have discovered that plants in hospital recovery rooms or views of aesthetically-pleasing gardens help patients heal up to one day faster than those who are in more sterile or austere environments.

Physicians are now prescribing time outdoors for some patients, according to recent reports. Park Rx America is a non-profit with a mission to encourage physicians to prescribe doses of nature.

All of these benefits reinforce the importance of maintaining our yards, parks and other community green spaces. Trees, shrubs, grass, and flowering plants are integral to human health. Not only do they provide a place for kids and pets to play, they directly contribute to our mental and physical well-being.

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9 garden planning tips for the greatest return

By MELINDA MYERS

We’ve all done it…gotten overzealous in spring and overplanted or planted the wrong varieties for our tastes and needs. Make this the year you plan your garden for the best return on your investment.

First, prepare a list before placing your catalog order or making that first trip to the garden center. Without a bit of preplanning our carts end up filled with more seeds and plants than space available or varieties that are not suited to our growing conditions or our family’s taste.

Make sure each plant you select provides the greatest return on investment by including winning varieties with a visit to the All-America Selections (AAS) website (all-americaselections.org). This non-profit trialing organization has test sites across the US and Canada that trial and select winning varieties for their taste and garden performance.

Review your favorite recipes and consider growing the ingredients you need on a regular basis. Salad lovers may want to plant a container of greens that can be harvested daily. Sandy Lettuce and colorful mild flavored Red Kingdom Mizuna are slow to bolt, extending the harvest into warmer months. Add some super nutritious Prizm kale for your morning smoothies and salads. Prizm’s stemless stalks releaf quickly after harvest so you’ll have a continuous supply.

Fill a corner of the garden or container with a small-fruited tomato or two for salads, snacking and other daily treats. Red Celano grape tomato (a determinate for containers) and the light-yellow sweet Firefly tomato (an indeterminate for vertical or staked gardens) are attractive and very productive, ensuring more than enough for your whole family to enjoy.

Add a bit of crunch and color by growing Roxanne radishes. And don’t forget the cucumbers. Green Light cucumbers are seedless, sweet and prolific – great for salads or a refreshing summer drink. Keep a constant supply of these ingredients by making small plantings throughout the season.

Grow several containers of tasty and attractive Delizz strawberries. These everbearing plants will provide a pretty pot of fresh strawberries throughout the summer for your morning oatmeal or afternoon glass of wine.

Plant unusual vegetables you can’t purchase at the grocery store. Roulette pepper has the look and citrusy flavor of a habanero without the heat. And you won’t find anything like Yellow Apple tomato at the store. It has small unique apple-shaped fruit with a citrusy sweet flavor that’s perfect for snacks or stuffing with cheese.

Dedicate some space for those vegetables that are more expensive to buy than grow. Green peppers are a bargain in the summer, but the yellow, orange and red ones can cost two to three times more. Reduce the wait time and increase your enjoyment with early maturing colorful peppers like Orange Blaze or the yellow sweet peppers like Cornito Giallo, Escamillo or Just Sweet.

If you plan to freeze, dry or can your harvest, make sure to reserve some time during harvest season for picking and preserving. Select disease resistant productive varieties like Early Resilience Roma Tomato so you’ll have plenty of produce to preserve.

This is your year to produce a garden filled with just enough family favorites and unusual varieties that are less expensive to grow than buy.

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Know Your Military

Medal of Honor: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Owen Hammerberg

By KATIE LANGE, DOD NEWS

Most Medal of Honor recipients earned the award during combat, but that's not the case for everyone. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Owen Francis Patrick Hammerberg, a boatswain's mate, is one of the few recipients who earned it for his heroic efforts outside of normal duty.

Hammerberg was born May 31, 1920, and grew up on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His family moved around and landed in Flint during Hammerberg's teen years. He dropped out of high school, hitchhiked west and worked on a ranch before joining the Navy on July 16, 1941, when he was 21.

After basic training, Hammerberg was assigned to the USS Idaho and USS Advent. While on the Advent, Hammerberg became known for an incident in which he dove into the water to free a cable that had been tangled in a mine. It could have caused an explosion, but Hammerberg's actions prevented that.

After his heroics in the water, Hammerberg went to Navy dive school. He completed the training and was assigned to Pacific Fleet Salvage Force, Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 1 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The West Loch Disaster

Hammerberg earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on Feb. 17, 1945, but before we get to that, it's important to mention what led to it — an incident known as the West Loch Disaster.

Pearl Harbor's West Loch was an area that had been spared from damage during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attacks. In May 1944, several ships were moored there, all of which were loaded with ammunition and fuel for an upcoming mission in the Pacific. On May 21, one of those ships mysteriously blew up, causing a chain-reaction explosion that set several other ships on fire. The Navy was forced to sink several of them so they didn’t put more nearby ships in danger.

The following February, the Navy called in five dive teams to raise the hulks and clear the channel. Hammerberg and his team were able to raise their assigned ship without any issues, but another team didn't have that luck. As the two divers tunneled under a ship that had sunk in 40 feet of water and 20 feet of mud, they got trapped in steel and cables. Attempts by other divers to reach them made the waters even muddier, so even a special diving team wouldn’t risk the mission.

A Dangerous Rescue

A call for volunteer divers went out, and Hammerberg responded. He pushed his way into the black, muddy waters to find the stranded men, despite serious concerns about cave-ins and jagged pieces of debris tearing his lifeline.

Working in complete darkness, it took Hammerberg five hours to find and free George Fuller, the first of the trapped men. "Fuller, who had been pinned by a steel plate, shook Hammerberg's hand underwater before heading to the surface for safety," congressional records state.

Hammerberg was tired from the effort, but he continued to push his way through the buried wreckage to find the second diver, Earl Brown, whom he located about 18 hours after the rescue mission began. At the same time, though, a cave-in occurred, causing a heavy piece of steel to pin Hammerberg on top of Brown. Hammerberg was crushed to death, but Brown survived because he was protected by Hammerberg's body.

Two days later, a Filipino father-and-son dive team rescued Brown from the murky depths and recovered Hammerberg's body.

Posthumous Honors

For giving his life to save another, Hammerberg received the Medal of Honor. His parents accepted it on his behalf the same month he died. The 23-year-old was buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan.

The young diver has not been forgotten. In 1954, the Navy named a destroyer escort, the USS Hammerberg, in his honor. It was christened by his mother. Around the same time, Hammerberg Road was dedicated in Flint, Michigan, and a Detroit park was named for him.

In 2005, a large monument was dedicated for Hammerberg near Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5966 in Menominee, Michigan. The Medal of Honor recipient's medals and uniform are also on display at the Michigan Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

The West Loch Disaster killed 163 people and injured more than 350. Last year marked the 75th anniversary.

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FORGET ME NOT: 'Gun Five'

By MATT RUSSELL

If you’re ever lucky enough to meet Howard James McCarville, plan on being charmed. Howard, who turns 90 next month, still sports a boyish, playful grin, and his quick wit is sure to bring a smile. And don’t be surprised if he whips out a harmonica from his bib overalls and starts playing a rousing stanza or two of the Marine Corps Hymn.

As a boy growing up in the hills of South Dakota and Missouri, Howard loved to hunt and always wanted a gun he could call his own. Having nine siblings, six of them brothers, plus being born during the Great Depression, his dream of having a gun would have to wait.

Finally, in May of 1953, Howard got his wish. She was a thing of beauty and packed a powerful punch. Weighing in at just over two and a half tons, Howard’s gun could fire a 33 pound, high-explosive round over seven miles with pinpoint accuracy. It was probably a bit large for hunting rabbits, but was the perfect size for the thousands of Marines and soldiers Howard and his gun were protecting.

“Gun Five,” as she was known, was a 105mm howitzer. Both Howard and his gun belonged to Easy Battery, 11th Marines, 2nd Battalion. When Howard arrived in Korea, his Battalion was covering a 35 mile line anchoring the western front. From there, Marines could block the enemy's objective of capturing to Seoul, the South Korean capital. Both sides were dug in hard with daily skirmishes gaining little ground.

One day the enemy launched a massive offensive across the entire front line. They attacked outposts like "Reno," "Vegas" and "Carson" which were called the Nevada Cities Campaign. During the intense fighting, Gun Five was so busy that Howard had to repeatedly pour five-gallon buckets of water down the barrel to keep intense heat from exploding the shells as they were being loaded.

With the help of Howard and Gun Five, the Marines stood their ground. Guns like Howard’s saved a lot of American lives and played a critical role in the Korean War. As one Marine Colonel put it, “Has field artillery ever had a grander hour?" After 15 months of combat, Howard said goodbye to Gun Five and returned home.

Howard and his wife, Wanda, moved to Harrison about 45 years ago where they raised five children, 15 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. After 57 years of marriage, Howard lost Wanda a few years back.

Howard wasn’t the first of his siblings to serve in the Marines. His eldest sister, Margaret, joined the Marine Corps during World War II and served working on weather balloons. She later became a nun and is today over a hundred years old and still goes to church every day. His son Michael and granddaughter Miranda were also Marines, and in 2017, they joined Howard on a “Honor Flight” to Washington D.C. where they visited the Korean War and Marine Corps Memorials.

The booming echoes of Gun Five are now a distant and proud memory of this United States Marine, but Howard still serves his country as an active member of the Boone County Disabled American Veterans (DAV) helping others who served. If you ever notice the DAV in front of Walmart raising money to help veterans, chances are Howard will be there wearing his boyish, playful grin, harmonica at the ready.

Matt Russell is a USMC Vietnam combat veteran and Commander of the Boone County DAV. The opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent the position of this newspaper, the Disabled American Veterans or any other organization. You can contact Matt at russell1634@gmail.com.

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Boozman recognizes military service of 100-year-old WWII POW

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service and sacrifice of WWII veteran Eustace O. Roberts Jr. “June,” in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.

Roberts was born in Magazine, Arkansas in 1919. As a seventh grader, he quit school so he could work to help his parents support the family. His well-established work ethic undoubtedly helped him endure more than three years as a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese.

During the winter of 1941, when he was taking a pause from his job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he followed a girl to Fort Smith. Instead of gaining a new love interest, he got a new job. “I saw a picture of Uncle Sam,” Roberts said. “I went to the old Goldman Hotel and said can I join the Army?”

He joined the Army on May 8, 1941 in Little Rock and headed to San Francisco days later where he boarded a ship to begin the long journey to his assignment in the 60th Coast Artillery on Corregidor, the largest island in Manila Bay. “I was seasick before I got out from under the Golden Gate Bridge,” Roberts said.

He was trained as an automotive mechanic. “Everything was mostly WWI stuff. Old petrol trucks and old equipment,” Roberts said.

The mission of the 60th was to defend the bay. Roberts and his fellow soldiers valiantly did so at all costs.

“We were playing poker in the parts room and a bomb hit in the back of our building,” Roberts said. He recalled his friend saying it was a test fire, but he knew it was much more severe. “It set off a lot of ammunition. We got all of our trucks out of there.” It earned his friend the nickname “Test Fire Nichols,” and for safeguarding the trucks, Roberts was awarded the Silver Star.

Roberts remembers the battering of Corregidor by the Japanese military following the fall of the Philippines. For nearly a month, Roberts and Allied soldiers were hammered by bombs and artillery. “You get out of your hole or tunnel and go out to relieve yourself and there’s shrapnel be whizzing around everywhere,” he said.

On May 6, the Commander of Allied forces in the Philippines surrendered Corregidor and Roberts and his fellow comrades were taken to a POW camp.

For more than three years, Roberts was known by his POW number, four digits that are still easy for the 100-year-old to remember in both English and Japanese. You had to know it or “they’d beat the hell out of you,” he said.

Roberts was one of 1,619 POWs loaded onto a ship to be transported to a camp in Japan in late 1944. “A lot of them were smothered to death within the first two hours because it was packed too full,” he said. “There were bodies two deep.”

At one point during his captivity he was too weak to work in the coal mines as he was expected to do, so he was reassigned to farm detail. He survived harsh conditions, performing tiring forced work and receiving little food. “I got to be good ole friends with the boys on butchering detail because they’d bring in a bunch of meat all cooked up and get them to give me a little cup,” Roberts said.

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese soldiers abandoned the POW camp. Roberts and fellow POWs, including others from Arkansas, found their way to safety.

“I always thought I was going to make it back home. I always had that in mind,” Roberts said.

In addition to the Silver Star, Roberts also earned the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and other military awards for his selfless sacrifice.

After returning home from the war, Roberts married Glenda Marie Jones. They had four children and were married for 70 years.

“June Roberts lived through unimaginable circumstances as a prisoner of war for more than three years. The accounts of his time as a POW are an important part of his life and our nation’s history. I am pleased to be able to collect and preserve his memories and share with future generations about the horrific events he lived through as a reminder that freedom is not free,” Boozman said.

Boozman will submit Roberts’ entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Will Selling Large Asset Affect Wife’s Social Security?

Dear Rusty: If I have reached full retirement age (FRA) and wish to sell a $500,000 asset, will it affect my wife’s Social Security if we file jointly? I have heard that it will affect my Medicare (the amount withheld each month) but she still has three more years before she can receive benefits. Is it better to liquidate assets before she reaches FRA if we will be penalized? Would her Medicare be affected as well as mine? Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning: Only earnings from working can affect Social Security (SS) benefits, so passive income from selling a large asset won’t affect your wife’s future Social Security benefits (nor yours). However, if your “combined income” from all sources (which is your Adjusted Gross Income plus any other non-taxable income you may have, plus 50% of your SS benefits) exceeds certain levels, your Medicare premium will be subject to the Income Related Medicare Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) rule, which will add a supplemental amount to your base Medicare Part B premium. If your combined income (including that sold asset) for the 2020 tax year is between $326,000 and $750,000 then your Medicare premium for 2022 will be at least $462.70 (I say “at least '' because the Medicare Part B premium can increase each year).

The IRMAA premium increases on a sliding scale starting at $174,001 of combined income for a married couple filing jointly ($87,001 for an individual). If you liquidate that large asset this year, it will be reported on your 2020 income tax return which will be filed in 2021. That will mean that your Medicare premium for 2022 will be affected by IRMAA, and so will your wife’s if she has enrolled in Medicare at age 65 in 2021 (which she need not do if she has other “creditable” healthcare coverage through an employer).

So, should you liquidate that large asset before your wife reaches her SS full retirement age? It doesn’t matter for Social Security purposes because that passive income will not affect your wife’s SS benefit. But, if your wife enrolls in Medicare at age 65, her Medicare Part B premium, as well as yours, will be subject to IRMAA and, thus be considerably higher than the standard premium of $144.60 (the amount for 2020). Note that if your combined income for the following year is low enough to reduce your IRMAA premium, the Medicare premium will revert back to the lower level. Medicare typically uses income data from 2 years ago to determine current year premium, so they wouldn’t normally change your IRMAA premium back until they receive your income data for the previous year from the IRS. But, it is possible for you to contact Social Security earlier and provide them with proof that your income is now lower than reported in a previous year (causing the higher IRMAA premium) and they will adjust your Medicare premium sooner than they otherwise might.

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Abandoned at birth

When a mom leaves a newborn on a stranger’s doorstep one can only guess the reasons why. But Cornelius Williams of Camden County, North Carolina, can’t even begin to fathom why a pair of newborn bear cubs were left on his doorstep in a box. Fear not. The cubs are now in the capable care of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

A maelstrom of mail

Talk about being overwhelmed with junk mail. In fact, the post office in Twinsburg, Ohio, told local resident Dan Cain recently that he would have to pick up his mail, which included 55,000 identical student loan statements. Dan and his wife had taken out the loan for their daughter. The loan company says that somehow a glitch in its processing system caused the posting of the astounding number of duplicates. To make matters worse, the statement was incorrect and the company said they would make a correction and send Dan a new statement. Hopefully, they will have fixed their processing system, as well.

Sexagenarian seafarers

Senior citizens are living longer and healthier lives these days. Take the four-man team calling themselves the “Ancient Mariners.” They crossed the Atlantic in a rowboat and in what may be a record 49 days, 8 hours and 40 minutes. Together 67 year old Guy Munnoch, Mike Winn, 64, John Moorhouse, 63, and Steve Hughes, 61 figure they put in a combined total of 1.5 million strokes between the Canary Islands and English Harbor, Antigua.

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Increase indoor garden success with proper watering

By MELINDA MYERS

Too much of a good thing can mean death for indoor plants. Overwatering is a good example of this and a common problem for indoor gardeners. For others it’s the opposite extreme, allowing plants to go too dry. Knowing when to water your indoor plants can increase gardening success and eliminate the stress of uncertainty.

The first step is to throw away your watering schedule. Start watering plants based on their individual need not the date on the calendar. Consider the type of plant, container material and size as well as other growing conditions.

Get to know your plants by checking the plant tag, online resources and books. Those native to tropical climates or wet soils such as peace lily, baby tears and papyrus prefer moist soil. Plants from drier locations like cacti, succulents, Chinese evergreens, ponytail palm and snake plants do best when the soil dries between watering.

Evaluate the indoor growing conditions. Plants located in bright light and warm homes where the humidity is low lose moisture faster and need more frequent watering. Cooler homes, higher humidity and lower light conditions mean longer stretches between watering plants.

Adjust watering as the seasons change. Shorter, often gray days of winter mean plants dry out more slowly. When the heat and air conditioner are turned on, the humidity level drops and plants dry out more quickly. Plus, many plants rest in winter and prefer drier soil.

Check plants growing in small pots, breathable terra cotta containers and fast draining growing mixes more often and water as needed. Plants growing in larger containers and those made of plastic, glazed ceramic and similar materials dry out more slowly.

Use your finger to determine when plants need to be watered. Stick your finger an inch or so below the soil surface of small pots. You’ll need to go a finger length deep for larger containers. And for succulents and cacti feel the soil through the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. Water thoroughly until the excess runs out the drainage holes as needed.

Extend the time between watering with self-watering pots and watering aids. These have reservoirs that slowly provide water to plants over time. Or amend the soil with a moisture-retaining product like wool pellets (wildvalleyfarms.com). This organic and sustainable product holds 20% of its weight in water and slowly releases it into the soil when needed. The wetting agents in most potting mixes lose effectiveness after a month or two. These pellets continue working long after this, so you’ll be watering less often.

Make watering easy, so it feels like an opportunity to enjoy each individual plant instead of a chore. Use a watering can with a long narrow spout, making it easy to apply water over the entire soil surface and under the leaves and crown of the plant. This reduces the risk of disease that can occur when the top growth remains wet.

Set plants on saucers or trays filled with pebbles. The excess water collects in the tray and the pebbles elevate the container above the water. This eliminates the need to empty the water that collects and remains in the saucer for more than thirty minutes.

With more experience watering indoor plants, it will become second nature. That means you’ll have more time and opportunity to enjoy and even expand your indoor garden.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Why Did My Social Security Payment Go Down?

Dear Rusty: Upon reading a magazine article about the 2020 COLA increase, I thought I’d share the following: Like others, I received the 1.6% raise in my Social Security benefit. However, after their manipulations with Medicare, the net result was a reduction of $124 in my Social Security payment. I can’t afford their “raise.” I now pay double for Medicare! Signed: Disgusted

Dear Disgusted: Actually, Social Security and Medicare are two totally separate and financially independent programs, but the Social Security Administration handles enrollment and premium payments on behalf of CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). For 2020, your gross Social Security benefit went up by 1.6% as a result of the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), but at the same time the standard Medicare Part B premium went up by $9.10 to $144.60 per month. Most Medicare beneficiaries pay the standard premium amount.

If your Medicare Part B premium is deducted from your Social Security benefit you would normally be protected by a provision known as "Hold Harmless," which prevents your Social Security payment from decreasing as a result of an increase in the standard Medicare Part B premium. But if you have any change (other than a COLA increase) to your Social Security benefit amount, or if you pay an "IRMAA" surcharge on your Medicare Part B premium, the "hold harmless" provision doesn't apply to you. In either of those cases your net Social Security payment could go down as a result of an increase in your Medicare Part B premium.

"IRMAA" is Medicare's "Income Related Medicare Adjustment Amount" which is a surcharge assessed on Medicare Part B (and Part D) premiums for those with higher incomes (the surcharge varies depending upon your IRS filing status and income level). I suspect that you are suddenly subject to IRMAA because of a sudden increase in your income and the 1.6% COLA increase to your Social Security was applied to your new Medicare premium. That, however, fell short of covering your entire IRMAA Medicare premium increase and, since you’re not protected by the Hold Harmless provision, the remainder was taken from your Social Security benefit.

Most Medicare enrollees pay the standard Part B premium ($144.60 for 2020) and are protected by the hold harmless provision from a decrease in their Social Security payment. But higher earning Medicare beneficiaries are affected by IRMAA, and I believe that is what happened in your case, especially because you say you suddenly "pay double" for Medicare. This might typically happen if you took a large one-time distribution from a tax-advantage investment, or received some other form of significant, but temporary, income. The good news is that if your premium doubled because you had a temporary increase in your income in one year, the Medicare premium increase will also be temporary, and you will automatically revert back to the lower premium the following year.

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Tales from the FBI

Murder and Mayhem in the Osage Hills

In May 1921, the badly decomposed body of Anna Brown—an Osage Native American—was found in a remote ravine in northern Oklahoma.

Anna BrownThe undertaker later discovered a bullet hole in the back of her head. Anna had no known enemies, and the case went unsolved.

That might have been the end of it, but...just two months later, Anna's mother—Lizzie Q—suspiciously died. Two years later, her cousin Henry Roan was shot to death. Then, in March 1923, Anna's sister and brother-in-law were killed when their home was bombed.

One by one, at least two dozen people in the area inexplicably turned up dead. Not just Osage Indians, but a well known oilman and others.

What did they all have in common? Who was behind all the murders?

That's what the terrorized community wanted to find out. But a slew of private detectives and other investigators turned up nothing (and some were deliberately trying to sidetrack honest efforts). The Osage Tribal Council turned to the federal government, and Bureau agents were detailed to the case.

Early on, all fingers pointed at William Hale (pictured below), the so-called "King of the Osage Hills." A local cattleman, Hale had bribed, intimidated, lied, and stolen his way to wealth and power. He grew even greedier in the late 1800s when oil was discovered on the Osage Indian Reservation. Almost overnight, the Osage became incredibly wealthy, earning royalties from oil sales through their federally mandated "head rights."

Hale's connection to Anna Brown's family was clear. His weak-willed nephew, Ernest Burkhart, was married to Anna's sister. If Anna, her mother, and two sisters died—in that order—all of the "head rights" would pass to the nephew...and Hale could take control. The prize? Half a million dollars a year or more.

Solving the case was another matter. The locals weren't talking. Hale had threatened or paid off many of them; the rest had grown distrustful of outsiders. Hale also planted false leads that sent our agents scurrying across the southwest.

So four agents got creative. They went undercover as an insurance salesman, cattle buyer, oil prospector, and herbal doctor to turn up evidence. Over time, they gained the trust of the Osage and built a case. Finally, the nephew talked. Then others confessed. The agents were able to prove that Hale ordered the murders of Anna and her family to inherit their oil rights...cousin Roan for the insurance...and others who had threatened to expose him.

In January 1929, Hale was convicted and sent to the slammer. His henchmen—including a hired killer and crooked lawyer—also got time.

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History Matters

Courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On February 15, 1898, the U.S. battleship, Maine, blew up, and sank in Havana Harbor. Two hundred sixty of the nearly 400 American soldiers aboard perished. The ship had been dispatched to protect U.S. interests during a time when Spanish rule was being challenged by Cuban rebels. A U.S. Naval Court ruled that a mine had caused the explosion. The aftermath of rage connected to the incident, and the suppression of the Cuban freedom fighters escalated into war.

Seventy-eight years later, naval investigators revamped their conclusion: the disastrous explosion was not from a mine; it was likely caused by an on-board fire which ignited a stockpile of ammunition.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Sinking of the USS Maine: Declaring War Against Spain by Samuel Willard Crompton.

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and America was pulled into World War ll. Two months later, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which required all Americans of Japanese descent living on the Pacific Coast, to report for mandatory relocation to a detainment camp.

The prisoners were not released until December 17, 1944.

For more information about the controversial decision, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Monica Hesse’s novel, The War Outside.

America’s first spaceship was Friendship 7; John Glenn was the first astronaut to experience the void of space. He was launched into orbit February 20, 1962, circled the planet three times, and returned to earth approximately five hours later.

America became quite taken with Glenn, and his six Project Mercury compatriots, and, soon, President John F. Kennedy was moved to “promise” a U.S. moon landing within a decade.

Seven years later-- on July 20, 1969-- NASA’s Apollo 11 spacecraft entered lunar orbit with Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and "Buzz" Aldrin. Armstrong boarded his Lunar Module, the Eagle, and the country watched, transfixed, as he became the first man—ever-- to set foot on the moon.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends We Seven: By the Astronauts Themselves by NASA’s seven original astronauts: John H. Glenn, M. Scott Carpenter, Gordon L. Cooper, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Alan B. Shepard, Donald K. Slayton.

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Get kids access to dental care

Protecting children’s teeth may be easier—and more important—than many parents realize.

Here’s something many parents may be surprised to learn: tooth decay is the most common preventable chronic disease among children in the United States.

The Problem

If left untreated, it can hurt more than your kid’s mouth. Your child’s physical and social development—as well as his or her school performance—can also be affected. More than 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related illness. Kids with healthy teeth have fewer sick days and less distractions from learning.

The Good News

Parents may be surprised to find that getting their child’s teeth checked is easier and less expensive than they think. Under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), essential health care services like preventative care and dental health are covered. For more than 20 years, CHIP has been instrumental in reducing the number of uninsured children to historic lows. Medicaid and CHIP cover more than one-third of all children in the U.S. and have helped insure 95 percent of the nation’s children—an estimated 35.5 million currently are covered.

How It Works

Dental coverage includes access to regular check-ups, x-rays, fluoride treatments, dental sealants, fillings and more.

Parents can look online to see whether their children are eligible. In most states, children and teens up to age 19 can enroll. Depending on income, many families qualify for free or low-cost health coverage. In general, children and teens in a family of four earning up to $50,000 a year—and in some places more—may qualify for Medicaid and CHIP.

Children and teens can stay covered for as long as they qualify. Families can enroll at any time of the year, but need to renew coverage each year.

More Good News

Even if your application for Medicaid and CHIP has been denied before, you and your children may now be eligible. Parents may qualify for Medicaid as well, but you don’t have to be eligible for your child to get coverage.

Who Can Help

More kids can be covered with the help of Medicaid and CHIP. With that as the goal, the Connecting Kids to Coverage National Campaign, a national outreach and enrollment initiative, informs families with children and teens about Medicaid and CHIP eligibility. Families enroll through their states. Call 1-877-KIDS-NOW or visit InsureKidsNow.gov to be connected to program offices in your state.

Learn More

For more information and to see eligibility requirements, visit www.InsureKidsNow.gov.

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Protect yourself from Social Security scams

If you get a threatening call from someone saying they are from ­Social Security, it is from a scammer.

Calls and e-mails from scammers pretending to be government employees are widespread. Social Security phone scams are the #1 scam reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Chances are you, a friend, or a family member have received a call like this.

You don’t have to be receiving benefits to become a victim. You may get a call saying there is a problem with your Social Security number or account. Everyone, regardless of age, income, and geography, is at risk. Scammers will try to scare and trick you into giving them your personal information or money.

Is It A Scam?

The best way to protect yourself and your money is to recognize a scam. Scammers use intimidating language and often offer a “solution” to fix what they say is a serious problem with your Social Security number or account. How can you tell when it’s a scam? Social Security will not:

• Say your Social Security number has been suspended.

• Promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information.

• Call to demand an immediate payment.

• Insist you pay a debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

• Require payment by retail gift card, pre-paid debit card, Internet currency, wire transfer, or by mailing cash.

• Ask for your personal information.

Scammers prey on your fears. The stories they tell you would scare anyone. No matter how horrible the story, if they do anything above, it’s a scam.

What Should You Do?

If you receive a suspicious call, the safest thing for you to do is:

1. Hang up!

2. Don’t share personal information or make a payment.

3. Report the scam to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General at https://oig.ssa.gov.

And, if you receive such threats via e-mail, delete the e-mail and do not click on any links or download any attachments. Even if the e-mail or an attachment contains Social Security’s seal or names of real people, ignore it. Then, report the scam.

Other Tips

How about if Social Security needs to contact you? Generally, they will mail you a letter and only contact you by phone if you have requested a call or have ongoing business with them.

Usually, Social Security will mail you a letter that contains telephone numbers for contacting them. You can also contact Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting SSA.gov.

Scammers are always looking for the next way to trick someone. No matter how someone might try to scam you, learning the warning signs shared here can go a long way to protecting yourself and someone you care about from identify theft and financial loss.

If you think you have been scammed, don’t be embarrassed. Report the scam to Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General at https://oig.ssa.gov and share this important information with your family and friends.

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How to save time and money this tax season

By GLINDA BRIDGFORTH

Tax season is upon us, and you should have received all the documents needed to file your taxes and (hopefully) get a refund. To help reduce the stress that comes with filing taxes, Glinda Bridgforth, a leading financial expert who explores the emotional and cultural factors that block financial success, identifies a few ways to save time and money this tax season:

1. Get organized. Whether you visit a tax professional or do it yourself, gather all documents ahead of time, such as your employer W-2s and any 1099 forms you may receive for interest income, retirement plans, or gig work such as driving for Uber. Don’t forget to check your online accounts where you might need to download tax documents.

“Avoid the panic and stress that comes from disorganization,” says Bridgforth. “Also, look at last year’s return, which can serve as a good guide.”

2. Start (and finish) early. Don’t wait until April. Starting the process early will let you get organized, and have more time if you need it. Filing early will not only help you get your refund faster, it may also help you avoid tax-related identity theft since you will already have filed using your own Social Security number before someone else tries to. Speaking of identity theft…

3. Watch out for scams. Where there’s money there’s a con, and criminals have become very good at exploiting tax season. Be wary of threatening phone calls from “IRS agents” and phishing e-mails “from the IRS” seeking your personal information. Also, while all tax preparers and DIY websites aim to minimize taxes and maximize refunds, beware of promises for more than your fair share. Unscrupulous “tax preparers” entice unsuspecting taxpayers with hopes of a high refund, only for them to lose it all. The IRS just launched “Identity Theft Central” (IRS.gov/identitytheft) to help taxpayers report identity theft and learn how to protect themselves against crimes.

4. Get all your tax breaks. Did you get married? Have children? Change jobs? Take all the deductions you deserve.

“Even if nothing has changed in your life, you may have missed credits in the past that you’re entitled to,” notes Bridgforth. “For example, according to the IRS, one in every five eligible workers fails to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).”

If you find out you qualify for the EITC this year and didn’t claim it in the past, you can even file amended returns for 2016, 2017, or 2018. The IRS provides a wealth of this type of information online at IRS.gov/eitc.

5. Look for tax prep discounts and promotions, then use direct deposit. The full service tax prep companies, as well as the DIY websites, are competing for your business, so be sure to shop around and look for coupons or rebates to find the best deal. Many free options are also available to those who qualify. Just go to IRS.gov/freefile to check eligibility.

And for the fastest and most secure delivery of your tax refund, opt for direct deposit instead of a check.

“If you don’t have or don’t qualify for a traditional branch bank account, there are new digital options to consider,” says Bridgforth. “Several FDIC-insured digital bank accounts and prepaid debit cards are available to open online or on your mobile phone, such as Green Dot Bank’s Unlimited Cash Back Bank Account, or Intuit’s Turbo Card prepaid debit card for those who use TurboTax.”

In addition, if you direct deposit your federal tax refund into your Green Dot account, not only will you get it faster, you’ll be entered in the Green Dot Extreme Tax Sweepstakes for a chance to win one of fifty $1,000 prizes. Details and official rules can be found at greendot.com/ExtremeTax.

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Protecting your ability to drive safely for as long as possible

It may be the safest, wisest course to get help with your driving before you have to give it up.

Driving a car means maintaining independence for many older adults. Driving allows you to shop, see friends and family, keep up with medical appointments, and avoid social isolation. But sometimes staying safe behind the wheel as you age can be a challenge.

Age-related physical and mental changes can affect your ability to drive safely. If you’re alert to these changes and manage them carefully, you may be able to continue driving safely for some time.

To keep your skills as sharp as possible, consider following these suggestions from experts at the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), healthcare professionals dedicated to improving the health, independence, and quality of life of older people:

Check your eyesight to keep it as sharp as possible by getting a complete annual eye exam once you turn 60. Test yourself to monitor your vision:

• Do you have problems reading street signs?

• Are you having difficulty seeing road or pavement markings, curbs, or other vehicles or pedestrians, especially at dawn, dusk, and nighttime?

• Is glare from oncoming headlights making it hard to see when driving at night?

Assess your physical fitness to drive by asking yourself:

• Can I comfortably turn my neck to see over my shoulder when I change lanes?

• Can I easily move my foot from the gas pedal to the brake? Can I easily turn the steering wheel?

• During the past year, have I fallen one or more times?

• Do I regularly walk more than a block a day?

• Can I raise my arms above my shoulders?

Perform a reality check on your attention span and reaction time:

• Are you overwhelmed by signs, traffic signals, and car and pedestrian traffic, especially at busy intersections?

• Does it seem harder to merge into traffic on the highway?

• Do you take any medications that make you sleepy, dizzy, or confused?

• Do you feel less confident about driving at highway speeds?

• Do you react slowly to cars entering your roadway, or to cars that have slowed or stopped in front of you?

Pay attention to changes and warnings:

• Have friends or family members expressed worries about your driving?

• Have you ever gotten lost on familiar routes or forgotten how to get to familiar destinations?

• Has a police officer pulled you over to warn you about your driving?

• Have you been ticketed for your driving, had a near miss, or a crash in the last three years?

• Has your healthcare provider warned you to restrict or stop driving?

Consider Getting a Professional Driving Assessment

If you’ve experienced driving problems like these or are worried about your ability to be a safe driver, consider getting a professional assessment of your skills.

Occupational therapists trained as driving rehabilitation specialists can evaluate your driving skills and strengths, as well as any physical, visual, and cognitive challenges you may face. They can also evaluate your ability to operate a vehicle safely and, if needed, recommend ways to reduce your risks.

Driving rehabilitation specialists are trained to evaluate older drivers for:

• Muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion

• Coordination and reaction time

• Judgment and decision-making skills

• Ability to drive with special devices that adapt your vehicle to your needs

The specialist may recommend ways for you to drive more safely after the evaluation. Suggestions may include getting special equipment for your car or helping you sharpen your skills.

Not sure how to find a driving rehabilitation specialist? Talk to your healthcare provider or contact the American Occupational Therapy Association for a directory. You can also visit the AGS’s public education website, https://www.healthinaging.org/driving-safety, for more safe driving resources for older adults and caregivers.

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Reading potpourri

“Behind Every Lie” by Christina McDonald

If you can’t remember it, how do you prove you didn’t do it?

Eva Hansen wakes in the hospital after being struck by lightning and discovers her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva was found unconscious down the street. She can’t remember what happened, but the police are highly suspicious of her.

As Eva unravels her mother’s carefully held secrets, she soon realizes someone doesn’t want her to know the truth. And with violent memories beginning to emerge, Eva doesn’t know whom to trust.

McDonald has crafted another “complex, emotionally intense” domestic thriller, told in alternating perspectives from Eva’s search for answers and Kat’s mysterious past. It’s an excellent choice for fans of Lisa Jewell’s “I Found You” and Karin Slaughter’s “Pieces of Her.” From Gallery Books, purchase at http://bit.ly/36TGAE4.

“Faith on Fire” by Deborah Curtin

This book engulfs the reader in a turbulent time in American history where no one ever really knows who is friend or foe. Robert makes a daring rescue of his brother after the family receives his cryptic letter from the respite home. Many unanswered questions lead to strife and a discord between his mother and father.

As the Civil War begins, Robert is determined to do his part. When he fails, he questions his luck. He then realizes his father, in underhanded ways, is steering Robert’s life choices. Laced with spies, secret messages, gritty players, and split loyalties, the book is a captivating depiction of a family and the consequences of war, with characters wrestling with morality. Purchase at http://bit.ly/2qDQ72i.

“The Key Skill of All Skills: Learn How to Learn” By David Myers

A must for anyone seeking career, education, or personal life betterment. Everything you read continually puts anything you don’t understand in perspective with what you already know. That’s the active ingredient. Using the right anecdotes and analogies at the right times is trickier than it looks. When you acquire and master that key skill featured here, you retain and use information better, are more productive, may be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease unless genetically predisposed, and perhaps even alleviate other disorders. This book isn’t just education, business, or personal growth training; it makes everything you’ve learned and experienced work better for you. Something for the whole family. Purchase at https://amzn.to/2O5q1yh.

“Epic Solitude: A Story of Survival and a Quest for Meaning in the Far North” by Katherine Keith

After fleeing her life in Minnesota as a young adult for an idyllic and rustic existence in Alaska, and then suffering the loss of her husband and infant daughter in the Far North, Keith’s quest for healing and meaning began. While independently raising her second daughter, Keith found the solace she sought in athleticism and solitude as a competitive dog-musher traversing thousands of miles of Alaska’s tundra.

This powerful and touching story of one woman fighting her way out of trauma into freedom is excellent for fans of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and John Krakauer’s “Into the Wild.” From Blackstone Publishing, purchase at https://amzn.to/39SeD1F.

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What makes a school great

To find the best school for your child, you first need to know what choices are available to you.

Great learning environments elude easy definitions. They come in all different shapes—traditional public schools, public magnet schools, public charter schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling programs. Perhaps the best definition is this: A great school is one in which students are academically challenged, equipped to be a good citizens and persons, and inspired to greatness.

Because children are different, you can best find a great school for your child when you have diverse options to consider. That could mean open enrollment in a public school outside of your “zone” so your child stays connected with an important peer group. It could mean a charter school focusing on classical education or a magnet school that lets students shadow medical professionals. Maybe it’s learning at an accelerated pace at home or through online coursework, or in a private school that shares your values.

It’s parents who really decide whether a school is good or even great, based on their children’s needs and interests. What might be an excellent learning environment for one child might not be a good fit for another.

That’s one reason National School Choice Week, Jan. 26 through Feb 1, 2020, is important. It raises awareness among parents of their K-12 education options. It’s celebrated by teachers, school leaders, parents, students, and community leaders at 50,000 events and activities.

This National School Choice Week, I encourage all families to explore their education options. You can start, and discover the choices available to you, at www.schoolchoiceweek.com/mystate/.

• Mr. Campanella is president of National School Choice Week and the author of “The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child.”

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Five to-do's to take your basement from unlivable to lovable

Look up “basement” in the dictionary and you’ll see cellar, vault—even crypt. But with a little effort and some design flair you can make your basement come alive—and reclaim valuable living space.

Create the workout room you always wanted. A dramatic home theater. Or a spacious office, playroom or craft area. If you can re-imagine your basement, you can remodel it. Here are hints on how:

1. Make a plan: An accurate floor plan will help you visualize the end result—especially if you’re dividing rooms, adding a pool table, a large sectional or a projector and theater seating.

Dozens of design apps can help you create a virtual, 3D floor plan. A few to consider: Home Designer Suite, Sweet Home 3D, Home Design 3D and Google Sketchup.

Check to see if you’ll need a permit for improvements.

2. Banish water: Does your basement pass the smell test? If your lower level has moisture problems, your nose will know.

Besides a musty smell, moisture leaves other clues: dark, saturated concrete block walls, flaking paint or condensation. Consult a basement waterproofing contractor if you have any concerns before you begin remodeling.

3. Elevate your ceiling style: Stained or sagging ceilings also point to excess moisture. Identify the cause and make repairs. Then replace the old ceiling with coffered ceiling tiles. With the look of sunken panels, they add depth and distinction. Some of Armstrong Ceilings’ coffered options resist moisture and mold and stand up to humidity.

Like the look of wood? Check out Armstrong WoodHaven Ceiling Planks. They’re available in a variety of finishes, although WoodHaven Classic White planks is the DIY favorite. These wood-look ceiling planks can install over drywall, plaster or joists and can even cover an existing drop ceiling grid.

4. Beautify floors and walls: Beautiful, versatile flooring options are abundant today. Before you choose, think about how you’ll use the space. Consider structural issues, too.

Creating a playroom or cozy retreat? If moisture isn’t a worry, add warmth and softness underfoot with carpeting or an area rug.

If your sub-floor is smooth and even, vinyl is hard to beat. Whether in tile, sheet or plank form, the styles are versatile and the material is water-resistant or waterproof.

If you’re adding a basement gym, consider rubber interlocking tiles. They absorb shock and you can install them yourself.

You’ll discover abundant wall-covering options, too—such as wainscoting, paneling and beadboard. Subtle grass cloth wallpapers add sophistication. Peel-and-stick cork wall tiles create design interest and absorb sound.

Whatever your choice, be sure to waterproof the walls before you cover them.

5. Make a statement: Once you’ve landed on the look you love—whether it’s traditional, farmhouse or mid-century modern—personalize your décor to make it your own.

Display cubes or built-in shelving with lighting are great options for showing off your trophies, baskets, pottery or collectibles. For color and warmth, mix and match a variety of pillows and plush throws.

To personalize your walls—without making a permanent design commitment—consider wall decals. Their elegant patterns and bold images add instant interest. You can even make your mark with an inspiring, oversized quote.

Use every type of lighting—general, task and accent—to bring your basement out of the shadows. Mirrors are another great way to add light—and the illusion of space.

DIYers have never had more versatile design tools and materials to choose from. So don’t let your lower level go unloved and unused any longer. Let the transformation begin.

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Discuss healthy, unhealthy relationship behaviors with youth to combat teen dating violence

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month and is a good time for teenagers and their parents to talk about healthy and unhealthy behaviors in a relationship, Dr. Janette Wheat, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) associate professor and Cooperative Extension Program human development specialist, said. Teen dating violence can be prevented when teens, families, organizations and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.

Teen dating violence (TDV) is a type of intimate partner violence that occurs between two people in a close relationship, Dr. Wheat said. It can be physical, emotional or sexual and can include stalking.

TDV can occur in person or electronically via texting, social media and other online applications. When it occurs electronically, this type of violence can include repeated texting or posting sexual pictures of a partner online without consent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TDV includes four types of behavior:

• Physical violence – when a person hurts or tries to hurt a partner by hitting, kicking or using another type of physical force.

• Sexual violence – forcing or attempting to force a partner to take part in a sex act, sexual touching or a non-physical sexual event such as sexting when the partner does not or cannot consent.

• Psychological aggression – the use of verbal and non-verbal communication with the intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally and/or exert control over another person.

• Stalking – a pattern of repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.

“Teens often think some behaviors such as teasing and name-calling, are a ‘normal’ part of a relationship – but these behaviors can become abusive and develop into serious forms of violence,” Dr. Wheat said. “Many teens do not report unhealthy behaviors because they are afraid to tell family and friends.”

Dating violence is common and affects millions of teens in the U.S. each year. According to a recent national CDC survey, 8 percent of high school students reported physical violence, and 7 percent reported they experienced sexual violence from a dating partner within the last year.

Data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicate:

• Nearly one in 11 female high school students and approximately one in 15 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year.

• About one in nine female students and one in 36 male students report having experienced sexual dating violence in the last year.

• Twenty-six percent of women and 15 percent of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these or other forms of violence by that partner before age 18.

• The burden of TDV is not shared equally across all groups. Sexual minority groups are affected by all forms of violence to a much greater degree. Some racial/ethnic minority groups are more commonly affected by many types of violence.

Dr. Wheat said unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. According to the CDC, teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college and into adulthood.

“Victims of TDV are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Dr. Wheat said. “They might also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco, drug and alcohol use, and they might exhibit antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying or hitting. Some victims also have suicidal thoughts.”

Supporting the development of healthy, respectful and nonviolent relationships has the potential to reduce the occurrence of TDV and prevent its harmful and long-lasting effects on individuals, their families and the communities where they live, Dr. Wheat said.

“It is critical for youth to begin learning the skills needed to create and maintain healthy relationships during the pre-teen and teen years,” she said. “These skills include things like how to manage feelings and how to communicate in a healthy way.”

The CDC developed “Dating Matters®: Strategies to Promote Healthy Teen Relationships” to stop teen dating violence before it starts. The program focuses on youth, 11-14 years old, and includes multiple prevention components for individuals, peers, families, schools and neighborhoods. All the components work together to reinforce healthy relationship messages and reduce behaviors that increase the risk of dating violence.

The CDC’s Dating Matters program and a technical package on preventing intimate partner violence can be accessed online at www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence. Other website resources include articles, publications, data sources and prevention materials.

“Teaching healthy relationship skills and changing norms about violence can help prevent teen dating violence,” Dr. Wheat said. “Talk to teens now about the importance of developing healthy, respectful relationships.”

ATM? No, APM

A London chain of drinking establishments opened a new pub, known as the Vagabond, in a building that used to be a bank. The owners apparently decided that the ATM out front gave the saloon a unique look and so they kept it where it stood. But, instead of dispensing cash, they rigged it so that it would dispense, Proseco, a sparkling Italian white wine, thus converting the ATM into what may be the very first Automated Proseco Machine or APM.

No parking, no kidding

There’s a reason there are “no parking” signs in front of a fire hydrant. It’s self-evident to most drivers, but one driver in Camden, NJ had to learn it the hard way. No, he or she did not just get a ticket. Instead, firefighters responding to a call simply broke both the passenger’s side and driver’s side windows and ran their hose through the car in order to deal with a nearby blaze.

As the worm turns

Tapeworms usually attach themselves to the body’s intestines and cause abdominal pain but one of these critters somehow made its way into the brain of a man in Austin, TX and he suffered from recurrent headaches. Surgeons at Ascension Seton Medical Center operated and removed the worm and the man is now on the mend. Doctors there believe that the patient may have ingested the tapeworm ten years ago in Mexico. The condition, which is known as Neurocysticercosis, is not so common in the U.S. but it is a “frequent” diagnosis in developing countries, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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House Call

By Dr. Daniel Knight

UAMS

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

Q. What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

A. Arthritis is a degenerative disease involving inflammation in and near joints. It occurs when the cartilage — a rubbery material comprised of water and a gel-like substance covering ends of bones — wears down, leading to joint deformities. Cartilage reduces friction in joints, working as a shock absorber. Once worn down, its ability is impaired and eventually, the bone erodes.

Early treatment is important since joint damage usually occurs within the first two years of diagnosis. Maintaining adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D helps reduce bone loss.

Osteoarthritis develops with age or after an injury, with postmenopausal women more at risk. Symptoms develop gradually over several months or years. There is no cure, but treatments include oral anti-inflammatory or topical pain medicine, steroid injections, physical therapy or surgery.

Rheumatoid arthritis, also more common in women, is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system overreacts, attacking its joints. It usually appears in those aged 20 to 50 and occurs in joints on both sides of the body, such as in both knees, helping to distinguish it. A blood test identifying certain proteins accompanying rheumatoid arthritis also helps in diagnosing it.

Q. What causes a bone spur and how is it treated?

A. The small hard bumps or extra bone that form on the ends of bones, often appear in joints where two bones meet. Bone spurs can appear on hands, shoulders, neck, spine, hips, knees or heels.

They often form when the body creates additional bone in an attempt to repair an injury. The most common cause is damage from degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis when cushioning between joints and bones wear down. When the spur presses on nerves or tendons, symptoms may include pain, stiffness when trying to bend or move the effected joint, weakness, numbness or tingling. A physician will examine the joint for a bump and may order an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

Treatment may include over-the-counter pain relievers, steroid shots, rest or physical therapy. In some cases, surgery to remove the extra bone may be required.

Bone spurs caused by natural wear and tear may be unavoidable, but some types may be prevented by wearing shoes with a wide toe box and good arch support, following a healthy diet with enough calcium and vitamin D, performing regular weight-bearing exercises, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Q. Do weighted blankets work?

A. Some believe the blankets lower anxiety and stress through continuous, gentle pressure applied all over the body. For years, occupational therapists have used deep pressure stimulation to help calm children with autism spectrum disorders.

Weighted blankets, filled with plastic or glass pellets, range from five to 30 pounds. Manufacturers recommend adults use one that is 10% of their body weight. Weighted blankets should be kept away from babies, toddlers, and small pets to avoid becoming trapped underneath.

Studies of the blankets’ effectiveness are not plentiful. One study of 32 adults lying under a 30-pound blanket for five minutes concluded 63% of its participants reported less anxiety, measured through blood pressure, pulse rate, amount of oxygen in the blood, electrical properties of the skin known as electrodermal activity, and a questionnaire assessing temporary and continuous anxiety. Another study of 30 people hospitalized for a mental health crisis concluded 60% reported lower anxiety after using one.

If the blankets work, it may be because they redirect focus from the anxiety to the sensation of the blanket. Those with ongoing anxiety issues should consult with a mental health professional to develop a long-term plan for controlling anxiety and handling stress.

Q. What is prediabetes, what are some symptoms, and is there anything I can do to prevent it?

A. Prediabetes means the blood sugar is higher than normal but is not yet high enough to be type 2 diabetes. The risk factors for developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are the same and according to research, most people who have prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years. Type 2 diabetes brings with it risks of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, amputations and blindness.

However, prediabetes does not have to lead to type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes, including eating healthier, increasing exercise, losing excess weight, and controlling cholesterol and blood pressure, can return blood sugar to a normal level. Prediabetes can also affect children, and the same lifestyle changes may also help improve a child’s blood sugar levels.

While prediabetes has no warning signs, symptoms of type 2 diabetes include increased urination and thirst, fatigue and blurred vision.

Those who are concerned about diabetes, notice any symptoms, or are at an increased risk for the disease should ask their physician about taking a blood glucose screening.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Capt. Raymond Murphy

BY KATIE LANGE

DOD News

This Medal of Honor recipient is Marine Corps Capt. Raymond Murphy, a recipient who honorably served his fellow Marines during war, then spent the rest of his life serving them, as well.

Murphy was born Jan. 14, 1930, in Pueblo, Colorado. He had three brothers and a sister and said he loved to play sports growing up. He was finishing his bachelor's degree in 1950 when the Korean War broke out.

Toward the end of his senior year, the draft was becoming more of a concern, so Murphy got advice from two of his older brothers — both of whom had already served. He decided he would try to become an officer, so he joined the Marine Corps after graduation and earned his commission.

Murphy was placed in Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. It wasn't long before he was sent to Korea, where he earned the Silver Star while commanding an infantry platoon in Seoul in late 1952.

On Feb. 3, 1953, Murphy earned the Medal of Honor by taking charge when several of his superiors went down. On that day, Murphy's company was positioned near the Imjin River, and their mission was to keep Chinese communist troops from getting a foothold on the hill. Murphy, a second lieutenant at the time, was commanding a reserve platoon that was positioned to help wounded men from the two forward-fighting platoons.

Quickly, Murphy realized something was wrong when there were no wounded men coming back to them. He decided to move his platoon up to see what was going on. As they got closer to the front line, he realized that all of the forward platoons' officers and noncommissioned officers were dead or seriously wounded. The lack of leadership caused mass confusion among the remaining ranks.

Murphy immediately took command, ordering his platoon to find their comrades and evacuate the area despite the heavy machine-gun fire raging around them. Murphy himself was seriously wounded by fragments from a mortar shell, but he refused help and continued to lead his men up the hill to find more pinned-down Marines. Murphy made several trips up and down the hill as it was blanketed by enemy fire, directing evacuation teams to the wounded and carrying several injured men to safety.

Murphy ordered part of his unit to help the attack platoons when they needed reinforcements. He took out two enemy combatants with his own pistol.

When all the wounded were evacuated, the assault platoons started to move down the hill. Although injured, Murphy stayed behind to cover their backs, fending off enemies who reappeared in the trenches with a carbine and an automatic rifle.

Once Murphy got to the hill's base, he organized a search party and went back up one more time to make sure no one had been left behind. During that search, they found the bodies of a machine-gun crew, which they carried down.

But they weren't in the clear. Enemy guns, artillery and mortar fire continued to cascade on them from above, and Murphy was wounded a second time while trying to get the company to the main line of departure. He refused to get help for himself until everyone else made it through to safety.

Years later, Murphy explained his thinking.

"That's one of the big things you're trained for in the Marine Corps. You get casualties, and even men you didn't know, whether they were alive or not — you get them out of the front line and get them back to where the medical people could look at them," he said in a Veterans History Project interview. "This is the purpose of the war — to save your men and take care of the enemy."

Murphy returned to the states shortly after that battle and was promoted to captain. He later left the service and enrolled in graduate school, where he was when he learned that his actions in war had earned him the Medal of Honor. He received the medal from President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a While House ceremony on Oct. 27, 1953. It went well with the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Korean Service Medal with two bronze stars, and the United Nations Service Medal he also earned during his short military career.

Murphy went on to marry and have four children, and he spent most of his civilian career in service to other veterans after settling in New Mexico. He served as the director of veteran services at what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs center in Albuquerque from 1974 to 1997. When he retired, he continued to serve the center as a volunteer, pushing veterans in wheelchairs to their medical appointments.

Murphy died on April 6, 2007, at the age of 77. He was buried in Santa Fe National Cemetery wearing his VA hospital volunteer smock.

Murphy's love for his fellow veterans was so well-known that, in 2008, the VA hospital where he worked was renamed the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center.

Former New Mexico Rep. Stevan Pearce praised Murphy during the renaming process. "Many of us too often believe that heroism can only be exhibited in those extreme circumstances. But I would say that it takes more courage to live a life of service that he chose to live after his heroic exploits. He wasn't faced with multimillion-dollar book-signing deals, no movie contracts — just a quiet life serving other veterans who are often overlooked."

A life that is well worth honoring.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – What happens to my Social Security if I die at age 62?

Dear Rusty: I have worked my entire life and contributed to Social Security. I have been single my entire life with no children. What happens to all that money I have contributed to Social Security if I die at age 62? Signed: Curious Worker

Dear Curious: From its inception in 1935, Social Security has always been a “pay as you go” program where current workers contribute money from which current beneficiaries are paid. That’s the way it has worked since the first Social Security payroll withholding occurred in 1937 and the first Social Security benefit was paid in 1940. And it works the same way today.

Social Security FICA payroll taxes collected from current workers are used to pay all those who are currently receiving benefits. Any excess collected which is not paid out in benefits is deposited into a special Trust Fund and held in reserve for the future. My hope is that understanding this will dispel a far too widely held myth that the money you pay into the Social Security program from your paycheck is deposited into a personal account for you - it is not. Rather that money is used to pay benefits to all those who are already collecting Social Security. And the extra money in the Trust Fund is invested in special interest-bearing bonds which contribute further to the Trust Fund’s reserves (more about the Trust Fund in a minute).

If you were to pass away at, or before, age 62, all the money you paid into Social Security via FICA payroll taxes will have already been spent to pay benefits to those already collecting Social Security. With no surviving dependents, there are no benefits to be paid from your lifetime work record. True you will have paid a great deal over your working career, but the system is designed so that when you retire your benefits will be paid for by those who are still working and paying into the system. Of course, it’s a game of averages and Social Security says the “average” longevity for a male today is about 84. So, unless you’re already in poor health, chances are pretty good you will live beyond age 62. Chances are also pretty good that if you do, you’ll get back much more in benefits than you have contributed. In fact, if you start collecting benefits at your full retirement age you will get back benefits at least equal to what you contributed within about 5 years (we’ve studied this carefully). Which brings us back to the Trust Fund.

The Social Security Trust Fund held about $2.9 trillion in reserves at the end of 2018. But over the years the ratio of workers to beneficiaries has declined from 16.5 to 1 in 1950 to less than 3 to 1 today, so there are far fewer workers paying for beneficiaries who are living much longer. Starting in 2019, Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it received from FICA payroll taxes, which means the excess paid out in benefits will come from the reserves in the Trust Fund. That will continue, according to the most recent Social Security Trustees’ Report, until the Trust Fund is depleted in about 2035, at which time Social Security will only be able to pay out about 80% of benefits due - unless Congress acts soon to resolve the issue. And the solutions are well known; what’s lacking in Congress is a serious bipartisan effort to fix the problem.

He did the right thing

Howard Kirby, of Shiawassee County, Michigan, finally had the space at home to build himself a “man cave” and so he set about the task of furnishing it. Out he went to a local thrift store and found a couch and ottoman that fit the bill. But it wasn’t long before he found fault with the ottoman. It was lumpy. Try as he might to soften the footrest, it remained too firm for comfort. So, he tore open the cushion and quickly found what was wrong. It was stuffed with more than $43,000 in cash. It crossed his mind, of course, to keep his find to himself, but instead, he decided to find the rightful owner, one Kim Fauth-Newberry. Her grandfather had passed away and among his personal property was the couch and ottoman. Ms. Fauth-Newberry wanted to get rid of it and had actually thought about burning it. Instead she donated it to the thrift store. Kirby told reporters: “I always thought what would I do if that ever happened and now I know, and it makes me feel good.”

She couldn’t lose

Eve Dubois gasped when she got the answer wrong during an episode of Family Feud Canada. Nevertheless, she went home with a $10,000 prize. Her gaff occurred when the host of the show asked her “to name Popeye’s favorite food.” Instead of answering that Popeye, the Sailor Man, preferred “spinach,” she eagerly blurted out, “chicken.” It caught the attention of the fast food chain, Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, which awarded her with a gift certificate worth $10,000 in food.

Riding high

A new era of for transportation is fast approaching. Waymo, the first commercial robo-cab company, boasts that hundreds of thousands of autonomous taxi riders are already using their service. Meanwhile, EHang, an air taxi company that uses self-steering passenger drones, has been testing its flying taxis in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Its first U.S. test took place recently in North Carolina, signaling a determination to get its venture “off the ground,” as one wag put it.

How much is too many

An attempt to break the world record for the largest number of twins to gather in one place went awry in Sri Lanka recently. They were aiming to attract about 5,000 pairs of twins to secure the Guinness record established in Taiwan where 3,961 sets showed up in 1999. But the Sri Lankan event attracted an estimated 14,000 pairs causing chaos.

Bragging rights

Two West Virginia fishing enthusiasts made it into the state’s record books. Zachary Adkins landed a carp measuring more than 53 inches at Warden Lake and Justin Conner brought in a nearly 50 inch blue catfish that he caught in the Ohio River. While they now hold the record to for length, neither the carp nor the catfish were heavy enough to break the existing weight records.

The cops had him dead to rights

A commuter in Arizona takes the cake when it comes to coming up with illegal ways to use HOV lanes. Arizona highway police recently caught a driver who thought he could get away with a skeleton propped up in the passenger seat of his car. Apparently he thought he could disguise the carcass by putting a hat on its head and covering its torso with what appeared to be bandages.

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Be your own valentine: Seven ways to tap into your "love-power" and change your life

By KAREN MCGREGOR

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and we all have our feelings about it. If we're dating or (happily) married, we may be excited about the flowers, chocolates, and candlelit dinners. If we are single, we may feel dissatisfied, sad, or annoyed. (We may even retitle the holiday "Singles Awareness Day.") Either way, is our tendency to define love in terms of romance making us miss a much bigger picture?

Yes, I believe so. I have no issue with Valentine's Day itself—I just don't want us to let it trivialize what love actually is.

Whether you have a partner or not, don't fall into the trap of seeing love as something outside yourself. We're all born with love; in fact, it's our Divine Purpose—our reason for being here—and it's the origin of all our power. It's what allows us to exert positive influence on those around us.

When you reconnect with that primal power—I call it "love-power"—you unlock the door to a deeper, richer, more meaningful life. You become a heart-driven person who regularly uses your influence to not only improve your life but the lives of those around you.

You may not be used to thinking of power and influence in terms of love. That's because Western civilization views the mind (not the heart) as the source of power. But since intellect is intertwined with ego, love-based power often gets distorted, morphing into fear-based power. This causes us to seek to control others, to be passive-aggressive, to act like a victim, to engage in risky behaviors to feel special or noticed, and more.

I believe the ancient wisdom of the 4,000-year-old Tao Te Ching can help us identify and break the "power patterns" that undermine our influence, create dysfunctional relationships, and otherwise squelch our potential.

When you're in pure love-power, you're happy, curious, in an unending state of awe. You're quick to forgive. You're wide open to other people and new opportunities. Everything about how you experience the world—and how it experiences you—shifts.

Read on for some "light" and relatively simple things you can do on Valentine's Day—and afterward—to start reconnecting with your pure love-power.

Take a Valentine's Day meditation break. (It's the key to experiencing life in the holy moment of now.) Why should we meditate? Because it helps us detach from our preferences—which trigger our need to be "right" or "in control" and lead to suffering—and practice being in the present. Just set aside 15-20 minutes to sit quietly and focus on your breath. If your mind wanders, that's okay: The point is not to judge the thoughts that stream endlessly into your consciousness but to allow them to ebb and flow without getting emotionally hooked.

Successful meditation occurs when there is no war between your head and your heart. This state is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. If you've always 'meant' to try meditating but haven't yet done so, Valentine's Day is the perfect day to start.

Gift yourself a lovely journal. Journaling is a powerful practice that can help you get in better touch with your thoughts and feelings, recognize goals, enhance gratitude, and pinpoint areas in your life that need work. Find a journal that speaks to you (pick a gorgeous one that inspires you to write). Then set aside some time alone (even just 10 minutes) to write each day.

Journal to find gratitude. Write about your blessings until you see how abundant your life really is. Pause as you write to ensure that you really feel the state of gratitude.

Journal to stay in the moment. When your mind is racing, journaling can help you return to the present. Make a small checkmark in your notebook or journal each time you're aware of not being in the holy moment of now. Note what took you out of presence.

Journal about stillness in your life. When and where can you incorporate more stillness? When does your mind struggle to be still? Record how you feel after meditation or practicing gratitude daily for one week.

Sing and dance your way to gratitude. As mentioned, many people keep a gratitude journal. The problem is, it can turn into a mindless checklist that simply creates the illusion of gratitude. If that happens, try singing and dancing instead. In his book The Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz says this is a natural expression of our love-power—which is why little children sing and dance. They haven't yet developed the filters and fear that they'll be judged. You can dance and sing in the privacy of your room or as you clean your house. If you want to take it to the next level, consider signing up for a hip-hop or salsa class or joining a local choir.

Get rid of something that isn't serving you. Often without realizing it, we clutter and complicate our lives with things that create chaos and drama. It can be anything from too much "stuff" in our homes, to too many commitments, to the wrong job or relationship. A great expression of self-love is to pinpoint something to purge. Do a closet clean out or a social media detox. Turn down a project. Draw a much-needed boundary. Just take one step to simplify your life and free up your energy.

Grieve losses and release pain with this heart exercise. This may not feel very Valentine-y, but when we're changing our life for the better, we must first release what was. Otherwise we'll get stuck and block the clarity we need to move forward. Pain can be released through the portal of the heart. When you focus on your heart, a desire to release the pain of the past may arise. Even better, your heart knows how to do that without your mind interrupting.

Here's a simple exercise: Focus on the heart and allow the feelings of your past to present themselves. Just allow the process to unfold. Allow your body to feel and release without letting your mind get hooked into the emotion, feeding the ego needs and magnifying your power patterns. When you put your attention on your heart, you may notice that it feels warm or even hot. That is a sign you are releasing stored emotional pain.

If you're single, stop searching for "the one." It's common to believe that there's one person out there who can finally see us for who we really are. But searching for our perfect match is a chase that's based on an illusion. I love romance, but I've come to believe that it's usually founded in the need to be special. People search for "the one" their entire lives, never escaping the constant craving for specialness. Never confuse love with specialness. Love supports a life of joy and love-power; "specialness" impedes it.

In that same vein, it's time to revisit the definition of "soul mate." Soul mates are actually not romantic partners but people destined to help you grow by presenting you with challenging personality traits and actions you don't like. This mind shift may defuse anger or defensiveness and help you change the dynamic with "difficult" people who cross your path.

If you're in a romantic relationship, start working toward a cause you believe in, together. There is no greater calling for a romantic relationship than to create a better world. In fact, many millennials are moving in this direction! Rather than being absorbed by one another, they are breaking the old paradigm of romantic co-dependency and choosing instead to be inter-dependent, working together for causes that uplift humanity. This new paradigm of relationship lets people shift from a state of isolation within their own dramas, fears, and wounds, which are experienced as they get to know their partner, to becoming a presence in the world.

Talk with your partner and choose a project to participate in. Maybe arrange to visit an orphanage to play games with or tutor school children, or plan a fundraiser event to benefit the homeless. Think about the passions you both share and start there. You will be amazed by how deeply a project rooted in love-power can transform your lives.

While Valentine's Day is a good time to think about connecting to your love-power, or even take a symbolic first step, it's actually a journey you take every day, all year long.

Before you can bring your best self to all of your relationships, you must connect to love-power. Love-power is the key to unlocking your potential and opening your being to everything life has in store. It's how you provide clarity to those around you. It's how you join hearts with others to change the world.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Pfc. Oscar Austin

By KATIE LANGE

DOD News

Sacrificing yourself for another is one of the most valiant things a person could do. It's how 21-year-old Marine Corps Pfc. Oscar Austin earned his Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.

Austin was born in Nacogdoches, Texas, but his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when he was very young. He grew up there and graduated high school in 1967 before enlisting in the Marine Corps on April 22, 1968.

A few months later, in October 1968, the newly promoted private first class was sent to Vietnam, where he served as an assistant machine gunner.

By early 1969, the North Vietnamese kicked off another offensive similar to the massive Tet Offensive of 1968. By February, they had launched simultaneous attacks on more than 100 towns, cities and villages across South Vietnam. On Feb. 23, 1969, Austin was at a Marine base just west of Danang when that enemy offensive came to them.

Early that morning, Austin and his friend, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Douglas Payne, was on duty at an observation post when the enemy attacked, spraying the Marines with gunfire, grenades and explosives.

Austin found himself protected from the assault in a dugout, but he quickly noticed that Payne was lying injured several dozen yards away. Without considering his own safety, Austin ran from his hole across the open terrain to help drag Payne back to safety.

Austin was almost to Payne when he saw a grenade land nearby. He reacted instantly, jumping between Payne and the grenade as it went off.

Austin was blasted with shrapnel and seriously injured, but he refused to give up. He somehow managed to stand and was about to grab for Payne when he saw an enemy soldier aiming a weapon at his unconscious friend.

Once again, without hesitating, Austin threw himself between Payne and danger. Austin was hit with a spray of bullets and died there on the battlefield. The 21-year-old had saved his friend's life twice in exchange for his own.

On April 20, 1970, Austin's mother received the Medal of Honor on his behalf from Vice President Spiro Agnew at a White House ceremony.

Payne — the man for whom Austin gave his life — survived the war. He publicly admitted to struggling for years with how he could live up to Austin's sacrifice. He eventually went to college, commissioned into the Navy, then worked as a civilian counselor for federal prison inmates.

In August 2000, the Navy commissioned a ship in honor of Austin, the destroyer USS Oscar Austin. The fallen Marine's surviving family attended the ceremony, as did Payne.

Austin is also memorialized on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington, and he continues to be honored all these years later. In March 2016, sailors from the USS Oscar Austin paid honors to the ship's namesake during Navy Week in his hometown of Phoenix, visiting his gravesite for a wreath-laying ceremony.

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Know Your Military

Ritchie Boys' aided Army's efforts to defeat Germany during WWII

By DAVID VERGUN

DOD News

As the world observes International Holocaust Remembrance Day, some may remember the so-called "Ritchie Boys," who greatly aided allied forces in their fight against Germany and other Axis nations in World War II.

Early on in the war, the Army realized it needed German- and Italian-speaking U.S. soldiers for a variety of duties, including psychological warfare, interrogation, espionage and intercepting enemy communications. Besides their language ability, these soldiers were familiar with the culture and thinking of enemy soldiers, which would aid them in their efforts.

Many of the 15,200 selected were Jewish soldiers who fled Nazi-controlled Germany, which was systematically killing Jews. The soldiers were sent for training to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, beginning June 19, 1942, where they trained at the Military Intelligence Training Center — thus their nickname, the Ritchie Boys.

Many of these soldiers landed at Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and others followed to perform their specialized tasks, which provided advanced intelligence to allied forces regarding German war plans and tactics.

Following the war, some of the Ritchie Boys were used as interrogators during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.

Many of the Ritchie Boys went on to have successful civilian careers, including J.D. Salinger, author of the classic book "The Catcher in the Rye."

In 2011, the Holocaust Memorial Center, in Farmington Hills, Michigan, hosted an exhibit of the Ritchie Boys' exploits. Surviving soldiers were among the attendees.

Walter Midener, an attendee, was awarded the Silver Star. In civilian life, he became a noted sculpture and fine arts teacher and rose to the presidency for the Center for Creative Studies at Detroit's College of Art and Design.

Wayne State University Professor Ehrhard Dabringhaus, another attendee, was ordered, shortly after the war, to become the American control officer to Klaus Barbie, the notorious war criminal. Dabringhaus went on to write a book about the experience, called "Klaus Barbie: The Shocking Story of How the U.S. Used this Nazi War Criminal as an Intelligence Agent."

Dr. Guy Stern, a Bronze Star Medal recipient who attended, said: "It was an emotional reunion, definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was wonderful to see these people again. This was our kind of war. We worked harder than anyone could have driven us. We were crusaders."

It's important for people everywhere to remember those who perished and those who survived the Holocaust and, in a world increasingly faced with sectarian strife and intolerance, to set forth the lessons of the Holocaust as a model for teaching ethical conduct and responsible decision-making, Stern said.

"By highlighting those individuals who, in the midst of evil, stood for the best, rather than the worst of human nature, the Holocaust Memorial Center seeks to contribute to maintaining an open and free society," he added.

Fort Ritchie, as it later became known, closed in 1998.

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Medal of Honor: Army Capt. Thomas Custer

By KATIE LANGE

DOD News

We're honoring a famous Custer, but not THE Custer you’re thinking of — Civil War Gen. George Custer, of "Custer's last stand" fame. We're honoring his brother, Capt. Thomas Custer, who became the first double recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Thomas Custer was born March 15, 1845, in New Rumley, Ohio. He was six years younger than his more famous brother, whom he idolized, and he wanted to follow him into the military.

When the Civil War broke out, Custer was only 16 and too young to join, so he lied about his age. He enlisted in the Army's 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1861.

Custer took part in several battles in Tennessee and Georgia before being sent to perform escort duties on the staff of three generals until his unit was disbanded. When Custer reenlisted in 1864, he was promoted to second lieutenant and transferred to the 6th Michigan Cavalry, which served in Virginia. There, he worked on the staff for his brother, a brigadier general. He also fought in several campaigns, including the April 1865 Battle of Five Forks. His efforts there led to his battlefield promotion to brevet major.

On April 3, 1865, Custer was leading a charge over an enemy barricade near Namozine Church in Virginia when he grabbed the Confederate flag out of the hands of its bearer. He also secured the capture of 14 prisoners.

Three days later, Custer was at the Battle of Sailor's Creek in Virginia when he captured two more flags — one of which he stole while charging the color bearer on his horse. The animal was shot out from under him, and Custer was wounded in the face, but he managed to shoot and kill the enemy soldier to take the flag.

Custer received a Medal of Honor for each of those actions. He was the first of 19 men to have earned the nation's highest military honor more than once.

And if you're not sure why stealing flags warranted the Medal of Honor, here’s why.

According to the National Cemetery Administration, Custer's actions took away the honor of two enemy regiments. Military regimental flags were considered highly significant during the Civil War, as they helped guide troop movements during chaotic battles. If a regiment's flag was lost or stolen, confusion set in that sometimes led to men on the same side shooting each other. The flags were also often made by the communities from which the regiments came, so they symbolized local pride and sentimentality. The taking of a flag brought shame to that regiment's soldiers.

After capturing those flags, Custer wanted to keep fighting, but he was forced out of the battle due to his injuries, even though they weren't serious. He was sent to recover in a Virginia hospital.

When the war ended, Custer stayed in the military. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Cavalry — where his brothers George and Boston were also serving — and fought in the Dakota and Montana territories. In 1875, Custer was promoted to captain and put in command of Company C.

Custer and his brothers died during the Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. Often referred to as "Custer's last stand," the short battle spearheaded by George Custer led to the deaths of nearly a third of the men of the 7th Cavalry, who were encircled and slaughtered by their enemy in less than an hour. The Custer brothers' bodies were found near one another on the battlefield.

Thomas Custer was initially buried where he fell, but in 1877, he was reinterred at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas. That military post was the main supply depot for the U.S. military west of the Mississippi River.

So now, when you think of Custer's last stand, you may remember there was more than one Custer involved.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

We took benefits early; can we get more now?

Dear Rusty: My birth date is 1947. My wife is 1950. We both took our Social Security years ago at age 62 due to health concerns because we questioned if we would live to age 78 to equalize the extra payout if we would have waited to age 66. Taking early at 62 may have been a mistake and I am wondering if there are any options available to maximize my and/or my wife's monthly payment with a restricted application or any other available options? My gross monthly is $946.60, and my wife’s is $543.60 before the deduction for Medicare. Together our gross monthly is about equal to the per person individual average monthly payment of $1479. Signed: Regretful we took SS early.

Dear Regretful: I’m afraid the options for either you or your wife increasing your benefit at this point are extremely limited. You cannot file the restricted application you mentioned because that can only be done by someone applying for the first time (and who was born before 1/2/1954), and only by someone who has not yet reached age 70. Neither can you suspend your benefits to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) because DRCs are only earned up to age 70. Your wife has a very small window until she reaches 70 in March during which she could suspend her benefits, and by doing so immediately she could perhaps earn, at most, an additional 1% in DRCs (about $5 more per month). That leaves only two other things which could increase your benefits: 1) Annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) granted each year depending upon inflation, and 2) returning to work and having substantial current earnings which may replace the earnings in a lower-earning year in your lifetime work record (SS uses the highest earning 35 years over your lifetime to compute your benefit amount).

If you have some years in that 35-year history with no or very low earnings, working now could replace one or more of those years. I have no way of determining whether that is a possibility; you would need to get your lifetime earnings record from Social Security and see if that is possible by examining your earnings for each year over your lifetime. But remember, all early years of earnings are adjusted for inflation, so for example, $10,000 earned in 1990 would be equal to about $25,000 in today’s dollars, and you’d need to earn more than the higher amount to have any effect on your benefit.

I wish I had better news for you, but the unfortunate reality is that once someone claims their Social Security, the benefit amount is quite fixed. Although it’s possible to withdraw an application within 12 months of initial filing, and it’s also possible to suspend benefits once FRA is reached, neither of those is available to you. And your wife only has a very short window to suspend her benefits, which will reach maximum when she reaches 70 in March. So, except for the COLA increases and returning to work options I’ve discussed above, I’m afraid you have no other opportunity to increase your Social Security benefit amounts.

About Warnings to Make Sure I “file properly”

Dear Rusty: I am currently 63 years old and planning to delay retirement until 70 to maximize my benefit. I’ve been seeing a lot of financial planners advertising claims that you can lose thousands of dollars in benefits if you don’t “file properly.” Is there really anything more to it than simply applying for benefits when you are ready to retire? Do I really need to pay a financial advisor just to tell me how to apply to get the most benefits? Signed: Skeptical

Dear Skeptical: Nearly all the advertisements you see using language like that have an underlying purpose of trying to sell you something – usually a book, a subscription, or financial services. The phrase “losing thousands if you don’t file properly” are very generic words meant to lure you into contacting them so they can sell something to you. Reality is that “filing properly” means simply choosing the right age to file for benefits given your specific personal circumstances. And personal circumstances are different for everyone. There aren’t any tricks in the filing process itself – it’s really quite straightforward, and you can get all your Social Security filing questions answered here at The AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory Service. Our staff of Social Security Advisors are fully trained and certified by the National Social Security Association (NSSA®), and we have years of experience on this complex topic. We provide Social Security information and answers to several thousand people each year, without a fee because we are a not-for-profit entity operating only on donations. And contacting us is easy at either ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org, or 1.888.750.2622.

As for when you should file, everyone’s personal situation is different, and your marital status should always be considered. But as an individual, waiting until age 70 will give you the maximum benefit available to you. If you are now 63, your age 70 benefit will be 29.3% more than it would be at your full retirement age of 66 years and 4 months, and about 65% more than you’d get at age 64. And provided you are in good health and expect at least average longevity (about 84) not only will your monthly payment be more, but you’ll collect more in cumulative lifetime benefits by waiting. And here’s an extra bonus – if you are married and you predecease your wife, her survivor benefit will be based upon that larger amount you were receiving because you delayed claiming. If she has reached her full retirement age, as your widow your wife will get 100% of your actual benefit. But if you were to claim earlier, your wife’s survivor benefit would be based on that smaller amount.

The answer to your specific question is that there is no magical way to apply for benefits once you determine the age at which you wish to file. You can file by calling the Social Security Administration directly, either at their general number (1.800.772.1213) or your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator), or you can also file online at www.ssa.gov/retire. Filing online is by far the easiest and most efficient way to complete and submit your application for benefits.

All aboard

Hundreds of men and women around the world “dropped trou” recently in celebration of the 18th annual No Pants Subway Ride. Immodestly clad in panties and scanties, young folk and old from New York, the flagship city, to the far reaches of the globe they boarded London’s Tube, Tokyo’s Metro, Berlin’s U-Bahn and Lisbon’s Metropolitano for a near-nude fun fest. New York-based comedy collective, Improve Everywhere, established the event in 2002 and it went viral across the planet. Their aim: “to surprise and delight random strangers through positive pranks.”

A fishy tale

Groupers are sluggish-looking fat fish that kind of hang around the waters off the coast of Florida. How fat are they? The one caught off the southwest coast of Florida recently by angler Jason Boyll weighed in at 350 pounds. And, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Jason’s fish was about 50 years old, making it the institute’s oldest sample.

An amazing buzzer-beater

It may have taken some luck, but high school cager, Katara Key, used her well-honed skill to sink a 65-foot winning basket from across the court for Reading High against rival William Penn High School in Pennsylvania. It happened just as the buzzer sounded the end of the game. As she put it in a post-game interview with KPVI-TV: "I just saw the spiral and I was like yeah, that's going in. I practice that shot all the time with my coach."

Inflatable robots

Robots can build cars, move inventory and clean floors, but could they someday also help take care of the sick or elderly? The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Nursing have received grant from the National Science Foundation to do just that. Their goal is to create robotic mats that inflate into precise shapes and could be placed on top of hospital beds to help health care workers move patients. “When you think about it, a hospital bed is already a robot,” said project leader James Pikul. “It bends to different shapes and has sensors to monitor vital signs. They’re already sophisticated systems; they’re just bad at moving people. And we want to fix that.”

Amazing cows

While food production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, there are opportunities to rethink the role of livestock in the environment. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, with support from the state’s Department of Agriculture, is investigating how cows can consume plant and food residues that are either indigestible by or unpalatable to humans or are no longer salable for any of a number of reasons. The project will uncover ways that products previously considered “waste” could be used as animal feed, leading to a more sustainable agricultural system and giving rise to meat, milk or fertilizer as a result.

How ice grows

For many people, winter is the season of scraping car windshields on frigid mornings. Researchers have spent decades studying the details of how ice deposits in this way. Now, an international team of scientists has described the first-ever visualization of the atomic structure of two-dimensional ice as it formed. Insights from the findings, which were driven by computer simulations that inspired experimental work, may one day inform the design of materials that make ice removal a simpler and less costly process. “This challenges the traditional view of how ice grows,” says Joseph S. Francisco, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Pennsylvania who co-authored the study. (EDITORS: the complete article, should you have need of it)

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor RUSSELL GLOOR

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – When Should I Claim My Widow’s Benefit?

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away at the age of 52, and I was 53. I am currently 59. I've read about and been encouraged to file for widow’s benefits from Social Security when I turn 60. My question is: does doing that impact when I should file for my regular Social Security benefits? In reading on many websites regarding my question, this never is addressed on what is best. Signed: Widowed Survivor

Dear Survivor: You have my sympathy for the loss of your husband at such a young age. I’ll try to clarify your options for you.

Provided you have not remarried you can claim your survivor benefit at age 60, but if you do it will be reduced by 28.5% from what it would be at your full retirement age (FRA) of 67. As long as you are explicit when claiming your survivor benefit that you are not also applying for your own Social Security benefit, there will be no negative impact to your eventual Social Security retirement benefit when you claim that. But, determining which benefit to take, and when, requires some thought.

Your goal should be to get the highest benefit possible for the rest of your life. To help you decide how and when to file, you should first see what your survivor benefit will be at your full retirement age (100% of what your husband was entitled to at his death). If that amount is more than you are entitled to on your own at age 70 then you should consider waiting until age 67 (your FRA) to claim your widow’s benefit, so you can get that higher survivor benefit for the rest of your life. Conversely, if your own age 70 benefit will be more than your widow’s benefit at your FRA, then claiming your widow’s benefit first and allowing your own benefit to grow until age 70 when it reaches maximum would be the more prudent choice. You can get estimates of both your survivor benefit and your age 70 retirement benefit by contacting Social Security. But if claiming the survivor benefit at age 60 is what you decide, or if you were to instead claim your Social Security retirement benefits early (e.g., age 62) there’s more for you to consider.

If you are collecting any Social Security benefits before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) and you are still working, you will be subject to Social Security’s “earnings limit” which restricts the amount you can earn before they take back some of your benefits (the earnings limit changes annually; for 2020 it is $18,240). Up until the year you reach your FRA, they will take back benefits equal to one half of any earnings you have over the limit. During the year you reach your FRA the limit increases by about 2.5 times and the penalty is less, and once you reach your FRA there is no longer a limit on your earnings. So, if you claim your survivor benefit at age 60 and are working, exceeding the earnings limit will result in you permanently losing some of your survivor benefits. If, instead, you claim your SS retirement benefit early (e.g., at age 62) you’ll still be subject to the earnings limit until you reach age 67, but at your FRA they will give you time credit for any months you didn’t get your retirement benefits and increase your benefit amount accordingly.

The important point to remember is that you have a choice of which benefit to take, and evaluating your options as described above should lead you to the right answer - whether you should claim your reduced survivor benefit at age 60, or to delay until it reaches maximum at age 67.

Back to the future

Ron Mallett is no “nut job,” but you might call him a very educated dreamer who believes in time travel. Dr. Mallet is also an astrophysicist and a tenured professor at the University of Connecticut. He has written a scientific equation using theories established by Albert Einstein that he believes might offer a blueprint for building a time machine, skeptics notwithstanding. As he told CNN recently, “In Einstein’s theory, what we call space also involves time — that’s why it’s called space time, whatever it is you do to space also happens to time.” Go figure!

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A very ‘naughty’ Christmas

He sported a beard that gave him a Santa Claus look, but he was no Kris Kringle. In fact, he was arrested by the Colorado Springs police robbing a bank for an undisclosed amount of cash. But it would appear that he was, indeed, full of the Christmas Spirit because after getting away with the loot he tossed his ill-gotten gains into the air, wishing passersby “Merry Christmas.” He then headed for a nearby coffee shop to await the arrival of the local authorities and his arrest.

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A fateful Christmas story

Siobhane Riggs, who was 5 years old at the time, placed a message in a bottle and tossed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia. The tides carried it off to Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa where Patrick Dennis found it in 2002. Patrick tried to call Siobhan and finally got in touch with her mom, Carolanne Riggs, who informed him that the girl was tragically killed in an accident at the age of six. Carolanne and Patrick stayed in touch and 17 years later Patrick and his family made the trip to Newfoundland to spend Christmas with Carolanne and her family. It was a heartfelt moment. As Carolanne put it to reporters at CBC: "I really do feel that this message landing over in Tenerife and Patrick getting this bottle and making this connection gives me some closure. It gives me a closure that she's not far. She is always here with us."

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If the tax cuts don’t last, will your retirement funds? 4 ways to make sure

Many taxpayers welcomed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that reduced income taxes through 2025, but now some people worry about the possibility of rates going up after the act expires and how that could affect their retirement.

It’s a special concern for people whose savings are in tax-deferred accounts, such as traditional IRAs or 401(k)s.

“The over-reliance on 401(k)s and IRAs is setting people up for a retirement trap,” says Greg DuPont (www.dupontwealth.com), an estate and tax planning attorney. “Given the dynamics of politics and the federal deficit, it’s probable that income tax rates will increase again. There’s a window of opportunity now before 2025 where plans can be adjusted to minimize those effects.

“Focusing on saving for the future using only tax-deferred investments forces you to take more risk to meet your income needs.”

DuPont says a recent bill passed by Congress, the SECURE Act, will affect retirees in numerous ways, including by the removal of the stretch IRA, which allowed an inherited IRA to be paid out over an heir’s lifetime. Now it must be paid out within 10 years, thus increasing the yearly tax burden on heirs.

“Passage of the SECURE Act indicates a real need to address the tax structure of your retirement accounts if they are part of the legacy you intend to leave behind,” DuPont says.

DuPont suggests four ways those approaching retirement or already in it can adjust their plans to reduce the impact of higher taxes:

Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account that allows the saver to withdraw savings tax-free in retirement. “The contributions are invested in what one selects, such as stocks, bonds or mutual funds, and Roth IRAs tend to offer more investment options than a Roth 401(k),” DuPont says. “Roth IRAs are an underutilized vehicle for retirement savings and investment. When the investments grow in value, you can receive the investment gains tax-free.”

Roth 401(k). Access to Roth 401(k)s is more common these days at companies. Contributions go in after tax. By contrast, with a traditional 401(k), contributions are pre-tax – taken off the top of gross earnings before your paycheck is taxed. “But the downside of a traditional 401(k) is you have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw based on your current tax rate in retirement,” DuPont says. “That’s a substantial penalty for many people. The biggest benefit of the Roth 401(k) is because you already paid taxes on your contributions, the withdrawals you make in retirement are tax-free. The money you put in, plus its growth, is yours.”

Investments through brokerages. “These have benefits above and beyond your typical IRAs,” DuPont says. “The thing people need to recognize is with brokerage accounts, you pay tax only on the money you gained on the investment. So it’s usually far better than taking out a sizable portion of your IRA, which is all taxable.”

Cash value life insurance. “The modern life insurance product gives the saver the ability to build cash value in that policy,” DuPont says. “That cash value grows without tax liability, giving you access to that cash value and accumulating at a more acceptable rate of return than typical bank rates at this point in time.”

“People strive to be debt-free in retirement,” DuPont says, “yet they disregard the biggest debt they may have – the debt to the IRS in their retirement accounts. You can manage the impact of those taxes and perhaps reduce them by taking determined action.”

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Dreading a dental visit? 5 tips for getting the most out of it

Many people would just as soon avoid scheduling a dental appointment, unless an unbearable toothache lands them reluctantly in the dentist’s chair.

Fear of pain is one reason for procrastination, but it’s not the only factor. People worry a routine checkup could reveal the need for expensive, major work. Wary patients also sometimes harbor doubts about whether a costly procedure is even necessary.

But patients can put themselves at ease and get the most out of their dental visit by fully vetting their dentist and learning how to weigh options, says Dr. Rick Mars (www.dentalcaregroup.net), author of The Big Smile: The Principles of Modern Dentistry – for Dentists and Patients.

“Many dentists don’t do a good job of educating their patients and communicating with them,” Dr. Mars says, “and most patients don’t do a good enough job educating themselves. We have a saying in dentistry that if you put 10 dentists in a room with a single patient, they will come up with 10 different treatment plans.

“But the great thing about dentistry is the multitude of creative solutions available to patients. You need to ask the right questions to make sure you understand the treatment options.”

Dr. Mars offers these tips for finding the right dental treatment at a fair price:

Educate yourself and listen when your dentist educates. “The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get the treatment you need and something disastrous happens,” Dr. Mars says. “The second worst thing that can happen is that you do get treatment, but you didn’t actually need it. Taking an active role means you not only do your own research and get a second opinion, but you also listen carefully to your doctor when your doctor educates you.”

Read online reviews with a critical eye. “The internet can be very helpful when you’re vetting a new dentist, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there with patients’ reviews,” Dr. Mars says. “In today’s world, patients wield power like they never previously had. In general, people who bother to write reviews are disgruntled and want recourse and even revenge. On the other hand, numerous positive reviews, ideally from people you know who were treated by that dentist, can add up to a trustworthy referral.”

Interview your dentist and their team. “You can ask them how many times they’ve done a certain procedure and even ask to see photos of their cases,” Dr. Mars says. “It may require a specialist rather than a general dentist. And find out why they charge what they charge.”

Get an honest second opinion. “Even though you trust your dentist, you might hear a treatment plan that just doesn’t sit well with you,” Dr. Mars says. “Get a copy of your radiographs from your current dentist to take to your second-opinion dentist. Never show the second dentist your treatment plan until they give their final suggestions.”

Ask to see the results of your dental investment. “Rather than limit your evaluation of your dentist to time, cost, or customer service, think about your dental work like you consider mechanical work to your car,” Dr. Mars says. “After treatment, dentists can and should show you radiographs of your teeth and point out the details proving your problem is fixed.”

“If you’ve done your homework,” Dr. Mars says, “your dentist, whether a general practitioner or a specialist, should leave no room for doubt that you’re in the right place.”

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Medal of Honor: Army 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk

By KATIE LANGE

Army 1st Sgt. Leonard Funk served in some of the most pivotal campaigns in the European theater of World War II, making him one of the war's most decorated paratroopers. After jumping into Normandy on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne Division, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross during Operation Market Garden. His Medal of Honor was earned toward the end of the war when he led the capture of a German garrison during the Battle of the Bulge.

Funk was born Aug. 27, 1916, and grew up east of Pittsburgh. He enlisted in the Army as a 21-year-old in June 1941, months before the U.S. entered World War II. He volunteered to be a paratrooper and was assigned to Company C of the 82nd's 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Funk was stationed in England for much of the war, although he didn't see action until June 6, 1944 — D-Day, the largest land, air and sea invasion in history.

On that day, the small unit he commanded landed nearly 40 miles inland. They fought for several days before breaking through enemy lines to rejoin their regiments closer to the coast. Everyone in Funk's unit survived that mission, and he earned a Silver Star Medal.

But that's a story for another time. Today we're focused on his heroics during the Battle of the Bulge.

On Jan. 29, 1945, Funk found himself in waist-deep snowdrifts with other American forces who had been fighting a massive contingent of German troops since mid-December. His unit had managed to advance 15 miles in a driving snowstorm so they could attack the German-held town of Holzheim, Belgium.

When the company's executive officer went down, Funk stepped up to take his place. He realized they didn't have enough infantrymen to take out the German garrison, so he gathered a platoon full of clerks — soldiers with noncombat jobs — and turned them into a fighting force.

Despite facing direct artillery shelling and gunfire, Funk's men moved in. They attacked and cleared 15 houses without suffering any injuries. With the help of another American unit, they quickly overran the town, taking about 80 German prisoners who were placed under a four-man guard. The rest of the dilapidated American forces, including Funk, scanned the town to mop up any isolated points of resistance.

A few hours later, an enemy patrol managed to trick the Americans acting as guards, freeing the German prisoners. They had begun to get into place to attack Company C from the rear when Funk returned to check on the prisoners. He walked right into the enemy patrol.

A German officer, poking a pistol into Funk's stomach, ordered him to surrender. The first sergeant pretended to comply with the order, slowly unslinging his submachine gun from his shoulder. But instead of giving it up, he quickly fired, emptying a full magazine into the German officer and his counterparts, all the while shouting to his American comrades to seize the enemy’s weapons.

Within minutes, 21 Germans were killed, many more were wounded and the rest were captured.

Despite being outnumbered and facing certain death, Funk's actions were directly responsible for the recapture of a force that was much larger than his own. His actions also allowed the other units of Company C to continue their attack plans unfettered.

Funk received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 5, 1945, at a ceremony at the White House. He's one of the most decorated paratroopers of World War II, having also earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters.

Funk left the Army after the war and went on to work for the Veterans Administration in the Pittsburgh area. He and his wife, Gertrude, have two daughters.

Funk retired from the VA in 1972 and lived in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, until his death on Nov. 20, 1992. The 76-year-old is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

His legacy lives on. In 1995, a section of road where he lived was renamed the Leonard A. Funk Jr. Highway. In May 2018, he was inducted into the 82nd Airborne Division's Hall of Fame.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Can My Husband use the “Restricted Application?”

Dear Rusty: My question is about the "restricted application for spousal benefits only" I saw referenced in an article. I will turn 66 in February and have applied for my "full retirement benefit" and will continue to work full time. My husband turned 66 this month and has not yet applied for his benefits. According to the Social Security paperwork sent to us, I will receive about $1900 a month and my husband, who is self-employed, would only receive $500 to $600. If my husband claimed "spousal benefits only" using the restricted application, would I still receive my $1900 and he would receive 50% of that for an estimated total of $2850? Doesn't seem to make sense to me! As you can see, we must be in denial of our age and are not knowledgeable about Social Security!! Signed: Inquisitive Senior

Dear Inquisitive: Based on the amounts you quoted in your email (which I assume were recent estimates from the Social Security Administration), your husband should claim his own benefits this month and then claim his normal spousal benefit in February when your benefits start. Since your husband has already reached his full retirement age of 66, his spousal benefit will be the full 50% of the benefit you are entitled to when you reach your full retirement age in February.

Although your husband qualifies for and can submit a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” (as described in the article you read), there is little reason for him to do so because his own benefit, even if he delays claiming it until he is 70, will be less than his spousal benefit from your record. Instead, since his spousal benefit from you will be the highest amount he will ever be eligible for, he can just claim his own benefit first and then claim his regular spousal benefit to begin when your Social Security retirement benefit starts. Here’s why:

If your husband’s current benefit at his full retirement age (FRA) would be $600 and he’s not yet collecting, he could earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) at a rate of 0.667 per month of delay (8% per year of delay). That will mean his own benefit would be 32% more at age 70 then he is now eligible for at his FRA, which means his maximum benefit on his own earnings record will be $792/month ($600 plus 32%).

The only reason to file the restricted application (for which he is eligible only because he was born before January 2, 1954) is to let his own benefit grow while he collects a spousal benefit, so he can switch to his own higher benefit later. But since his spousal benefit from you will be about $950 - more than the maximum benefit he can get from his own record at age 70 - his most prudent choice would be to simply claim his own benefit now and apply for his normal spousal benefit to start when your SS benefit starts in February. No need for him to file the restricted application because his own benefit will never be higher than his spousal benefit. And just for complete clarity, your husband collecting his spousal benefit from you will not affect your own Social Security retirement benefit in any way.

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org.

If the bra fits?

Vets came up with a “more comfortable” way to treat a sheep in New Zealand that suffered from sagging udders after giving birth to lamb triplets. Instead of surgery, they fitted the ewe with a store bought bra to keep her sagging mammaries from being dragged on the ground. The alternative would have been painful surgery or euthanasia.

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Museum Mania

There’s a museum dedicated to unknown animals in Portland, ME [go figure]. Then there is the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI and the Museum of the Weird in Austin, TX. But if you want to visit the Museum of Hangovers you’ll have to go abroad to Zagreb, Croatia. It is the brainstorm of a college student there and is dedicated to chronicling strange and, sometimes, disturbing tales of the “morning after.” Founder Rino Dubokovic says his aim is to make people aware of what can happen when they overindulge by sharing stories of odd and sometimes scary hangover experiences.

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Twas the night before Christmas

It happened on Christmas Eve in South Burlington, VT. A beloved pet, Cayenne the cat, took a stroll in the yard and decided to climb a tree. His distraught owner hastily decided to attempted a rescue on his own. But he wound up stuck with the cat in the tall branches. Firefighters soon arrived and rescued the cat and its owner and later issued this warning: “at no point is it a good idea to try and rescue an animal out of a tree yourself.”

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

It happened on New Year’s Day,1863—two years into a bloody war that pitted the Union against the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared: "on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State ... shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”

That pronouncement was a critical decision that has rippled through the country’s history, with profound impact.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction And The Dawn Of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Tonya Bolden; a 2019 Grateful American Book Prize “Honorable Mention.”

President Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, was widely criticized for signing an 1867 agreement with Russia to purchase the territory of Alaska. Critics called it “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Iceberg”, even though the price--$7.2 million--was only about two cents per acre for a landmass about one-fifth the size of the U.S.

But, Johnson’s “polar bear garden,” according to a detractor, turned out to be an acquisition rich in resources, particularly oil reserves; on January 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation making Alaska the 49th state-- the largest in the Union.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Alaska's History: The People, Land, and Events of the North Country by Harry Ritter.

One of the most decisive skirmishes in the War of 1812 was the Battle of New Orleans; it took place January 8, 1815 and lasted a few hours. Ironically, neither the British forces nor the American forces were aware that the Treaty of Ghent—already signed—had ended the war.

With the aid of buccaneer Jean Lafitte, his band of pirates, and sharpshooters from Kentucky and Tennessee, 4,500 U.S. troops under the command of General Andrew Jackson, stormed a British force of 7,500 soldiers. Jackson’s army incurred a minimal number of casualties--eight men dead and 13 wounded, but among the British troops two thousand were killed or wounded.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny by Brian Kilmeade.

The birthday of the American oil industry is January 10. In 1901, wildcatters brought in what was probably the first “gusher” in history--on Spindletop Hill, just five miles from Beaumont, TX. It spewed 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day, took more than a week to cap, and eventually birthed the first trillion-dollar industry in the world.

“Black Gold” propelled the inventions of the automobile and the airplane, and improved efficiencies in the older forms of transportation--ships and trains.

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Spindletop Gusher: The Story of the Texas Oil Boom by Carmen Bredeson.

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Defusing anxiety & negativity in 2020: Why gratitude is key

By FRANK KILPATRICK

We all want to feel happy and productive. But here's the Catch 22: the things we do to try to feel that way—working long hours, rushing kids from one activity to the other, and meeting all of life's obligations—can leave us feeling stressed, anxious, and even resentful. (And that's not counting the complications that spring up.) We may find ourselves thinking: What's the point of all this hard work if I can't enjoy my life?

Thankfully, we can feel contentment (and yes, happiness!) even when life is at its most chaotic. It comes not from trying to control your circumstances (which isn't always possible) but from shifting how you look at them.

I love the saying "Gratitude doesn't change things for you, it changes you for things." When we can learn to come from a place of gratitude, we see things differently. There's a mindset shift that brings peace. My new Gratitude Musical/Visual meditation series, (available on YouTube at www.YouTube.com/c/GratitudeVideo) helps listeners tap into that mindset.

n other words, instead of dreading a tough project at work, we feel gratitude for our job. Instead of feeling stressed about taking our aging mother to the doctor, we're grateful to be able to spend the afternoon with her.

My colleagues—Grammy-winner Alex Wand and composer/vocalist Rayko—and I are on a mission to fill the world with gratitude. Our meditation series—which combines "microtonal" music, vocals, visuals, and on-screen lyrical messages in a unique way that keeps your attention—is designed to help train the brain for gratitude and peace. This focus stems from our work on the Stay Alive video/podcast documentary and is a central part of our strategy for supporting at-risk populations.

Of course, you can't just flip a switch and BOOM! you're grateful. Gratitude evolves over time. It's about building some small, daily habits into your routine—and the new year is the perfect time to start. For example:

Make room in your life for gratitude. Often FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) drives us to stretch ourselves too thin. But it's hard to feel grateful when you are overcommitted. Know that it's totally okay to turn down invitations if you don't feel like being around others, or to spend the weekend recharging. In fact, immersing yourself in the Gratitude meditation series is a great way to spend the time you free up when you cut back on all the "going and doing."

The Gratitude program can be an alternative to giving in to the toxic phenomenon of FOMO. When people remove what they've been conditioned to see as a "reward" they may feel empty, like something is lacking. This program is a great replacement. It's fine to feel grateful for friends and opportunities, but we need to feel grateful for quiet moments and downtime as well.

Prepare your mind. It's important to make time for meditation or contemplation. Think of this as strength training for your mind. At first it might seem difficult to find the time, but it teaches you to get relaxed and centered, which is a vital life skill. Over time, it will get easier and easier to drop into a space of quiet contentedness where gratitude is abundant. "Mind training" should be a part of your daily health routine, like brushing your teeth or stretching. But also, get into the habit of grabbing opportunities to meditate or watch the Gratitude series—like when you're getting ready for your day or waiting for your child at soccer practice.

There are very real advantages to this type of mind training. It helps you stay in a state of gratitude, which enables you to feel peace. It keeps you in the present moment, which is an incredibly powerful technique for keeping anxiety and depression at bay.

Make mind training a part of your self-care routine... People tend to think of self-care in terms of diet, exercise, and maybe sleep, but we often ignore what we put into our minds, what we think about and ruminate on. This is a mistake. Getting intentional about what we watch, listen to, and infuse into our consciousness is just as important—what we focus on shapes our mental state, impacts our relationships, and influences every choice we make.

Stop allowing junk food into your consciousness. We should monitor our cognitive input in the same way we regulate our intake of fats, carbs and calories. What you're doing is intentionally creating the best version of yourself.

...and think of it as a gateway to overall happiness. Neuroscience has proven over and over again that a focus on gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happy. When people engage in practices like meditating on gratitude (as the Gratitude series encourages) or by keeping a daily journal of what they are grateful for, they tend to feel more optimistic and positive about their lives. (That's happiness!) What's more, they may sleep better, exercise more, and enjoy better physical health than those who don't focus on gratitude.

Focus on the small things. There are plenty of things you can (and should) be grateful for in life's simple moments. A hot cup of coffee. Toasty sheets fresh from the dryer on a cold evening. A catchup phone call from a dear old friend. The smell of a delicious dinner wafting from the kitchen. The look of wonder in your toddler's eyes when they see the first snowfall of the year. Just start paying attention and let yourself feel the wonderment.

Say "thank you" (and really mean it). When someone does something kind for you, recognize it with a sincere "thank you." Be specific about why what they did matters. (This helps you mean it, which is important; mindless "thank yous" don't count.) Recognition, even in small doses, makes others feel great, but it also gives you a boost of joy. And it exercises those gratitude muscles.

Manage your expectations. Real life doesn't look like a Norman Rockwell painting and your home most likely will never look like a spread in Better Homes and Gardens. Parents get old. Kids get bad grades. Tempers flare from time to time. Even during a wonderful meal with family and friends, someone might get sick, make a judgmental comment, or burst into tears during the salad course. That's life. It's messy and complicated...and beautiful.

It's hard to be grateful and focused on perfection at the same time. Keep in mind that even best-laid plans seldom go off without a hitch. Remember to savor the good moments and seek out loving feelings toward your friends and families. Find the love in every situation.

The best thing about gratitude is that it's contagious. If you put it out there, chances are very good you will get it back! And don't forget: others are watching you and will see how empowered you have become just by being happy.

Make the effort in the upcoming year to focus on gracious and loving feelings and that peace will find its way to you. You will be amazed at the new and joyful places this attitude of gratitude will lead you.

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Navigating garden catalogs to plan for the season ahead

By MELINDA MYERS

As garden catalogs are piling up and online versions fill your inbox, your thoughts may turn to the growing season ahead. With so many choices of beautiful flowers and scrumptious vegetables it can be overwhelming and hard to resist buying more seeds and plants than you have space to grow and time to tend.

Start by flipping through the pages of various catalogs and searching gardening websites and online catalogs to gather ideas and inspiration. Narrow down your search by selecting plants suited to your climate and growing conditions.

Quality catalogs will list the cold hardiness zone of trees, shrubs and perennials and often include the Plant Hardiness Zone Map developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These hardiness zones are based on the average minimum winter temperature. The lower the number, the more cold-tolerant the plant.

Sunset Climate Zones for North America may be new to many gardeners. A variety of factors beyond high and low temperatures were considered when the 45 hardiness zones were created. Microclimates, growing season, rainfall, humidity, wind patterns, and ocean currents were some of the other factors that went into defining these zones.

Read the plant description and select plants that match the light, soil and moisture in your garden. Make sure annual flowers and vegetables you select have time to flower and produce before your season ends. Those with a longer time to harvest than your growing season allows will need to be started indoors. You will need time and indoor growing space to start your own long-season plants from seed indoors.

Select the most disease resistant and low maintenance varieties whenever possible. Make sure you have enough space in the garden or containers for all the plants you select and for each of them to reach their mature size. Overcrowding plants increases the risk of disease and can reduce flowering and productivity.

Look for award-winning plants when reviewing the catalogs. All-America Selections’ winners (AAS) are tested nationally and selected for improved growth habit, flowering, pest resistance or some other unique feature for the home garden. Perennial Plant, Hosta and Daylilies of the Year are selected by members of the various organizations for their outstanding performance.

Consult your local University Extension service. Most create lists of plants and varieties that are best suited to your region. They often recommend planting dates based on the average local soil and air temperatures.

Your next step – inventory any leftover seeds saved from last season. When properly stored in a cool dark location many seeds can last for years. Longevity does vary with the type of seed, but you may be surprised to find you can get years of planting from one packet of seeds. Onions, parsley, verbena and salvia usually last about a year, whereas properly stored Brussels sprouts, cabbage and zinnias can last an average of five years.

Create your list and set it aside for a day or two before placing your orders. A bit of planning can save you money and increase success as you grow plants best suited to your climate and gardening space.

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Know your military

Why is the Pentagon, you know, a pentagon?

From the Department of Defense

The land the Pentagon was first planned to go on was bordered on five sides by roads, so the architects designed a five-sided building. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was worried putting the building at that location would interfere with the view of Washington from Arlington Cemetery, so he chose to move it to its present location, but he kept the five-sided design.

Sept. 11 has a double significance for the Pentagon.

Builders broke ground for the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 1941, exactly 60 years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Pentagon is big. Reallllly big.

It’s the world’s largest low-rise office building. The entire U.S. Capitol building could fit inside any of the building’s five wedges. It has 6,500,000 square feet of office space (three times the floor space in the Empire State Building!), 7,754 windows and 17 1/2 miles of corridors. Yet, its spoke-and-ring design means it takes only about 7 minutes to walk between the furthest two points in the building.

The builders were frugal with their materials.

During construction, the builders were able to conserve enough steel to build a battleship. And the 689,000 tons of sand and gravel used to make the building’s reinforced concrete – including 41,000 concrete pilings – came from the nearby Potomac River.

Until 2011, there was only one passenger elevator in the Pentagon. And it was reserved for the defense secretary.

A 17-year-long renovation project that finished in 2011 saw 70 passenger elevators installed in the building. Until then, people who couldn’t use stairs used long ramps to move between floors. The ramps are still there, but the rumors of office chair races are greatly exaggerated.

That renovation project? It probably saved thousands of lives.

The Pentagon is divided into five wedges, and the renovation project was going wedge by wedge when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2001, killing 189 people. The plane hit in Wedge 3, where renovations had just completed, but only about 800 out of the 4,500 people who normally would have been working there had moved back into their offices. And the new sprinkler system, extra structural support and blast-resistant windows helped to keep the building damage to a minimum, likely saving additional lives.

The Pentagon was the first desegregated building in Virginia.

The Pentagon was designed when segregation was the law in Virginia. But Roosevelt had signed an executive order the previous year, which forbade discrimination against government workers on the basis of race, creed, color or national origin. So the Pentagon became the only building in Virginia where segregation was not enforced. Because segregation was state law, the Pentagon was built with twice as many bathrooms as needed for a desegregated building of its size.

It was constructed in record time.

More than 15,000 workers were on site around the clock, and wartime office space shortages meant that workers moved in before the Pentagon was fully finished. Construction finished on Jan. 15, 1943, just 16 months after it started. Speed costs money, though: Initially budgeted at $35 million, the final cost was $63 million, more than $900 million in today’s money.

The same guy oversaw construction of the Pentagon and the atomic bomb.

Col. Leslie Groves, an Army Corps of Engineer officer, took charge of the Pentagon’s construction in August 1941. He worked six days a week in his office in Washington. Then on Sundays, he would visit the project he felt most needed his personal attention. Groves later said of his time at the Pentagon that he was “hoping to get to a war theater so I could find a little peace.” Instead, he was assigned to direct the Manhattan Project – America’s effort to build an atomic bomb.

For a while, there was a secret crash pad in the Pentagon.

Grove was widely known as a tough boss. One of his deputies, Army Maj. Robert Furman, had to be at the Pentagon at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes he’d go days without going home at all. In order to get some sleep, Furman had the Pentagon contractors build a secret apartment between the walls of what would become the Army’s Ordnance Division. He and some of Grove’s other deputies would use the apartment to grab a few z’s, shower and get back to work. Furman continued to use the apartment on official trips back to Washington while he served as an intelligence officer on the Manhattan Project, but was forced to hand over the keys in 1943 when he was discovered by ordnance officers while leaving the apartment.

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Why are Marines part of the Navy?

BY CLAUDETTE ROULO

Did you ever wonder why the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy?

Historically, marines serve as a navy’s ground troops. In fact, the word "marine" is the French word for sea, which may be why the French military historically called English troops — who all had to arrive by sea — "marines."

Back in the day, there wasn’t much difference between a sailor and a soldier on a ship. After all, most sea battles ended with the ships tangled together and the crews fighting each other hand to hand. So, if you were on a ship, you had to be able to fight. But you also had to be able to fight once your ship got where it was going.

Italy was the first country to use specially trained sailors as naval infantry. Back in the 1200s, the chief magistrate of Venice put 10 companies of specialized troops on a bunch of ships and sent them off to conquer Byzantium in present-day Greece. That went well for the Italians, so they decided that having marines was a good idea and kept them around, later calling them "sea infantry."

The idea of marines eventually caught on with other naval powers. The Spanish marine corps was founded in 1537 and is the oldest still-active marine corps in the world, while the Netherlands marine corps, founded in 1665, is the second-oldest. But, even today, marines in most countries are specially trained sailors who are part of the navy.

The British Royal Marines, which is what the U.S. Marine Corps was modeled on, were probably the first naval infantry to not actually be sailors. During the 1600-1700s, marine regiments would be formed by taking soldiers from the British Army, and disbanded when they weren’t needed. This practice continued until 1755, when England’s parliament made the Corps of Royal Marines permanent.

When the Continental Marines were founded in 1775, the Continental Congress recognized the importance "that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required."

So, maritime knowledge has always been a critical part of being a marine, but the U.S. Marine Corps hasn’t always been part of the U.S. Navy.

Until 1834, the Marines were an independent service. President Andrew Jackson wanted to make the Corps part of the Army. However, the Marine Corps commandant at the time, Archibald Henderson, had proven that Marines were important in landing party operations, not just ship-to-ship battles, so Congress decided to put the Navy and Marine Corps into one department, forever linking these two "sister services."

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Hitting bottom: Submariner explored deepest part of ocean

BY KATIE LANGE

Thousands have climbed Mount Everest, and a handful of people have walked on the moon. But reaching the lowest part of the ocean? Only three people have ever done that, and one was a U.S. Navy submariner.

In the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Guam and the Philippines, lies the Marianas Trench, also known as the Mariana Trench. At 35,814 feet below sea level, its bottom is called the Challenger Deep — the deepest point known on Earth. In fact, to put it into perspective, think about the Titanic, which was found 12,600 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean — nearly 2.4 miles down.

The Challenger Deep is nearly three times deeper than that.

Only three people have ever made it to the Challenger Deep. The first two did it 59 years ago: Navy Lt. Don Walsh, a submariner, and explorer Jacques Piccard.

Walsh’s engineering background allowed him to be a test pilot for the Trieste, a deep-diving research submersible purchased on behalf of the Navy. The rig was specially equipped with 5-inch-thick steel walls to withstand immense pressures — eight tons of pressure per square inch, to be specific, which is like 2,365 pounds sitting on a person’s fingernail.

On Jan. 23, 1960, Walsh and Piccard made history when they made the five-hour, 6.78-mile odyssey to the world’s deepest-known point.

What did they find there? Walsh talked about his experience in an interview with the Office of Naval Research, so we’ll let him explain:

“As we approached the seafloor, we could see it coming up, and we did see about a foot-long flatfish, like a halibut or sole — small. But that told us quite a bit, just that one glimpse, because that’s a bottom-dwelling form — two eyes on one side — and if there’s one, there’s more. That tells you there’s also sufficient oxygen and food at that depth because they’re bottom dwelling,” Walsh said.

“We did not see anything at the bottom once we landed because the bottom sediment stirred up, and it was like somebody painted our viewport white,” he continued. “We spent a half-hour on the bottom, and the rest of the time coming up. And that was it.”

That might not seem like much to some, but it opened up a whole new world for explorers.

The Navy has always been interested in undersea exploration for navigation, scientific research, education and strategic purposes. In fact, by 1958, it funded nearly 90 percent of all U.S. oceanographic ventures.

The Trieste trip was the culmination of Project Nekton, a series of dives meant to test the viability of using manned craft at extreme depths to study marine life and how temperature, pressure and sound interact at great depths, among other scientific questions.

Whether the Navy is diving, collecting scientific data, investigating shipwrecks or testing autonomous underwater vehicles, this mission continues to evolve and has led to collaborations with many in the civilian scientific community.

Fun Facts

In case you were curious, the Trieste is now part of the undersea exploration exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington.

Since its bowels-of-the-earth voyage, only one person has returned to the Challenger Deep: explorer and filmmaker James Cameron in 2012.

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10 Odd Jobs of World War II

BY CLAUDETTE ROULO

Today's military has some jobs that might surprise you — for example, did you know the Army and Marine Corps have instrument repair technicians? These troops repair musical instruments for the military bands.

But during World War II, there were a lot of jobs that would seem strange in today's technologically focused military. Over the course of the war, technological advances reduced or eliminated the need for many manual occupations. This transition is captured in the War Department's list of military jobs from 1944, where entries like ''horse artillery driver'' appear just a page away from ''remote control turret repairman.''

Blacksmith

During World War II, blacksmiths still made many of the items needed to repair equipment and machinery. They would make metal tools and parts, by hand, in coal or coke forges. They also made shoes for some of the tens of thousands of horses and mules that saw service during the war.

Meat Cutter

Does what it says on the label: cuts meat. These troops were responsible for preparing whole carcassas, such as beef and lamb, for distribution to various units around the world.

Horsebreaker

Horsebreakers would train horses and mules so they could be issued to mounted units. They also trained them to carry packs and to be hitched to wagons and carts.

Although they weren't used in World War II to the extent they were used in the First World War, troops still relied on horses and mules to cross terrain impassable to mechanized units. For example, the 5332nd Brigade, a long range patrol group created for service in the mountains of Burma, was largely self-sufficient due to the 3,000 mules assigned to it — all shipped from the United States.

Artist and Animation Artist

Today's military has jobs for skilled multimedia illustrators, but in World War II, military artists and animation artists created paintings, illustrations, films, charts and maps by hand. A number of successful artists served in World War II, including Bill Maudlin, who drew Willie and Joe, archetypes for infantrymen on the front line; and Bill Keane, who went on to draw Family Circus after his military service ended.

The military's animation artists were quite busy during World War II. The Army even stationed soldiers at Walt Disney's studios for the duration of the war to make patriotic films for the public and instructional or training films for service members.

Crystal Grinder

During World War II, many radios still required crystals to operate, usually galena. Crystal grinders would grind and calibrate these crystals to pick up specific frequencies.

Personal radios were forbidden on the front lines, but crystal radio sets lacked external power sources, so they couldn't be detected by the enemy. For this reason, troops often improvised crystal radios from a variety of materials — including pencils and razor blades — in order to listen to music and news. These contraband radio sets were dubbed ''foxhole radios.''

Cooper

Troops who worked as coopers built and repaired the wooden buckets, barrels, casks and kegs used to pack, store and ship supplies and equipment. They used hand tools to plug holes with wood and salvage damaged barrels.

Wood was used to package a wide range of goods for transport all the way through World War II, but improvements in metal and cardboard packaging technology marked the beginning of the end for wooden barrels and crates.

Model Maker

Military model makers were charged with creating scale models of military equipment, terrain and other objects to be used in movies, as training aids and for operational planning. The models built by these troops were used in what was perhaps one of the greatest examples of wartime deception, Operation Fortitude.

Operation Fortitude was aimed at convincing the Germans that Allied troops heading to France for the D-Day invasion would land in Pas de Calais in July, rather than Normandy in June. Dummy buildings, aircraft and landing craft were constructed by model makers and positioned near Dover, England, in a camp built for the fictitious First U.S. Army Group. The deception was so complete that Hitler held troops in reserve for two weeks after D-Day because he believed another invasion was coming via the Dover Strait.

Pigeoneer

Pigeoneers were responsible for all aspects of their birds' lives. They would breed, train and care for pigeons that were used to deliver messages. Some birds would be trained specifically for night flying, while others learned that food could be found at one location and water at another. According to the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Museum, more than 90% of the messages carried by pigeons were successfully delivered.

Field Artillery Sound Recorder

These troops had the sickest beats. Until the development of radar, sound ranging was one of the most effective ways to locate enemy artillery, mortars and rockets. The process was first developed in World War I, and continued to be used in combat through the Korean War.

From a forward operating post, a field artillery sound recorder would monitor an oscillograph and recorder connected to several microphones. When the sound of an enemy gun reached a microphone, the information would be recorded on sound film and the data from several microphones could be analyzed to locate the enemy gun. The technology is still in use today by many countries, which often use sound ranging in concert with radar.

Airplane Woodworker

Although wood was largely phased out in favor of tubular steel in aircraft construction by the time World War II started, there was still a need for airplane woodworkers to repair and maintain existing aircraft — especially gliders and some training aircraft.

Wooden gliders like the Waco CG-4A — the most widely used American troop/cargo military glider of World War II — played critical parts in the war. The CG-4A was first used in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. They most commonly flew airborne troops into battle, most famously for the D-Day assault on France on June 6, 1944, and Operation Market Garden in September 1944. They were also used in the China-Burma-India Theater.

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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 Social Security At 63?

Dear Rusty: I’m 63 years old. What are the benefits or negatives of retiring now? How do I begin the process? Signed: Tired of Working

Dear Tired: Your first question is quite open-ended, but I can give you the basics. Your Social Security benefit is based upon something called your “primary insurance amount” (PIA), which is the amount you would get if you claimed at your full retirement age (66 years and 4 months for you). Your PIA is based upon the highest-earning 35 years in your lifetime working career (past earnings are adjusted for inflation).

If you claim benefits before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) your benefits will be cut by about 6.7% for each full year early, but the reduction is done according to the number of months before your FRA that you claim. If you claim at your current age, your benefit will be cut by about 22%. The reduction will be slightly less for each month that you continue to wait, up to your FRA when you’ll get 100% of what you’ve earned from a lifetime of working. For reference, if you claim at age 64 the reduction will be about 18% and if you wait until you’re 65 the reduction will be about 9.7%. Conversely, if you wait beyond your full retirement age your benefit amount will grow by 8% for each full year you continue to delay, up to age 70 when your benefit amount would be 30.7% more than it would be at your FRA. But whenever you claim, that is the amount you’ll get for the rest of your life (except for cost of living adjustments (COLA) which may be applied annually).

The benefits or negatives to claiming now? Claiming now gives you money earlier, and if you need the money now, are in poor health and don’t expect at least average longevity, then that may be the right choice for you. But if you’re okay financially, are in good health and expect to live to at least average longevity (about 84 for a man your age), then you’ll get more in monthly and cumulative benefits by waiting until at least your full retirement age to claim benefits. By claiming now, the benefit reduction will be permanent. By waiting, the benefit increase will also be permanent.

Claiming before your full retirement age will also subject you to Social Security’s “earnings test” which limits the amount of money you can earn from working before they take back some of your benefits. The earnings test goes away when you reach your FRA.

If you are married, waiting longer to claim will also benefit your surviving spouse should you pass away first. Your surviving spouse will get 100% of the benefit you were receiving at your death (if they have reached full retirement age) and the longer you wait to claim, the more that survivor benefit will be.

Whenever you decide to claim, you can do so either by contacting Social Security directly (preferably by phone) or you can apply online at www.ssa.gov/retire. You will need to create your personal “My Social Security” online account first, but the online process is by far the easiest way to apply, considering that direct contact with SS often subjects you to long wait times (even on the phone).

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Forget New Year’s resolutions, single women; time for new decade resolutions

Not only is 2020 a new year, but a new decade is dawning as well, and some people are framing their annual resolutions in a bigger picture than just the next 12 months.

For single women aspiring to embrace being single and enrich their lives throughout the experience, looking ahead 10 years provides a longer lens to envision different aspects of self-development and expand the list of goals.

So rather than making New Year’s resolutions, Acamea Deadwiler (www.Acameadeadwiler.com), author of Single That: Dispelling the Top 10 Myths of the Single Woman, says 2020 is an apt time for single women to declare “new decade resolutions” that can result in a joyous and fulfilling life.

“My ultimate new decade resolution for single women is to not allow a relationship status to define them,” says Deadwiler. “I think that's where much of the discontent of being single comes from. It's the belief that something is wrong with being single and that it says something unflattering about you as a woman.

“So, you fight against it. You have to remind yourself that you are whole and worthwhile with or without a significant other. Remind yourself until you believe it, and practice behavior that reinforces the belief.”

Deadwiler suggests five new decade resolutions for single women:

Enjoy life as a “Party of One.” “Missing out on enjoyable activities can only add to feelings of discontent and make being single seem worse than it actually is,” Deadwiler says. “Don't allow being single to serve as an unnecessary hindrance that holds you back.”

Find your tribe. “Seek out people who share your interests so that you don't have to do things alone,” Deadwiler says. “There's a Meetup group for nearly any interest you may have. Whatever you enjoy, there's someone else who enjoys it, too, and is also looking for people with whom to do those things.”

Learn a new skill. It’s a wise use of time when single to focus on new skills that nurture personal development. “The more you learn and grow, the more complete you will feel when alone,” Deadwiler says. “The sense of accomplishment that you get will do wonders for your self-esteem.”

Stand up for your singlehood. People who are single can build confidence in their status by kindly reminding critics not to hold singlehood against them. “One who is single shouldn’t allow others to use your relationship status against you or speak of being single as a personal indictment,” Deadwiler says. “It's OK to correct people or gently nudge them away from the idea that your being single is a problem that needs to be fixed. Tell them what you've learned and experienced and how you've enjoyed your time alone.”

Permit yourself to be happy. “It's easy to get caught up in the idea that you should be on the prowl for a mate and that there is something abnormal about being alone,” Deadwiler says. “But you don't have to be so focused on finding love that you can't enjoy your own company.”

“These new decade resolutions allow you to focus on yourself while serving as a reminder that you matter,” Deadwiler says. “You see yourself as a whole person and can be reminded of who you are – independent of anyone else. In these moments, that person feels like enough.”

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How to plan for healthcare costs that could derail your retirement

People work for decades with a hopeful eye toward retirement. But while many try to envision their retirement years as a blissful time of fun and relaxation, no one has a crystal ball showing exactly what all the expenses will look like.

This is especially true of health care.

Fidelity’s annual Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate projected that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019 could expect $285,000 in health care and medical expenses during their retirement. An Edward Jones survey showed many Americans are concerned about health care expenses in retirement, particularly baby boomers.

“People spend their healthy years accumulating all their wealth,” says Michael Macke (www.petrosplanning.com), vice president and co-owner of Petros Financial Group. “They work hard and save, building their nest egg.

“But when you retire, you wind up spending a lot of your wealth on your health. In talking with people about retirement for 25 years, health care is always their top concern. To most people it’s the great unknown that can derail the best-laid plans. You never know when you’re going to get sick or come down with a disease. What kind of care will be required, and most of all, what is it going to cost?”

How do you plan for that great unknown — health care costs in retirement? Macke offers these tips:

Make extra wiggle room for the “what-if” medical expenses. “When planning a long-term budget, most people just look at their baseline monthly expenses, but it’s wise to have a discussion about how health care costs can fit in during retirement,” Macke says. “Budgeting for a potential additional expense of $350 to $500 per month in the future can help you be better prepared to handle that ‘what-if’ scenario.”

Open a Health Savings Account (HSA). An HSA offers tax advantages such as deductible contributions and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. “The funds from your HSA can be used to pay for Medicare premiums and long-term care insurance premiums,” Macke says. “Those who are 55 or older can make a catch-up contribution of $1,000 a year in addition to the maximum contribution limit (which is $3,500 annually for individual coverage and $7,000 for family coverage).”

Manage Medicare annually. “Every year, you should be reviewing Medicare plans. You need to figure out which plan is best for you based on your health as well as what’s covered and what isn’t in each option.” Macke says. “Some plans may cost a little more but would save you on doctor’s visits and co-pays. Also, remember that your part B and D premiums could be higher based on your annual income from two years prior. Make sure you are working with a tax planner and retirement planner to manage your income, which may include distributions from retirement accounts. Being aware of these limits could save you money! Your health changes constantly as do your options for Medicare coverage. Make sure you are evaluating each year.”

Pay attention to your health. Sounds simple, but a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce the chance of health complications and costly bills in retirement. “Don’t miss annual checkups with both your doctor and dentist,” Macke says. “Adhere to a reasonable diet and fitness regimen. And don’t discount the dentist. Cardiovascular disease shows up in the gums first.”

“Unexpected medical expenses later in life threaten our physical health and our financial health,” Macke says. “Therefore, it’s vital to be proactive and plan as early as possible in order to protect your retirement you’ve worked so hard for.”

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Avoid these common student financial aid mistakes

Many students spend more for college than they should by making some common mistakes when seeking financial aid. Follow these tips from KHEAA to make sure you get the help you need.

Some people don’t bother to apply for financial aid because they don’t think they’ll qualify. But they should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out if they’re eligible for state and federal student aid programs. Not filing may hurt their chances of getting more free money for college.

Another common mistake is waiting until the last minute to apply for financial aid. Some programs have deadlines, while others have limited funds.

Colleges send each student who has applied for student aid a financial aid package. Students and their families should look it over carefully. They should compare offers if they have received packages from more than one school to see which is the best deal. Of course, students should also consider other factors, such as whether a school offers the academic program a student wants or if it meets other expectations.

Students who need loans to help pay for college must be good consumers. Not all lenders offer the same rates and benefits. Borrowers should pay close attention to what lenders call the back-end benefits: the interest rate and principal reductions offered when repaying the loan.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

KHEAA also helps colleges manage their student loan default rates and verify information submitted on the FAFSA. For more information about those services, visit www.kheaa.com.

In addition, KHEAA disburses private Advantage Education Loans for its sister agency, KHESLC. For more information about Advantage Education Loans, visit www.advantageeducationloan.com.

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How complaining customers can become your business’ best friends

Dealing with customer complaints isn’t a business owner’s favorite task, but that sometimes stressful part of running a company can provide opportunities to improve the business for the long run, experts say.

“Turning those complaints into positives depends largely on two factors,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (www.alexzlatin.com). “One, how well business owners and their team handle unhappy customers directly one-on-one, and two, devising solutions for specific customer issues that keep coming up.”

In terms of direct customer service, studies show complaining customers could end up being some of a business’ best customers. Harvard Business Review found that those who have a complaint handled in under five minutes spend more on future purchases.

As for developing long-term solutions for common problems customers bring up, Zlatin says a business should make a habit of documenting all customer complaints, then discuss those issues as a team. Another way, he adds, is to send out customer surveys that include a wide range of questions geared to improving the company’s processes and customer service.

"The bottom line is, the way a business handles its customer complaints determines its success or failure in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” Zlatin says. “Businesses that turn complaints into opportunities for building closer relationships with customers are the ones that are most likely to grow and prosper. Prompt and systematic handling of customer complaints has a positive impact on the major business areas.”

Zlatin says dealing with customer complaints effectively can help a business in the following ways:

Earns customer loyalty. When customers tell you about a problem they’ve had with your company, they expect you to correct it – and if you do, they might show their appreciation with future purchases. “If you don’t correct it promptly,” Zlatin says, “there’s a good chance you will lose them. Show you care by being patient, listening, asking questions and getting all the information possible to make it right. They’ll see that you truly want them to have a valued experience, and this will make them more likely to stay loyal to your business.”

Attracts more customers. Ignoring customer complaints altogether or putting them on low priority can cost a business dearly. “Annoyed customers might share a bad experience on social media or in person, turning potential buyers away,” Zlatin says. “But if you use customer complaints to make several positive changes in your business, current customers will notice and perhaps be your best recruiters. Your customer base will see that your business is more efficient, resulting in a better overall experience, and leading to referrals.”

Boosts overall performance. “Taking action based on customer complaints helps you improve your processes,” Zlatin says. “Issues you otherwise might not have realized you had will no longer hold your business back. Anything customers tell you will provide insight into how you can better meet their needs, operate more efficiently, and grow your business.”

“Don’t take customer complaints personally,” Zlatin says. “But do take them seriously. If you don’t, they’ll think you don’t value their business or opinions. Before long, you won’t be complaining about customers’ complaints, but about having fewer customers.”

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Is it you or an ID thief? How AI uses document verification to keep you safe

It’s a moment most people have experienced.

You’re required to show your ID for something and you wait as the person studies both your face and the photo on the driver’s license, passport, or other document, making sure you’re not an impersonator trying to pull a fast one.

These days, artificial intelligence is playing a role similar to that security person, with software that allows validation of IDs remotely through digital document verification. This way you can do business through your smartphone, and someone on the other end can make sure you’re who you say you are and that a thief hasn’t stolen your identity.

And that’s especially important at a time when identity theft has been on the rise, says Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of Aver (www.goaver.com), an identity-verification service.

“Fraudsters are getting creative, but so is technology,” Hyduchak says. “It’s important to keep up because there are so many ways to create fake documents that allow someone to claim to be you and maybe even get away with it.”

Hyduchak says there are a few categories of document fraud:

Illegitimate documents. These documents are completely false. They have characteristics such as missing holograms or other current standards that are essential parts of a legitimate version of that document.

False documents. This is a document that belongs to one person, but that another person tries to use in an effort to authenticate himself.

Modified documents. This is when an original document is altered. Hyduchak says the alterations can be caught with software that detects whether fonts and text match the originals.

How do fraudsters even get the ID documents to start with? Hyduchak says it’s a matter of data security breaches – and often a combination of more than one breach.

He gives this example. Just recently, the cryptocurrency exchange Binance, using a third-party Know-Your-Customer (KYC) provider, was the victim of a hack that leaked over 10,000 photographs of purported Binance KYC data. This breach affected up to 60,000 people.

“On Binance, users buy and sell cryptocurrency, something that is privacy-centric by its very nature, but still vulnerable,” Hyduchak says.

“Coupling leaks like this with major data breaches like Equifax and Target, our personal information can be manipulated for the fraud with some basic photoshop work.”

A digital verification process is one way to head off any subterfuge, Hyduchak says. For example, his company has a program that works this way: The user captures a picture of their ID or passport using their smartphone. The user then takes a selfie to verify they are the same person pictured on the ID or passport. Facial recognition software compares the images through algorithms.

“As time goes on,” Hyduchak says, “I think you are going to see digital facial checks become the standard for ID verification, and that will eliminate most types of fraud.”

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Learn the difference between a need and a want

A big step to financial security is learning the difference between a need and a want, according to KHEAA. Students who learn that difference will find that their bank accounts grow more quickly.

Needs include clothes, food and, for many students, transportation.

With clothes, a want may mean wearing only designer items that cost more than clothes that last just as long and look just as good.

Students might want to eat a deluxe cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant every day, even though they can save money by making their own sandwich and brown-bagging it.

If a student needs a car, a want would be a new sports convertible instead of a reliable, used car with good gas mileage and less flash.

Before making a purchase, students should ask themselves if they can get by with a less expensive item — or without that item completely. They should save the money they don’t spend so it’s there when they really need something.

KHEAA is a public, non-profit agency established in 1966 to improve students’ access to college. It provides information about financial aid and financial literacy at no cost to students and parents.

KHEAA also helps colleges manage their student loan default rates and verify information submitted on the FAFSA. For more information about those services, visit www.kheaa.com.

In addition, KHEAA disburses private Advantage Education Loans for its sister agency, KHESLC. For more information about Advantage Education Loans, visit www.advantageeducationloan.com.

Naughty or nice?

The authorities at Lithuania’s Vilnius International Airport had a bright idea for its Christmas display this year: they adorned its Christmas Tree with all manner of banned items confiscated from passengers at check-in during the past year. Instead of traditional ornaments the tree was festooned with such dangerous items as scissors, knives and box cutters seized from travelers who disregarded baggage requirements.

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Ugly Christmas Sweaters

The ugly Christmas sweater craze has come a long way since it got started just a few decades ago. The most recent iteration of the trend involves farm animals. At least one dairy farm in the Channel Islands ushered in the holiday season by outfitting their cows with custom made sweaters, appropriate for even the most fashionable Ugly Sweater Party this year. Becky Houze, whose farm is located on the island of Jersey, says "it took a while to cow-ordinate the right design, but we think we've landed on a look worthy of the cream of the crop. With just days to go until Santa comes to town, we've definitely got the Christmas feeling."

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The Christmas Spirit

Some people go overboard when it comes to holiday decorations. Take the driver who was pulled over by a Washington State Trooper who spotted his overly decorated SUV traveling down a local highway. He pulled the car over and gave the driver a stern warning that Christmas lights and ornaments might just be a hazard. The patrol’s public information officer tweeted photos of the car, a tweet that was not so well received by the majority of recipients. As one recipient put it in response to the posting: “Nice use of resources. I’d say let the lights go and actually pull over people who are breaking dangerous traffic laws.” Another compared the trooper to the Grinch.

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Dental emergencies: When to seek immediate help, when you can wait

Maybe a tooth broke as you snacked on popcorn. Or perhaps you joined a pickup basketball game and an elbow to the mouth knocked out a tooth completely.

Mouth mishaps aren’t that unusual, but how do you know whether such dental predicaments are a minor annoyance or a true emergency?

“In some cases, a couple of days won’t matter and you don’t need to go rushing to your dentist’s office or the emergency room,” says Dr. Jamie Reynolds (www.AskDrReynolds.com), an orthodontist, national and international lecturer, and author of World Class Smiles Made in Detroit.

“But other cases can be serious and you’ll want treatment as quickly as you can get it.”

Reynolds offers examples of tooth or gum-related symptoms you might encounter and whether emergency treatment is warranted:

Severe pain with symptoms of infection. An infection can quickly spread, so get treatment immediately, Reynolds says. In the worst-case scenario, he says, this could lead to sepsis, which can be fatal. Symptoms that indicate the infection has spread include fever, rapid breathing, abnormally high or low blood pressure, and/or confusion. Symptoms in the mouth include severe pain, swelling in the gums, swelling in the face, bad breath, and pus or fluids coming from the infected area.

Toothache. Toothaches are no fun. “If the pain is just an annoyance, and you don’t have any other symptoms, you can wait a day or two to see a dentist,” Reynolds says. However, putting off treatment of a sore tooth can lead to serious infection and/or increase the potential need for root canal treatment and tooth loss. If the pain is anything more than mild hot/cold sensitivity, get a dental appointment ASAP.

Soreness from braces. It’s common to experience minor pain after braces have been put on or tightened, and a visit to your dentist or orthodontist shouldn’t be need, Reynolds says. “You should be able to manage the pain at home with ice, dental wax, or an over-the-counter painkiller,” he says.

Tooth knocked out. “If a tooth is knocked out and you want to have any chance of saving it, you need to act immediately,” Reynolds says. The American Association of Endodontists reports that your best bet is to pick up the tooth without touching the exposed root. If the tooth is dirty, rinse it with water only, and place it back in the socket right away. Hold the tooth in place and keep it moist. If you can’t put it back in the socket, keep it between your cheek and gums, or place it in a cup of milk, the association says. You increase the odds of saving the tooth if you can get to a dentist or endodontist’s office within 30 minutes. If that’s not possible, go to the emergency room.

Chipped or broken tooth. If a tooth becomes chipped or broken, but not knocked out entirely, you’re in better shape, Reynolds says. Yes, you will want to see your dentist as soon as you can, but it’s not an emergency. That means get an appointment as soon as possible, but you don’t need to drop everything and rush to the office.

Bleeding in the mouth. If you have uncontrolled mouth bleeding caused by cuts, seek immediate care, Reynolds says. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to experience minor bleeding caused by inflamed gums, irritated sores, or minor cuts. Assuming the bleeding stops on its own, there’s no need for immediate treatment, he says. But mention the bleeding to your dentist at your next appointment.

While these are good guidelines, Reynolds adds this caveat: If you’re uncertain and you can’t get hold of your dentist’s office for advice because it’s after hours, go ahead and seek treatment.

“If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind,” he says. “And you may end up saving your tooth or – in the case of a significant infection – even saving your life.”

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Create a festive centerpiece from your indoor and outdoor garden

By MELINDA MYERS

Take a break from the holiday rush for a bit of gardening relief. Grab a pruner and basket then wander through your landscape gathering a few evergreen branches, berry-laden stems and cones to create a holiday centerpiece.

Most gardeners are used to walking into their summer garden collecting blossoms to create a bouquet or arrangement for their summer parties. Winter should be no exception.

Start by gathering some greens. The fan-like sprays of arborvitae, blue-green sprigs of juniper and stems of other evergreens like yews, boxwood, pines, and spruces provide all the greenery you’ll need.

Now look for items with interesting color or shapes. Red and yellow twig dogwoods, curly willow, contorted filbert and fantail willow provide interesting color and form.

Next, gather cones, berries and fruits such as rose hips, the blue berry-like cones of junipers, sweet gum seedpods, alder’s cone-like fruit, and of course evergreen cones as substitutes for summer blooms.

Don’t overlook purple coneflower, black berry lily, penstemon and other seed heads and pods. Fluffy seed heads of ornamental and native grasses make nice fillers. All these make beautiful additions to any arrangement and can be painted or glittered for some added glitz. And don’t be afraid to add a few shiny ornaments for a bit of holiday flare.

Look for decorating possibilities that your indoor garden can provide. Dress up small plants to create a centerpiece and larger plants to provide a bit of seasonal color and decor.

Stop by your favorite florist or garden center and purchase a few water picks and cut flowers. Place the cut flowers in the picks and sink them into the pots of your favorite houseplants. This adds some color and seasonal interest to any green plant.

Consider creating a changeable houseplant container. Plant several compatible indoor plants in a large container. Sink a small empty pot in the space where you want to create a focal point. Set a small potted flowering plant inside this empty one. Replace the flowering plant occasionally to freshen up the container garden or create a seasonal display. Miniature poinsettias, azaleas, African violets and cyclamen allow you to change out the display throughout the year and for any special occasion.

Make it even easier to change the display by filling a large basket with a collection of potted houseplants and flowering plants. Switch out the flowers as they fade and foliage plants as the holidays, your mood or the décor changes.

Use silk flowers, glittery spikes and decorative ornaments to add a splash of color and sparkle to your indoor garden as needed. Exchange these for red, pink and white hearts on Valentine’s Day, colorful Easter eggs, or faux fall leaves as the seasons change.

Once you’ve created your first arrangement, you’ll be looking for additional opportunities to create more. And as you plan this year’s garden, consider growing more plants that can be used to dress up your dinner table and other rooms in your home.

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Holiday helpers: Six ways you can support a family with a special needs child during the holidays

By HOLLEY MOSELEY

The holidays are a time to celebrate, relax, and make special memories. But for families with a medically fragile child or children, there's little time left for fire gazing, gift wrapping, or attending parties or school plays. Why? Because special needs kids need constant care and attention, and the arrival of the holidays doesn't change that. This is why one of the best ways you can commemorate the season of giving is by becoming a "holiday helper" to families who may desperately need a hand.

The holiday season can be an exhausting and overwhelming time for families with a medically fragile child. Between work, rushing their child or children to school or doctor's visits, and the demands of everyday life, parents' lives are filled to the max. They have almost no extra time to make this time of year special. Often, the holidays pass in a blur and are over before they ever began.

If you know a family in this situation, the greatest gift you could offer is your time and support.

Families probably won't ask for it, but that doesn't mean they don't need it. And for a medically fragile child going through the struggle of their life, anything you can do to brighten his or her day is absolutely worth doing.

My daughter RayAnn is one such child. Now a thriving teenager, RayAnn spent many years severely ill and hovering near death. After being diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy since birth, she began experiencing a drastic increase in her seizure activity and was hospitalized many times with status epilepticus—when seizures follow one another without recovery of consciousness in between. After many years of trying every possible treatment, my husband and I discovered "Charlotte's Web," an oil produced from a high-CBD/low-THC cannabis plant. The CBD-rich oil significantly reduced and eventually eliminated the seizures and allowed RayAnn to start making huge strides in her health and happiness.

During RayAnn's most difficult years, I was always so grateful for help from others. A small gesture of caring can go a long way to help a family find the balance they need during such a hectic time of year.

If you're inspired to support a family with a special needs child during the holidays, here are some ways to be a holiday helper.

Ask, "How can I help?" The simple act of reaching out and asking, "What can I do?" or, "What do you need?" is meaningful in itself—especially since people may feel uncomfortable or unsure of what to say around families with special needs children. Showing up and offering assistance of any kind will always be appreciated. You may be asked to pick up a few stocking stuffers for the kids, drive a child to their physical therapy appointment, help repair a broken garage door, or rake up the last of the fall leaves from the yard. These are small kindnesses, but they lighten the load for stressed-out and worn-out parents.

This is one easy way to make a difference to a family that might be struggling under the load of responsibilities they face each day. By offering, you are making it clear that you are their ally. And if you catch them off guard with your offer, let them know that they can think about it for a few days and that you will check back in to ask again. Then, be sure to follow up.

Deliver a meal. A hot holiday meal can make all the difference to a rushed and frazzled family. Therefore, when you prepare your own holiday dinner, make extra amounts of each dish, package it all up along with a bottle of sparkling cider, and deliver it to the family's home. In fact, it doesn't even need to be homemade to be special and very appreciated; a bucket of chicken and a few sides from a restaurant or grocery store is always a big hit as well!

Include them. Families with a medically fragile child are busy, but they still want to be invited to attend neighborhood potlucks, holiday parties, caroling, and other seasonal outings. Keep inviting them to things. They will miss events when they need to but will attend others and always welcome the chance to have fun and socialize.

Treat parents to a night out (for a date, or holiday shopping, or anything else!). Having a child with special needs can place strain on a marriage (about 22 percent of parents of kids with disabilities divorce), and parents need to make time to nurture the relationship. Volunteer to come by and babysit all the children in the household so parents can have a long-overdue evening to themselves. Gather up your own kids too, and head over with some kid-friendly movies, board games, and ingredients for homemade cookies or s'mores. Be sure to offer up this very generous gift ASAP so parents can get dinner reservations or order tickets to a holiday concert or movie in advance.

Parents also need kid-free time to shop for holiday gifts. During the holidays RayAnn was always with me, even when I was shopping for her presents. Luckily my mother could sometimes step in and watch her so I could run some shopping errands, but not every family has this resource. Offering to pick up the kids from school and entertain them for a few hours gives parents time to grab some gifts or stocking stuffers or wrap presents.

Don't forget about siblings. Caring for a differently abled child can be a full-time job for the whole family, and despite everyone's best efforts, siblings may sometimes feel neglected, jealous of the attention their brother or sister receives, or resentful that they must help out in their daily care. So, volunteer to take the siblings out on a special "kids date." You can take them to a museum or aquarium, or go ice skating, or take them shopping for holiday presents for Mom and Dad. (A siblings outing may be best in situations when the medically fragile child is occupied with other activities. Work with the parents to ensure that they do not feel excluded!)

Brighten up the hospital room. If a child can't be home for the holidays due to hospitalization, you can help make their hospital room merry and bright—and it's one less thing the parents have to worry about. Schedule a time to meet the family there for a visit and bring a mini tree or light-up menorah, a string of colored lights, festive wall hangings, tinsel, stockings, and instant hot cocoa. In no time at all, the room—and your own heart—will feel warm and cozy.

It takes real courage to reach out and offer help to special needs parents—especially if you're unsure of how the parents will react to your offer. You may worry that you're intruding or crossing an inappropriate boundary, but this is usually not the case. Push past the momentary discomfort and let a family know you see them and that you would love to help. Your selfless gift helps families find that elusive balance that makes their holidays merry and bright. And that is a gift worth giving, every time.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – How Can We Change Social Security’s Earnings Limit?

Dear Rusty: How do we change the Social Security earnings cap amount? Do I need to go through my Congressman? Social Security is withholding my benefit because they say I earned too much. The system is very unfair! Signed: Disgruntled Worker

Dear Disgruntled: The Social Security earnings test has been a part of Social Security’s rules and regulations since the original Social Security Act of 1935. In fact, benefits were originally paid only if someone was not working at all, and if a beneficiary worked after they started collecting, they lost all benefits. The law has undergone changes over the years to bring it to where it is today, which is to limit the amount of earnings someone can have while collecting Social Security prior to their full retirement age before taking back some benefits.

If the earnings limit is exceeded, and you have not yet reached your full retirement age, Social Security typically withholds your benefits until they recover what you owe for exceeding the limit. The limit is adjusted annually based upon changes to the National Wage Index, and the annual limit for 2020 is $18,240, up from $17,640 last year. There is also a “first year rule” which will subject those who haven’t yet reached their full retirement age and claim benefits mid-year to a monthly limit (1/12th of the annual limit) for the remainder of that year. The earnings limit increases significantly (by about 2.6 times) during the year you reach your full retirement age (FRA), and goes away entirely once your FRA is attained.

As you are probably aware, exceeding the limit will cause Social Security to take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit, or if you’re subject to the “first year rule” they will take back your entire benefit for any month you exceed the monthly limit. In the year you reach your FRA (but before your FRA) the “penalty” for exceeding the limit is less severe - $1 for every $3 over the limit. What you may not be aware of is that when you reach your full retirement age, Social Security will give you time credit for any months you did not receive benefits because you exceeded the earnings limit and receiving that time credit at your FRA will result in your benefit being increased. For example, if, over the years before you reached your FRA, Social Security withheld 12 months of benefits due to you exceeding the earnings limit, when you reach your full retirement age Social Security will recalculate your benefit to account for those 12 months by changing your claim date to 12 months later than when you actually applied. That will increase your benefit somewhat and, as a result, you may be able to eventually recoup some, or all, of the benefits which were withheld (depending upon your longevity).

How can we change the earnings cap? Well, the earnings limit already increases automatically each year with changes to the National Wage Index. But if you mean how can we eliminate it, I’m not optimistic that is possible since it would require full Congressional approval as well as Executive Branch approval to do so, and since Congress is now more focused on Social Security’s broader issue of the Trust Fund being depleted in about 2035 (which will result in an across-the-board cut in benefits unless Congress acts sooner). Nevertheless, you should certainly feel free to bring your concerns about Social Security’s “earnings cap” to the attention of your Congressional Representatives. Congressional Representatives are always willing to hear and understand the concerns of their constituents, and Social Security is very much a topic of discussion in Congress today.

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Why teaching employees your company financials is a winning formula

In many businesses a wide gulf exists between ownership and the workforce, a disconnect that can leave employees feeling undervalued and wanting to leave.

The high cost of replacing them means it’s important to find ways to retain the best performers, and studies show that transparency and education from the top can be a solution, boosting employee engagement and motivation.

And one way to achieve that transparency is to open the company’s financial books to employees and teach them the business, says Rich Armstrong (www.greatgame.com), a business coach, president of The Great Game of Business Inc., and co-author with Steve Baker of GET IN THE GAME: How To Create Rapid Financial Results And Lasting Cultural Change.

“Too often in business, we fail to show the players on our own team the big picture – the overall score of the game,” Armstrong says. “We tend to try to manage from the sidelines, focusing on individual performance. Why not teach them what winning means in business?

“But opening the books may be the first time in the employees’ lives they feel they’re being treated as adults. This type of financial transparency builds trust and mutual respect. Teaching employees the business involves them in making a difference, so as a business leader, you need to get comfortable with opening things up.”

Many business owners are hesitant to open the books to their employees. One of their concerns is giving employees access to salary information, but that isn’t advisable, says Baker, who is vice president of The Great Game of Business.

“Opening your books does not mean sharing every detail,” Baker says. “On the other hand, if people see how much the company is making and that makes them want more, that’s what you want as a business owner.”

Armstrong and Baker break down how to open the books for employees and the benefits of doing so:

Bridge the gap between perception and reality. The perception among employees that the owner is focused on self wealth can be changed, Armstrong says, by teaching employees how hard it is for most companies to make money. “Many people would be surprised to know how little even large companies make in profit from every dollar of sales,” Armstrong says. “Research shows the median bottom line in companies in 212 industries across the U.S. is 6.5 cents on every dollar of sales. But the average employee thinks their company makes six times that.”

Break it down for them. “Once you show your team how hard it is to make money, sketch out a simplified income statement for your business, showing your revenue streams and all your expenses,” Baker says. “Draw a dollar bill and show them how little the company keeps out of every dollar.”

Bring the marketplace to your people. An owner can provide clearer perspective to the employees by sharing how and what other companies in the industry are doing. “Do your homework,” Armstrong says, “and find out about your competition. If your employees know how they stack up against the field, most will respond to your appeal to move the needle. Your transparency has made them feel valued.”

Make teaching financials interesting. “The strategy is to create a business of business people,” Baker says. “But remember, you’re trying to educate your people about your business, not create a bunch of CPAs. Share, teach and involve them in the numbers they can impact. Your people rarely need to know about debits and credits or how to do an adjusting entry. But they may very well need to know how production efficiency is calculated and why receivable days matter.

Teaching the business helps everybody begin to understand what they can do, both individually and as a team, to influence bottom line financial results.”

“The purpose of opening the books is to boost the employees’ confidence in understanding the numbers and in the company itself,” Armstrong says.

“Then and only then will they begin to make a connection to the numbers that measure their performance and talk intelligently about improving the business.”

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How complaining customers can become your business’ best friends

Dealing with customer complaints isn’t a business owner’s favorite task, but that sometimes stressful part of running a company can provide opportunities to improve the business for the long run, experts say.

“Turning those complaints into positives depends largely on two factors,” says Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (www.alexzlatin.com). “One, how well business owners and their team handle unhappy customers directly one-on-one, and two, devising solutions for specific customer issues that keep coming up.”

In terms of direct customer service, studies show complaining customers could end up being some of a business’ best customers. Harvard Business Review found that those who have a complaint handled in under five minutes spend more on future purchases.

As for developing long-term solutions for common problems customers bring up, Zlatin says a business should make a habit of documenting all customer complaints, then discuss those issues as a team. Another way, he adds, is to send out customer surveys that include a wide range of questions geared to improving the company’s processes and customer service.

”The bottom line is, the way a business handles its customer complaints determines its success or failure in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” Zlatin says. “Businesses that turn complaints into opportunities for building closer relationships with customers are the ones that are most likely to grow and prosper. Prompt and systematic handling of customer complaints has a positive impact on the major business areas.”

Zlatin says dealing with customer complaints effectively can help a business in the following ways:

Earns customer loyalty. When customers tell you about a problem they’ve had with your company, they expect you to correct it – and if you do, they might show their appreciation with future purchases. “If you don’t correct it promptly,” Zlatin says, “there’s a good chance you will lose them. Show you care by being patient, listening, asking questions and getting all the information possible to make it right. They’ll see that you truly want them to have a valued experience, and this will make them more likely to stay loyal to your business.”

Attracts more customers. Ignoring customer complaints altogether or putting them on low priority can cost a business dearly. “Annoyed customers might share a bad experience on social media or in person, turning potential buyers away,” Zlatin says. “But if you use customer complaints to make several positive changes in your business, current customers will notice and perhaps be your best recruiters. Your customer base will see that your business is more efficient, resulting in a better overall experience, and leading to referrals.”

Boosts overall performance. “Taking action based on customer complaints helps you improve your processes,” Zlatin says. “Issues you otherwise might not have realized you had will no longer hold your business back. Anything customers tell you will provide insight into how you can better meet their needs, operate more efficiently, and grow your business.”

“Don’t take customer complaints personally,” Zlatin says. “But do take them seriously. If you don’t, they’ll think you don’t value their business or opinions. Before long, you won’t be complaining about customers’ complaints, but about having fewer customers.”

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UAMS House Call

Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

Assistant Professor

Department of Family and Preventative Medicine

Q. Cauliflower seems to be sprouting up in all kinds of unexpected food products. How nutritious is this vegetable?

A. Broccoli’s cousin has recently grown in popularity, thanks, in part, to vegan and low-carb diets in which it is substituted for other foods.

White vegetables are generally considered low in nutrition but cauliflower is an exception and offers potential cancer-fighting properties. Cauliflower, containing a couple grams of fiber per cup, is also a source of vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K. Because vitamin K helps your blood to clot, those taking blood thinners should monitor their vitamin K intake.

Cauliflower’s blandness and texture make it versatile. It can be served as “steak” in the form of thick grilled slices or as “nuggets” when breaded and baked. Pulverized, it can be used for pizza “crusts” or “breadsticks.” Chopped cauliflower can substitute as “rice.”

Eating more vegetables provides a variety of health benefits, and most people do not reach their daily recommended intake.

However, cauliflower is a fibrous cruciferous vegetable containing a carbohydrate that the body cannot fully digest. This can lead to gas and bloating. Give the body time to adjust by gradually increasing fiber intake and drinking plenty of water.

Q. Can getting a flu shot give you the flu?

A. No. Flu shots contain dead viruses or proteins from the flu virus. Some people can experience aches or a low fever after getting the flu shot, but this reaction is not the flu.

Usually, the flu spreads through coughing, sneezing, talking or touching something like a door handle that has the virus on it.

Washing hands often and thoroughly with soap and water offers the best protection. The flu is not bacterial but viral and antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) may ease symptoms if taken within two days of getting sick.

The flu can be serious, especially in children and older adults, if it evolves into pneumonia or respiratory failure. Flu is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in the United States, with those 65 and older accounting for about 90% of flu-related deaths.

Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine annually to help protect themselves and others against the strains predicted to be active that year. It is best to get the shot as soon as it is available in the fall, as it takes about two weeks to become fully effective.

Q. Is there anything that will help slow the fine lines and wrinkles as I age?

A. There are several over-the-counter treatments that may help skin appear more youthful, but any improvement may take a few months.

Retinoids, which come from vitamin A, and vitamin C work best on wrinkles. Retinol, a type of retinoid, may help skin produce more collagen and become smoother. It is gentler than the prescription-strength version, tretinoin (Retin-A), which can dry the skin. Vitamin C may help remove fine lines and lessen sun damage, both of which could keep wrinkles at bay.

If sagging skin is a problem, growth factors or peptides, which help produce proteins, including collagen, may help restore firmness. Daily moisturizers with ceramides, fats found in the layers of skin lost through aging, are a less expensive option.

Using a moisturizer daily helps dry skin, plumps it and offers a more youthful appearance. If using more than one anti-aging product, apply the one with an active ingredient first for optimal absorption.

When a product has different levels of an active ingredient, begin with the lowest strength and follow the directions, as some products should be applied in the morning and others at night.

Q. What are superbugs and should I be worried about them?

A. Superbugs are germs that can’t be killed by basic antibiotics. They are a concern because common but serious infections are becoming harder to treat as more bacteria, parasites and viruses are able to survive some of the drugs we use. If it becomes increasingly more difficult to prevent and treat infections, treatments like major surgery and chemotherapy may become more risky.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Each year, about 2 million Americans become sick from superbugs, leading doctors to prescribe less effective, more costly drugs with more side effects and recovery time for patients.

Bacterial resistance to drugs is a natural process. Each generation of bacteria that survives a treatment passes on this resistance to their offspring. Using antibiotics too often and giving them to livestock to encourage growth accelerates this process.

Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a strain of bacteria that causes life-threatening diarrhea, is currently the most dangerous superbug, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The best way to help prevent superbugs is by using antibiotics as directed, including completing the prescription even when you start feeling better.

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A shocking yuletide story

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is using a novel way to cut back on its electric bill this year. They’ve hooked up their Christmas tree to an electric eel. Joey Turnipseed, who is in charge of the Aquarium’s audio visual needs, explained: "Whenever Miguel [that’s the eel’s name] discharges electricity, sensors in the water deliver the charge to a set of speakers. The speakers convert the discharge into the sound you hear and the festively flashing lights."

A lofty goal

Hammer Harrison, who plays for the Harlem Globetrotters, may have outdone himself at this year’s World Trick Shot Day. The basketball trickster, who holds the record for the longest underhanded basketball shot [84 feet 8.5 inches], made what some are calling the tallest jump shot. It was a slam dunk for Hammer as he parachuted from a plane at an altitude of 13,000 feet sinking his basketball into a hoop before safely hitting the ground. Last year, hoopster Harrison “dunked off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, a shot of over 850 feet” on the Globetrotters’ 3rd Annual Trick Shot Day.

The Doghouse Inn

Jayne Trapper of Devon, England is something of a homebody. Husband Paul spent most evenings at a local pub. Then Jayne got the bright idea of building a pub of her own in their backyard, which she appropriately named, The Doghouse Inn. Says Jayne, “My husband had always loved popping down to our local [pub], and I could never seem to keep him at home … so I got to thinking — why not create my own pub, become my own landlady and then I can really tell people - my husband's in the doghouse!"

An early dinner for NYC subway riders

New York City subway riders were treated to an early Thanksgiving dinner this year courtesy of an anonymous benefactor. The catered affair took place on a Brooklyn-bound-train-turned-diner chockfull of traditional dishes, including turkey, mashed potatoes and yams. The table was set in one car of the train, but volunteers made up heaping plates of festive food for all of the riders lucky enough to be on board the Sunday night before Thanksgiving.

Dogs go for a joy ride

A Port St. Lucie, FL driver left Max, the dog, alone in his car and as he stepped away the pooch managed to accidentally put the auto in gear and went on a joy ride-- in reverse,. Anna Sabol, who lives nearby, watched as the car went round and round in a cul-de-sac for some 30 minutes, coming to a halt when it backed into a mailbox. The unidentified owner of the vehicle promised to pay for the minimal damage Max caused. But, Ms. Sabol was impressed with Max, telling a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel newspaper: “They should give that dog a license. He drives better than some people I’ve seen on the roads here.”

How to cure tech addiction

If you’re concerned that tech addiction is having a negative impact on our children, you are not alone. In fact, smartphone dependence is a worldwide epidemic and has triggered a search for a cure. For example, in the Indonesian city of Bandung, West Java they’re giving elementary and middle school children baby chicks to raise as a way to treat their dependency. Mayor Oded M. Danial says the chicks will keep the kids preoccupied so they “won’t be too focused on their gadgets.” As an incentive, the children who raise the biggest chickens can win bicycles.

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Turn milkweed pods into works of art

By MELINDA MYERS

Homemade gifts are a wonderful way to show you care. Making them from items grown in your garden adds that extra personal touch. And just like the plant, decorations and gifts made from milkweed pods are gaining in popularity.

Considered a weed by some, common milkweed is making a comeback as more gardeners are growing this important food source for monarch butterflies. Harvest the seedpods and craft them into wreaths, stars and indoor holiday trees.

Remove the pods from the plants, separate the halves and allow them to dry as needed. If you don’t have your own milkweed plants, ask a friend or neighbor if you can harvest a few of theirs.

Search the internet and craft books for creative ways to use these. You would be surprised how a little paint can turn milkweed pods into a work of art. Paint a winter or holiday scene on the inside of the pods. Or add a bit of moss, tiny dried flowers, acorns and miniatures to create a three-dimensional piece of art.

Decorate the outside with the eyes, nose and hat of Santa Claus or one of his reindeer. Add some pinecone scales for ears and evergreen needles for whiskers and you have the start of an adorable mouse.

Even those with limited artistic talent can create pretty ornaments. Paint the pod and glue a colorful feather or string of beads to the inside. Add twine with a bead or two to the top for a hanger.

Paint the inside and outside of the pods green, gold, silver or other color of your choice Purchase a Styrofoam cone and attach the pods, inner side facing out with pins. Place the pods in rows, covering the cone to create the perfect evergreen.

Glue the wide end of five pods together to form a star. Fill the center with a small cone or sweet gum pod. Still more pods? Use them to decorate a holiday wreath. If you have enough you can create a wreath of all milkweed pods. Just cover the wreath form or frame with milkweed pods or use moss, burlap or greens as a base.

But don’t stop with winter inspired decorations. Save some milkweed pods to craft into beautiful dahlias, birds, butterflies, fairies and more. Just start experimenting with paint, hot glue, florist wire and other natural materials.

Then next fall consider harvesting the pods before they open. You’ll either contain the spread if desired or harvest seeds to share with friends. Place the pods in a paper bag in a warm location to open. Use the fluffy seeds to fill clear ornaments or separate the seeds from the fluff to plant and grow more monarch-friendly plants.

Once you get started crafting, friends and neighbors will be leaving pods on your doorstep to craft into works of art. And you may find yourself adding more milkweeds to the garden. You’ll have plenty of pods for crafting and enjoy the monarch caterpillars munching on the leaves and adult butterflies sipping on the nectar in the garden.

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4 tips for steering your business through tough times

Good times come with this certainty: They never last.

For businesses, that means formidable challenges (a weak economy, new competition, a sea change in the marketplace) are always just around the corner, and unprepared business leaders face the potential for disaster.

“You don’t have the luxury of resting on your laurels,” says Alyssa Rapp (www.alyssarapp.com), CEO of Surgical Solutions and author of Leadership & Life Hacks: Insights from a Mom, Wife, Entrepreneur & Executive.

“You have to keep battling, innovating, out-innovating, and outworking your competition.”

She knows something about that. From 2005 to 2015, Rapp served as the founder and CEO of Bottlenotes Inc., charting a course for the company through the turbulent years of the Great Recession. During her time at Bottlenotes, Rapp was named one of Inc. Magazine’s “30 Under 30” coolest entrepreneurs in the U.S. Starting in 2015, she served as the managing partner at AJR Ventures, which advised privately-held companies and private equity firms on their digital-marketing strategies.

Rapp offers four tips for helping business leaders meet the toughest of times with a resolute attitude:

Acknowledge fear, and move through it. Fear gets a bad rap, but it’s there for a reason: to protect you from something. “Just like standing on a balance beam is scary because your life or limbs are at risk, so, too, is making business decisions that carry huge risks,” says Rapp, a former competitive gymnast who knows something about balance beams. Your job is to acknowledge the fear – to take note of its presence – and then push through it. “Fear is a normal human response,” she says. “The trick is in not letting it dominate your psyche.”

Commit to finishing what you start. You have to commit before you even begin. “If you start anything knowing you probably won’t succeed, then you won’t,” Rapp says. “You’re setting yourself up for failure. You must show up with full commitment, having faith, true grit, and belief in yourself.”

Know that all great ideas start with ‘what if.’ Never be afraid to ask what if, over and over, until you find a solution, Rapp says. She points out that most of the best entrepreneurial innovation in the United States over the past 20 years has been born out of Silicon Valley, precisely because of the constant willingness to ask and re-ask this simple question. “Some people’s responses to challenges or obstacles are to stop asking questions,” Rapp says. “If you want to solve a problem, you have to open yourself up to the possibility that change is inevitable, and reframing the problem will present an otherwise undiscovered solution.”

Remember that you have to be present to win. You can’t win a race if you’re not competing. “So before you do anything else – before you commit to finishing what you start, before you acknowledge your fear and move through it – you have to show up,” Rapp says. “Remember that saying that 80 percent of success is showing up? There’s truth to that because showing up matters.”

It’s inevitable that, regardless of how well you think you’ve planned, life will throw you curveballs, Rapp says.

“They will come at you in every area, every industry, every walk of life,” she says. “I’ve faced them as a mom, wife, entrepreneur, executive, friend – you name it. But I don’t run from them. I’ve learned to apply my brother’s advice: ‘The only way out is through.’ The truth is, I love curveballs, because each one comes with a question: What the hell are you going to do about it?”

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The FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — Marking a century of partnership

The FBI’s seventh National Academy class was the first to include an international partner—RCMP Sergeant Ed Wood. The National Academy is a prestigious educational training program for law enforcement leaders from around the world.

Earlier this summer, the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., hosted an exhibit called Between Friends, Entre Amis: A Snapshot of Canada-U.S. Relations, which celebrated the 150-year partnership between our nations.

It also highlighted another milestone: a century of collaboration between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the FBI.

Canada’s federal law enforcement agency traces its origins to 1873. In that year, Canada created a central police force to patrol Canada’s new western territories. That force later became the North-West Mounted Police, then the RCMP in 1920.

Our respective organizations began working together soon after the Bureau’s launch in 1908. But the relationship took a major step forward 100 years ago this fall.

At the time, both nations were experiencing domestic unrest, including violent radicalism, brought on by the end of World War I and the birth of the Soviet Union.

It was clear that national security threats were becoming cross-border issues. Regular diplomatic channels were too slow to handle fast-moving law enforcement situations.

As a result, Colonel Charles Frederick Hamilton—the RCMP’s first intelligence officer—was dispatched to Washington, D.C., in September 1919.

His mission was to initiate a funnel of information sharing and act as an on-site liaison with U.S. agencies, including the Bureau of Investigation, as the FBI was then known.

Thrust into national security matters soon after its formation, the Bureau welcomed the chance to work with the highly-respected “Mounties” and other RCMP professionals.

Within weeks, the Bureau opened communications channels with our neighbor to the north.

The FBI—and the nation—are grateful to the RCMP for its longstanding partnership and look forward to working together for many more years to come.

The relationship soon began paying dividends. By the mid-1920s, the Bureau and RCMP were exchanging criminal identification information and tracking cross-border fugitives.

That led to many successes. In 1933, for example, a train robber named Frank Grigware—who had broken out of a U.S. prison two decades earlier—was arrested in Canada for poaching. Grigware might have gone unnoticed if not for an astute RCMP clerk who matched his fingerprints with those provided by the Bureau years before. It was a clear demonstration of the power of international information sharing.

In 1935, the FBI began the National Academy, a comprehensive training program for police executives. Just three years later, RCMP Sergeant Ed Wood became its first international graduate. He has been followed by many Canadian law enforcement officers and thousands of other international partners.

World War II brought even closer interaction. In May 1942, the Bureau opened a legal attaché in Ottawa, one of its first international liaison posts. It quickly became a vital link in sharing intelligence during and after the conflict.

In the early days of the Cold War, this cooperation was crucial in dealing with the stunning revelations of Igor Gouzenko. A code clerk in the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, Gouzenko defected right after the end of World War II with the help of the RCMP. He provided a trove of documents about Soviet spying in North America. These disclosures sparked massive investigations and opened the eyes of both countries to Soviet espionage threat.

For a number of years, the Bureau and RCMP housed an official representative in each other’s headquarters. In 1957, these representatives were moved into our corresponding embassies, but the closeness of the relationship remained and led to many operational successes.

Among the most significant was the hunt for James Earl Ray. After assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Ray fled to Canada. The RCMP helped the FBI track his movements and unravel his various false identities. Ray was ultimately captured in London, when an airport ticket agent recognized his fake name from an RCMP watchlist.

As an age of international crime dawned in the late 20th century, the FBI and RCMP became closer than ever. The organizations worked joint cases involving drug trafficking, organized crime, telemarketing fraud, and more. They also joined hands to help protect multiple Olympic games in both nations.

Most importantly, the FBI and RCMP began extensive cooperation in investigating and preventing terrorism attacks.

In December 1999, for example, Ahmed Ressam was stopped at the Canadian border as he attempted to enter the U.S. His car was loaded with bomb-making materials. In the ensuing case, investigators and forensic experts from the RCMP and FBI clearly linked Ressam to a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium celebrations. Ressam was convicted and sentenced to 37 years in prison.

For both organizations, the past century has proven the power and necessity of international law enforcement cooperation. The FBI—and the nation—are grateful to the RCMP for its longstanding partnership and look forward to working together for many more years to come.

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How to plan for healthcare costs that could derail your retirement

People work for decades with a hopeful eye toward retirement. But while many try to envision their retirement years as a blissful time of fun and relaxation, no one has a crystal ball showing exactly what all the expenses will look like.

This is especially true of health care.

Fidelity’s annual Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate projected that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2019 could expect $285,000 in health care and medical expenses during their retirement. An Edward Jones survey showed many Americans are concerned about health care expenses in retirement, particularly baby boomers.

“People spend their healthy years accumulating all their wealth,” says Michael Macke (www.petrosplanning.com), vice president and co-owner of Petros Financial Group. “They work hard and save, building their nest egg.

“But when you retire, you wind up spending a lot of your wealth on your health. In talking with people about retirement for 25 years, health care is always their top concern. To most people it’s the great unknown that can derail the best-laid plans. You never know when you’re going to get sick or come down with a disease. What kind of care will be required, and most of all, what is it going to cost?”

How do you plan for that great unknown — health care costs in retirement? Macke offers these tips:

Make extra wiggle room for the “what-if” medical expenses. “When planning a long-term budget, most people just look at their baseline monthly expenses, but it’s wise to have a discussion about how health care costs can fit in during retirement,” Macke says. “Budgeting for a potential additional expense of $350 to $500 per month in the future can help you be better prepared to handle that ‘what-if’ scenario.”

Open a Health Savings Account (HSA). An HSA offers tax advantages such as deductible contributions and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. “The funds from your HSA can be used to pay for Medicare premiums and long-term care insurance premiums,” Macke says. “Those who are 55 or older can make a catch-up contribution of $1,000 a year in addition to the maximum contribution limit (which is $3,500 annually for individual coverage and $7,000 for family coverage).”

Manage Medicare annually. “Every year, you should be reviewing Medicare plans. You need to figure out which plan is best for you based on your health as well as what’s covered and what isn’t in each option.” Macke says. “Some plans may cost a little more but would save you on doctor’s visits and co-pays. Also, remember that your part B and D premiums could be higher based on your annual income from two years prior. Make sure you are working with a tax planner and retirement planner to manage your income, which may include distributions from retirement accounts. Being aware of these limits could save you money! Your health changes constantly as do your options for Medicare coverage. Make sure you are evaluating each year.”

Pay attention to your health. Sounds simple, but a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reduce the chance of health complications and costly bills in retirement. “Don’t miss annual checkups with both your doctor and dentist,” Macke says. “Adhere to a reasonable diet and fitness regimen. And don’t discount the dentist. Cardiovascular disease shows up in the gums first.”

“Unexpected medical expenses later in life threaten our physical health and our financial health,” Macke says. “Therefore, it’s vital to be proactive and plan as early as possible in order to protect your retirement you’ve worked so hard for.”

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus. The incarceration of Rosa Parks triggered a year-long boycott of the city’s bus system by African Americans; it ended with a Supreme Court ruling that declared racial segregation on public transportation illegal. Mrs. Parks became known as the “mother of the civil rights movement.”

On December 2, 1823 President James Monroe sent his annual message to Congress prohibiting foreign colonization of the Americas by European nations. It stated that "we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety."

According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Monroe made four basic points in his message: the United States would not interfere in the internal affairs of, or the wars between European powers; the United States recognized and would not interfere with existing colonies and dependencies in the Western Hemisphere; and, the Western Hemisphere was closed to future colonization; any attempt by a European power to oppress or control any nation in the Western Hemisphere would be viewed as a hostile act against the United States.

It was a balmy Sunday morning; Dec. 7, 1941. The U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was perfectly calm, but the stillness would not last. At precisely 7:55, an armada of approximately 360 Japanese warplanes attacked, killing 2,400 Americans, and wounding 1,200. Five of the eight American battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk, or damaged in the surprise ambush that lasted just two hours. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan — a devastation that would pull in the rest of the world, and last four years.

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Ways to avoid reckless holiday spending that could wreck your retirement

While an enjoyable part of the holiday season is giving to others, those nearing retirement would be prudent to give something back to themselves as the year nears its end.

That’s the advice from some retirement planners: Reduce holiday spending to provide more money for one’s retirement savings. But it’s a well-known fact that much of America wakes up with a credit card hangover on New Year’s Day, and curtailing holiday expenses in favor of financial planning for one’s future requires more discipline and a stronger commitment.

“It’s easy to overspend during the holidays and make too many emotional purchase decisions,” says Jay Sharifi, an investment advisor at Legacy Wealth Management (www.lwealthmanagement.com) and author of Building a Better Legacy: Retirement Planning for Your Lifetime and Beyond. “That hurts your long-term financial goals.

“The holiday shopping list may seem to get longer as you get older, but at some point you need to draw a line and balance your urge to give with the must of retirement considerations. It doesn’t mean you leave people out, but rather, you don’t go overboard and leave a little more for yourself. It can make a big difference in the long run.”

Sharifi offers these tips on saving more for retirement during the holiday season:

Review your past expenses and plan for the big picture. The holidays are a good time to reflect on how you spent your earnings over the past year. Adjustments may be necessary to get your retirement savings on track. “All through the year, money gets away from people a little bit at a time,” Sharifi says. “That’s often because they don’t have a firm plan. Not dealing with your expenses correctly can be very costly to your retirement. The holidays are the right time to recalibrate for the future.”

Make a holiday list, check it twice. Sharifi says people should approach their holiday season spending in a way that can help them get on track toward retirement goals. That starts with a budget and sticking to it, but many people overspend during the holidays and end up paying for it well into the new year. “If you have a budget set for holiday shopping, you can prioritize and figure out how you will get it done within those boundaries,” Sharifi says. “Look for deals to stretch your dollars. Setting a budget will help you avoid spending sprees that leak onto your credit cards. The carryover there is you may need to dedicate funds in the coming year to reduce that debt, which makes it harder to save for retirement.”

Sock away gifts from the company. Getting extra money from your company is a reward that can be used wisely toward retirement. “If you receive a nice bonus, don’t spend it,” Sharifi says. “Put that extra cash in a 401(k). That lowers your taxable income and gives you a boost toward your savings goals. And if your company offers you a raise, set a healthy percentage of that raise aside for retirement savings in the coming year.”

Make extra money. Holiday seasonal jobs are an excellent opportunity to put extra money away for retirement. Online positions allow someone to work from home, and pet sitting is another popular part-time job with more people traveling during the holidays.

“It’s very tempting to spend this extra money, but if you have the big picture in mind, putting it in a long-term savings account is a great gift to yourself,” Sharifi says. “With many Americans sinking further into debt during the holidays, it might be the right time for them to rethink how they spend and how it affects retirement,” Sharifi says.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Col. William E. Barber

BY KATIE LANGE

Some of our country's greatest heroes fought in iconic battles, but the few who fought in more than one during different wars — well, they've likely reached legendary status. That's the case for Marine Corps Col. William E. Barber, who served in three wars and earned the Medal of Honor in the middle of his 30-year career.

Barber was born Nov. 30, 1919, in Dehart, Kentucky, and grew up on a farm. In 1940, as the war in Europe was expanding, he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. When the U.S. joined World War II, he was sent to the Pacific. Barber served in the Battle of Iwo Jima, where he was shot rescuing two comrades after he replaced his wounded commander. His actions there earned him the Silver Star and Purple Heart Medals.

Barber survived the war and remained in the Marines. When war broke out in Korea a few years later, he'd reached the rank of captain and was the commanding officer of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines in the storied 1st Marine Division.

Barber was one of the "Chosin Few" — the men who fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the toughest campaigns in military history. Waged in below-zero temperatures, heavy snow and frigid winds, the nearly three-week battle began when 120,000 Chinese troops infiltrated northeast North Korea. They attacked United Nations troops — about 30,000 men from the U.S. 1st Marine Division, two U.S. Army battalions and some allied troops — who were chasing a defeated North Korean Army north around the reservoir.

The U.N.'s main supply route went through the Toktong Pass, a narrow, steep three-mile mountain road below the reservoir. Troops on both sides knew whoever controlled the pass ruled the road in both directions.

That pass is exactly what Barber and his 240-man company were tasked with defending on Nov. 28, 1950. The Chinese attacked early that morning, surrounding the Marines by the reservoir, isolating them from the rest of their division, and blocking their escape route. Despite the siege, Barber encouraged his men to hold their positions and was able to call in air strikes and airdrops for critically needed ammunition, medication and food.

On the second day of fighting, orders were radioed to Barber for his company to fight its way back east to Hagaru-ri to be relieved. However, two units from Hagaru-ri trying to reinforce Barber's company had already been driven back by the Chinese, so that option didn't look promising.

Barber had a decision to make. He knew leaving his position would sever contact with about 10,000 Marines of the 5th and 7th regiments, who were trapped further west at Yudam-ni. It would also jeopardize their chances of joining the 3,000 Marines waiting for them to the east at Hagaru-ri.

"He chose to risk loss of his command rather than sacrifice more men," the Medal of Honor citation said. Barber asked for permission for the company to stand its ground at Fox Hill. He didn't want to lose more men, abandon those who were too wounded to walk, or lose the critical Toktong Pass.

His request was granted.

Barber suffered two injuries during the stand, but he stayed in control, "often moving up and down the lines on a stretcher to direct the defense," the citation said. For five days and six nights, Chinese troops led repeated onslaughts to try to take the hill, but Company F defended it valiantly, accounting for 1,000 enemy dead.

By Dec. 2, the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments trapped at Yudam-ni had fought their way free and were able to link up with Barber's men, who had held their position on the hill. When they were finally relieved by other friendly troops, only 82 of Barber's men were able to walk away.

"His profound faith and courage, great personal valor and unwavering fortitude were decisive factors in the successful withdrawal of the division from the deathtrap in the Chosin Reservoir sector," the citation read.

According to military records, Barber was hospitalized for three months. Eventually, all of the remaining U.N. troops were able to fight their way south and evacuate from North Korea, but the battle took its toll. The U.S. reported more than 12,000 casualties, including more than 3,000 dead. Chinese forces were decimated with an estimated 50,000 lost.

Barber is one of 17 men who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chosin. On Aug. 20, 1952, Barber, then a major, received the honor from President Harry S. Truman in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. His wife and two children were there to witness it.

Barber went on to serve as a psychological operations officer in Vietnam before retiring as a colonel in 1970. He died April 19, 2002, at his home in Irvine, California. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Barber and the other "Chosin Few" left a legacy that Marines continue to try to emulate. The National Museum of the Marine Corps erected a Chosin Few Battle Monument in honor of those who fought there.

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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, My Own Benefits and Taxes

Dear Rusty: I am 67 and still working full time but plan to retire after June of next year. Because of my income I have not been drawing my Social Security benefits; however, my income will not be a tax issue in 2020 with my planned retirement. If I begin drawing my SS when I’m 68 next June, can I draw it retroactively to the first of the year at that rate? Or, beginning January 1, 2020, can I draw on my deceased wife's SS and then switch to my higher rate upon my birthdate in June? Signed: Exploring My Options

Dear Exploring: Since you are eligible for both a survivor benefit from your wife and your own SS retirement benefit you have a choice of which one to choose and when to claim. You can choose the survivor benefit first and continue to delay your own SS benefit, thus allowing your own benefit to continue to earn delayed retirement credits. You can delay until you are 70 years old or, depending upon your financial needs, you can claim your own benefit at any time, including June of next year.

Your survivor benefit from your wife will be 100% of the benefit your wife was receiving (or entitled to receive) at her death. You could have started that benefit when your wife passed, but it would have been reduced if that was before you reached your full retirement age (66). Survivor benefits reach maximum at your full retirement age (FRA), and at FRA you get 100% of your deceased wife’s SS benefit. You can restrict your application to your survivor benefit if you choose to do so, and you can request up to 6 months in retroactive survivor benefits if you wish. By doing that, you are delaying the claim for your own benefit so it continues to grow in value.

Since you have not yet claimed your own SS retirement benefit, you have already been earning Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) at a rate of 2/3rds of 1% per month past your FRA of 66. DRCs accumulate until you are 70 years old, when your monthly benefit would be 32% more than it would have been at your FRA and 16% more than it will be when you turn 68 in June 2020. If, instead of continuing to delay, you decide to claim your own SS benefit in June of next year, you can claim up to 6 months retroactive benefits, but doing so will move your effective claim date back 6 months and your monthly benefit amount will be permanently reduced by about 3.3%.

So, to answer your two specific questions: yes, you can claim your SS retirement benefit in June 2020 and get 6 months retroactive benefits but your benefit will be reduced as explained above. And yes, you can claim your survivor benefit from your deceased wife in January 2020 and then switch to your own SS retirement benefit in June. From a purely financial standpoint, the latter method would give you some extra money starting in January without reducing your own SS retirement benefit. And it would also give you the option of delaying your claim for your own benefits beyond June 2020 and continuing to earn DRCs until a later time, up to age 70 if you wish. Doing so would give you a substantially higher SS retirement benefit for the rest of your life.

But in either case, the SS benefits you collect will only become part of your taxable income if your “combined income” exceeds $25,000 (assuming you file your income tax as “single”). Your “combined income” is your normal Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for income tax purposes, plus 50% of the SS benefits you received for the tax year, plus any non-taxable interest you may have. If your combined income exceeds $25,000 then up to 50% of the SS benefits you received in the tax year becomes part of your overall taxable income; if your combined income exceeds $34,000 then up to 85% of your SS benefits becomes part of your taxable income.

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Has a betrayal stolen your holiday spirit? How to take steps toward healing

The “most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t quite live up to its billing for anyone whose holiday itinerary includes healing psychological wounds after being betrayed by a spouse, friend or someone else close to them.

“A betrayal can tend to make you hyper-vigilant about every aspect of a relationship, and that’s an exhausting strategy for living life,” says Susan Stautberg, co-author with Elaine Eisenman, PhD, of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing (www.bouncefrombetrayal.com).

“And it can be even more exhausting during the holidays if family or social gatherings cause you to be around someone you would just as soon avoid, or if you’re experiencing your first holiday season after a traumatic breakup caused by a betrayal.”

But there are steps you can take to begin healing as you head into the New Year.

“The true key to unlocking a new and better future is a superpower called resilience,” Eisenman says. “That ability in each of us to survive, and to position ourselves to go forward.”

What better time to do that than as you start a New Year, which also can be a new chapter in your life as you work to put bad memories behind you and look to a better future.

Eisenman and Stautberg offer a few tips for handling a betrayal this holiday season:

Let your recovery happen at its own pace. Holidays follow the calendar, but your recovery won’t be so easily scheduled. It might be nice to think you’ll have all the ill feelings behind you by Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day, but recovering from a betrayal isn’t like checking something else off your shopping list. “Listen to your own body and mind,” Stautberg says. “You’ll be over it when you’re over it.”

Stay clear on your identity and self-worth. “Don’t overlook your achievements in the face of all the flying emotional debris,” Eisenman says. Remember your core strengths – no matter how long ago it was that you used them – and maximize them.

Do not relive the betrayal to everyone who asks how you are feeling. Say it is over and you are moving on. The more you are trapped into reliving the story the less strength you have for bouncing forward.

Forgiveness is up to you. Perhaps well-meaning family members or friends tell you, “It’s the holidays. You need to forgive.” Yes, it can dampen the mood to hold a grudge in the midst of all the merriment. But forgiveness, if it occurs, takes place only after the healing process is complete. “Forgiveness is never the goal,” Stautberg says. “The only goal is to move strongly and confidently into your new future.” If you believe forgiveness is crucial to moving on with your life, then it needs to happen, she says. But if you don’t feel it is necessary, you can give it a pass – holidays or no holidays.

Spend time with those who make your life “merry and bright.” Yes, there are people who will betray you, but if you reach out, there are more people who will support and honor you. During the holidays, those are the people you want to surround yourself with, Eisenman says. It might even mean changing a few holiday traditions, such as which annual parties or family gatherings you attend, but it could be worth it. Find those supportive people and keep them close.

Here’s the good news for anyone whose holiday spirit has been dampened by betrayal.

“Despite the initial trauma, pain and humiliation,” Stautberg says, “most of us recover from betrayal and become stronger and wiser as a direct result of the devastating experience.”

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Don’t let cold and flu season knock you down; Try these 5 natural remedies

Cold and flu season are upon us, that time of year when body aches, fever, chills and nasal congestion combine and can stop you in your tracks, leaving you bedridden for days.

Statistics show that the flu annually sickens millions of Americans, kills tens of thousands, and results in billions of dollars in medical expenses and sick days.

“Complications arising from the flu can become serious,” says Dr. Suhyun An (www.drsuhyunan.com), an expert on regenerative medicine and co-author of Demystifying Stem Cells: A Real-Life Approach To Regenerative Medicine.

“If you still have symptoms after seven to 10 days, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor. If any of your symptoms include difficulty breathing, a rapid heartbeat, or feeling faint, or if you experience other severe symptoms like a high fever, seek immediate medical assistance.”

Dr. An says there are ways to prevent the symptoms from reaching that serious point. To feel better and get back on your feet, she recommends numerous natural cold and flu remedies to alleviate your symptoms:

Vitamin C. Some studies indicate that Vitamin C can shorten the lifespan of a cold and boost your immune system. “The best way to get it is through your diet; the fresher the food, the better,” Dr. An says. “Oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, leafy greens, and bell peppers are all good sources of vitamin C. Be careful with supplements because they can lead to upset stomach and kidney stones.”

Honey. Honey has natural antiviral and antimicrobial properties. “Drinking honey in tea with lemon can ease sore throat pain,” Dr. An says. “Research suggests that honey is an effective cough suppressant, too. Honey often contains Clostridium bacteria, so never give honey to a child younger than 1-year-old because infants’ immune systems aren’t able to fight them off.”

Chicken soup. This popular cold and flu remedy helps because hot liquids reduce mucus buildup and keep you hydrated. “Chicken soup, in particular, has anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce a cold’s unpleasant side effects,” Dr. An says. “Keep some in the freezer or even canned for flu season. It’s quick to prepare that way and soothing to eat.”

Aromas. “When you have congestion from the flu, applying camphor or menthol salve around your nose can help break up mucus,” Dr. An says. “Aromatherapy oils, such as peppermint and eucalyptus, can have a similar effect. Also, vapor rub can reduce cold symptoms, especially in children older than 2 years. It helps open air passages to combat congestion, reduce coughing, and improve sleep. It’s a good alternative to over-the-counter cold medicines in young children because of unwanted side effects.”

Probiotics. These are friendly bacteria and yeast found in the body, some foods, and supplements. “They can help keep your gut and immune system healthy, and they may reduce your chance of getting sick with an upper respiratory infection,” Dr. An says. “For a delicious and nutritious source of helpful bacteria, include probiotic yogurt in your diet.”

“Colds and the flu are threats to us every year, but they don’t have to get us down for long,” Dr. An says. “Natural home remedies can reduce symptoms so you can be more comfortable and get the rest you need to get better faster.”

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Affordable gift ideas for anyone on your list

By MELINDA MYERS

The holidays are upon us and busy schedules often send us into a panic when looking for the perfect gift for those on our list. No matter your budget, there are affordable gift options your friends and family will love.

Tools are always a welcome gift. Most gardeners are reluctant to invest in that cool new hand trowel, shovel or rake. And that’s what makes them a great gift. Or create a starter kit from your extra tools for a new homeowner or gardener. Clean them up, sharpen the blades and bundle them with a bow. Add a gift card from a nearby garden center if your budget allows.

Help your favorite gardener avoid skin cancer and protect their hands when working in the garden by creating a garden basket with gloves, a hat and sunscreen.

Clean up a corner of the basement or spare bedroom to create a seed starting station. Purchase the lights and fixtures or set a table in front of a sunny window. And if your budget is limited, scour the garage and shed or talk to gardening friends to secure items that can be cleaned and reused.

Or give your favorite gardener all they need to start a windowsill herb garden or terrarium. Purchase or recycle the containers and take cuttings, make divisions or purchase the plants you need.

A trip to the basement or thrift store may provide the perfect vessel for your terrarium. Convert an old aquarium into a tropical biodome. A large clear glass serving dish, salad bowl or vase may make a unique terrarium sure to intrigue the recipient and their guests.

Help your favorite indoor gardener dress up their favorite hanging plants. Macramé is back in vogue and adding flare to indoor gardens. Create a few plant hangers from jute and beads.

Preserve a garden memory with a photo of your or the recipient’s garden or favorite plants. A collection of photos can be made into a calendar for a gift that keeps giving all year long.

Share a bit of your garden. Pass along some seeds you saved or start a few cuttings from your favorite heirloom houseplant. Dress up your gift with a painted pot or basket.

And don’t forget to share some dried herbs and flowers or preserves made from your garden harvest. Nothing tastes better or is more beautiful than when it’s homegrown. Don’t have extra this year? Make a note on next year’s calendar and plan ahead.

Give the gift of time. Most of us can use an extra set of hands at certain times of the garden season. No dusting required and it’s a great way to ensure time together.

Put your artistic skills to work and create a garden journal. A simple notebook dressed up with some photos, artwork or stickers can provide an attractive and inviting place for your favorite gardener to record their gardening successes, failures and other useful garden information.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. And getting friends and family involved in creating these gifts is a great way to enjoy time together while preparing for the holidays.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Corps Gen. Alexander Vandegrift

BY KATIE LANGE

The Medal of Honor is often given for one act of valor, but service members can also earn it for many acts over time. One of the more prominent names to have done that was World War II Marine Corps Gen. Alexander Vandegrift, whose command during the Guadalcanal campaign in the South Pacific led to a critical U.S. victory.

Vandegrift was born March 13, 1887, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He went to the University of Virginia before being commissioned into the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant in 1909.

Vandegrift didn't see combat during World War I, but he did serve overseas later in Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti and China. By 1942, when the U.S. had entered World War II, he had risen to the rank of major general.

That summer, U.S. military leaders had learned that the Japanese were building an airfield on Guadalcanal, an obscure island in the Solomon Islands chain. It marked Japan's furthest advance toward the eastern half of the South Pacific, which was a great concern to the Allies. If Japan remained in control of the island, it could have imperiled vital U.S. supply lines to Australia and isolated that Allied nation.

So, Guadalcanal became the focus of the first major U.S. offensive against the Japanese. For six months, Marines, sailors and soldiers took part in Operation Watchtower. Marines accounted for the largest part of the fighting force.

Holding the Line

Vandegrift commanded the 1st Marine Division -- the only trained amphibious assault troops available in the Pacific at the time. On Aug. 7, 1942, U.S. naval forces fired on a surprised enemy, driving the Japanese away from the airfield they were building and allowing Vandegrift's men an easy landing. U.S. Marines finished building the airfield and, on Aug. 20, the first Allied air units landed there.

Over the next few months, Marines and U.S. soldiers held their position against repeated enemy attacks, despite low supplies, malnutrition and malaria. By November, the Allied land, air and sea assault had crushed the Japanese forces.

On Dec. 9, Vandegrift turned over command of the forces to Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Patch. With that, the 1st Marine Division was relieved.

The Japanese remained on Guadalcanal for another two months, pretending to bring reinforcements when they were actually evacuating surviving troops, but the damage was done. Japan officially surrendered the island on Feb. 8, 1943.

The U.S. victory set the stage for the ultimate defeat of the Japanese Imperial Navy.

Honorable Leadership

Vandegrift's tenacity, courage and resourcefulness were crucial in keeping his troops' spirits up during those months of fighting. For his inspiring leadership, he was given the Medal of Honor on Feb. 5, 1943, at a ceremony at the White House.

Vandegrift is one of only three men to earn the Medal of Honor during the Guadalcanal campaign; Capt. Joe Foss and Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone also received it. Vandegrift was also the first Marine to earn both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

In November 1943, Vandegrift commanded the 1st Marine Amphibious Corps in Bougainville, another battle in the Solomon Islands. When he returned in January 1944, he became the 18th Marine commandant. During that time, he rose to the rank of four-star general, making him the first four-star general to be commandant while still on active duty.

Vandegrift retired in 1948 after serving in the Marine Corps for nearly 40 years. In his retirement, he co-authored a book about his experiences during World War II.

Vandegrift died on May 8, 1973, in Bethesda, Maryland, after a long illness. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The general's service to our nation continues to be honored. In 1982, the Navy frigate USS Vandegrift was named after him. The main street running through Camp Pendleton, California, also bears his name.

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Tortured by chronic pain? Dry needling is emerging as an alternative to opioids

Maybe a sports injury is the problem. Maybe arthritis or some other health condition is the culprit.

Regardless of the cause, nearly 20 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, worrying every day about flare-ups that interfere with their enjoyment of life. While many people turn to painkillers as their first line of defense, others are finding relief in opioid-free methods, such as dry needling.

“Many people view pain as being a bad thing in itself, but actually it is nature’s warning system, meant to protect us,” says Nicky Snazell (www.painreliefclinic.co.uk), a physiotherapist and author of The 4 Keys to Health and other books.

“We need to heed that warning and address the real cause of the problem, not just look for ways to mask the symptoms.”

While Snazell says painkillers have their place, she prefers an integrative approach to combating pain, combining the most potent aspects of medicine with complementary therapies. Dry needling is one of the methods she’s a proponent of and regularly practices.

For those unfamiliar, here’s how the Mayo Clinic describes dry needling: A thin monofilament needle penetrates the skin and treats underlying muscular trigger points for the management of neuromusculoskeletal pain and movement impairments. Snazell practices what is known as the Gunn IMS method, which also uses dry needling to treat neuropathic pain.

Some professional athletes, such as NBA star Anthony Davis, have turned to dry needling to help them overcome troublesome conditions such as back spasms.

Research indicates that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunction of the motor-end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.

“Dry needling is used as part of a wider physiotherapy treatment and succeeds where other treatments fail,” says Snazell, who over three decades has performed dry needling with success on thousands of patients in the United Kingdom.

A few points the American Physical Therapy Association says patients should know about dry needling include:

The technique uses a “dry” needle, one without medication or injection, inserted through the skin into areas of the muscle. Other terms commonly used to describe dry needling include trigger point dry needling and intramuscular manual therapy.

Although there are similarities, dry needling is not acupuncture, a practice based on traditional Chinese medicine and performed by acupuncturists. Dry needling is a part of modern Western medicine principles, and supported by research. (There has been controversy in this area, though, with acupuncturists in some states trying to block physical therapists from using the procedure, saying they are infringing on the acupuncturists’ turf.)

Physical therapists who perform dry needling obtain specific postgraduate education and training. When contacting a physical therapist for dry needling treatment, the association says, ask about their specific experience and education.

Beyond dry needling, medication, and other pain-relief therapies, Snazell says those battling pain also can ease some of their suffering through lifestyle changes.

“We need to realize that many causes of pain are self-inflicted and can be easily avoided,” she says. “Find ways to lower your stress level. Change your diet to avoid such things as processed foods and excess sugar. Exercise regularly. All of these activities can play a role in helping you to reduce your pain and get more enjoyment out of life.”

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On December 16, 1773 the American colonists, already overwhelmed by British taxation and tyranny, defied them, boarded their ships, and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The incident became known as the Boston Tea Party, and it foreshadowed the American Revolution.

For a better understanding about the sequence of events that culminated with the Revolutionary War, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution by Harlow Giles Unger.

On December 19, 1998, Bill Clinton became the second U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was charged with four offenses, but only two-- lying under oath to a federal grand jury, and obstructing justice were approved.

Andrew Johnson had been the first to be impeached in 1868. A century later, President Richard Nixon was also confronted with it—in 1974--but he chose to resign.

For more information about the Clinton impeachment, and the process in general, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Famous Trials - The Impeachment of Bill Clinton by Nathan Aaseng.

South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Less than six months later, ten more pro-slavery southern states joined her, and morphed into the Confederate States of America, with a combined population of nine million; nearly half were slaves.

The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in American history. The other side, or the Union, was comprised of 21 states, fighting against slavery-- with a population of more than 20 million.

The War began April 12,1861 and ended April 9, 1865; approximately 620,000 soldiers perished.

It’s important to understand the reasons for secession. The Grateful American Book Prize suggests Secession: The Southern States Leave the Union by Judith Peacock.

It was Christmas Day,1776. George Washington’s revolutionary forces had been driven out of New York; suddenly, they were at turning point in the rebellion. Against all odds, Washington and his 2,400 troops crossed the icy Delaware River in a fleet of small boats, ambushed 1,500 Hessians [German mercenaries under the command of the British], and captured the remaining forces, in what became known as the Battle of Trenton. The future fifth president, James Monroe, and five of Washington’s troops were wounded.

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Claire Lee Chennault and The Flying Tigers

From the US Department of Veterans Affairs

Claire Lee Chennault, a U.S. major general who commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in China during World War II, led the First American Volunteer Group, AKA the “Flying Tigers.”

Flying over China in the 1940s, airplanes marked with shark teeth served the Chinese air force. This group of American volunteers, known as the “Flying Tigers,” served under a renowned leader of his time: Claire Lee Chennault

Born in Commerce, Texas, in 1890, Chennault grew up in Louisiana. After graduating from Louisiana State University, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Infantry Reserves. Soon, though, he transferred to the Signal Corps Aviation Section, where he served during World War I.

After the war, Chennault served at Langley Field, Virginia, as well as at Kelly Field, Texas, where he studied aeronautical engineering. He learned to fly in 1919. He left the Reserves a year later, but commissioned into active duty service at Gerstner Field, Louisiana, as well as at Ellington Field and Fort Bliss, Texas. Beginning in September 1923, he was stationed in Hawaii for three years as the Commanding Officer of the 19th Pursuit Squadron. He spent the rest of the 1920s in Texas, where he worked as an instructor.

Chennault graduated Air Corps Tactical School in 1931 and later wrote an aviation textbook on aviation fighter tactics.

In June 1936 at Maxwell Field, where he was chief of Pursuit Training, Chennault was promoted to major. Partial deafness and disagreements with other Air Corps officers led to his retirement in 1937.

Many wars

When he left service, Chennault became an aviation advisor for China’s General Chiang Kai-shek during the Sino-Japanese War. Chennault revamped China’s aviation program, bringing in American pilots to serve as Chinese air force members.

The Chinese Air Force made Chennault a brigadier general in the summer of 1941, when he was assigned to train pursuit pilots for the First American Volunteer Group. Their missions included flying supplies and protecting Burma Road and Chongqing.

Chennault’s AVG volunteers started training in Burma in July 1941. Flying with 43 serviceable P-40B fighters and 84 former U.S. military pilots, their first combat was Dec. 20, 1941–less than two weeks after Pearl Harbor. From December 1941 to July 1942, the AVG destroyed 296 Japanese aircraft in China and Burma.

In 1942, soon after the United States declared war on Japan, Chennault returned to active duty with the Army Air Forces as a colonel–but was soon promoted to brigadier general. A few months later, the military assigned him as commanding general of the Army Air Forces in China. In March 1943, he received a promotion to major general to command the 14th Air Force in China.

During this time, Flying Tiger members flew dangerous missions over the Himalayas, known as “the Hump.” Crews defended the Chinese end of the Hump route and supported the Chinese army. In May 1943, Flying Tigers using B-24s bombed Japanese shipping off the Chinese coast. Much of the bombers’ available flying hours, however, were spent hauling their own supplies over the Hump in support of bombing missions.

Chennault remained in this role throughout World War II. He retired from service on Oct. 31, 1945, after serving a short assignment at the headquarters of the Army Air Forces.

After the wars

In 1946, after the war, Chennault established a commercial airline in China, and became president of China’s Civil Air Transport.

Throughout his military service, Chennault received multiple honors and medals, including a Distinguished Service Medal (with one Oak Leaf Cluster) and a Distinguished Flying Cross from the United States military, as well as a Chinese Order of the Celestial Banner, and an Order of the British Empire.

On July 18, 1958, the U.S. Air Force promoted Chennault to the honorary grade of lieutenant general. He died days later, on July 27, 1958.

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Ethics and AI: Are we ready for the rise of artificial intelligence?

No job in the United States has seen more hiring growth in the last five years than artificial-intelligence specialist, a position dedicated to building AI systems and figuring out where to implement them.

But is that career growth happening at a faster rate than our ability to address the ethical issues involved when machines make decisions that impact our lives and possibly invade our privacy?

Maybe so, says Dr. Steven Mintz (www.stevenmintzethics.com), author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior.

“Rules of the road are needed to ensure that artificial intelligence systems are designed in an ethical way and operate based on ethical principles,” he says. “There are plenty of questions that need to be addressed. What are the right ways to use AI? How can AI be used to foster fairness, justice and transparency? What are the implications of using AI for productivity and performance evaluation?”

Those who take jobs in this growing field will need to play a pivotal role in helping to work out those ethical issues, he says, and already there is somewhat of a global consensus about what should be the ethical principles in AI.

Those principles include:

Transparency. People affected by the decisions a machine makes should be allowed to know what goes into that decision-making process.

Non-maleficence. Never cause foreseeable or unintentional harm using AI, including discrimination, violation of privacy, or bodily harm.

Justice. Monitor AI to prevent or reduce bias. How could a machine be biased? A recent National Law Review article gave this hypothetical example: A financially focused AI might decide that people whose names end in vowels are a high credit risk. That could negatively affect people of certain ethnicities, such as people of Italian or Japanese descent.

Responsibility. Those involved in developing AI systems should be held accountable for their work.

Privacy. An ethical AI system promotes privacy both as a value to uphold and a right to be protected.

Mintz points to one recent workplace survey that examined the views of employers and employees in a number of countries with respect to AI ethics policies, potential misuse, liability, and regulation.

“More than half of the employers questioned said their companies do not currently have a written policy on the ethical use of AI or bots,” Mintz says. “Another 21 percent expressed a concern that companies could use AI in an unethical manner.”

Progress is being made on some fronts, though.

In Australia, five major companies are involved in a trial run of eight principles developed as part of the government AI Ethics Framework. The idea behind the principles is to ensure that AI systems benefit individuals, society and the environment; respect human rights; don’t discriminate; and uphold privacy rights and data protection.

Mintz says the next step in the U.S. should be for the business community likewise to work with government agencies to identify ethical AI principles.

“Unfortunately,” he says, “it seems the process is moving slowly and needs a nudge by technology companies, most of whom are directly affected by the ethical use of AI.”

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A Thanksgiving moment

A conscientious manager at Bagels 101 in Middle Island, NY recently went to great lengths for a customer who left her keys at the store when she stopped in for a cup of coffee. Diana Chong’s husband kept their minivan running while she went into the shop. The vehicle is equipped with a start button that allows you to take the keys with you while the car keeps running but Diana took the keys with her. It wasn’t until they arrived at their home in Honesdale, PA that she remembered leaving her keys at the store. She quickly called the store and spoke to the manager, Vincent Proscia, telling him that she desperately needed the keys to restart her vehicle. Proscia didn’t hesitate. He hopped in his car and made the 7-hour round trip to return Diana’s keys.

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‘Tis the season

Some people just can’t get enough of watching Christmas movies and now one lucky binge watcher can have his or her movies with a side of cash. The folks at Hallmark is offering to pay $1,000 for someone who is prepared to watch 24 holiday movies over a period of 12 days. The greeting card company turned TV channel has rules for its version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. “Rule #1: You don't like Christmas—you love it. Rule #2: You must be over 18-years-old and be a US resident. Rule #3: You know how to work the Gram, Twitter, or Facebook. We want someone who's willing to document their Hallmark marathon with their followers. We want you to have opinions—lots of them! Think the grumpy Grandpa turned jolly Santa was a little overdone? Felt like the plot was a bit half-baked? Be as honest as possible in your review.”

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Pooch-sitter wanted

Attention job-seekers: a British couple is seeking a full-time dog sitter/housekeeper and is willing to pay the lucky applicant some $40,000 a year plus room and board. The ad they posted on the Silver Swan Search Web site specifies that applicants “MUST have a passion for dog care,” noting that “experience looking after dogs is essential.”

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House Call

By Dr. Daniel Knight, Chairman,

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

College of Medicine, UAMS

Q. Is there anything I can do to reduce the appearance of scars?

A. Some over-the-counter medicated gels or creams can help. Corticosteroid cream can reduce a scar’s appearance over time or help prevent a new one from forming.

Silicone gel keeps skin hydrated and allows it to breathe, which can soften scars and can reduce their color, height and texture. Make sure the gel is completely dry before wearing clothes over it.

Research is still in the early stages, but lab tests show coconut oil, which has fatty acids that spur cell reproduction, may help wounds heal faster and shrink scars.

Zinc, a mineral that is important for helping wounds heal, reduces inflammation and promotes cell growth. However, taking zinc supplements can have side effects, so consult a physician first.

After a wound has healed, gently massaging it may help break up the collagen developing in the tissue underneath. In scars that have developed cords (tight strands of rope-like tissue), massaging and pulling the cords can relax and stretch them, flattening the scar and softening its texture.

Several sessions of laser therapy targeting specific blood vessels can help with severe scars.

Q. I often have migraines. What is the best way to treat these at home?

A. Several over-the-counter painkillers containing acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can lessen the pain. Placing an ice pack on your forehead, scalp or neck can also help. Doctors are not sure why this works, but reducing the blood flow may be key.

Avoiding loud noise and bright light and retreating to a quiet, dark room can aid in recovering sooner.

Caffeine may offer some mild relief and aid in the body’s faster absorption of drugs, but use it sparingly as it can be addictive and its withdrawal symptoms can include headaches.

When you do not have a migraine, regular exercise can prevent them by releasing endorphins, a pain-fighting chemical. High-intensity exercise can also trigger headaches in some people, so yoga is best for them.

Some studies show magnesium, found in dark-green vegetables, whole grains and nuts, might prevent migraines. Other studies show Vitamin B2 or riboflavin, found in chicken, fish, cheese and milk, may also help. Getting at least seven to eight hours of regular sleep can also help prevent migraines. Note what foods or conditions seem to be triggers and avoid them.

Q. What causes varicose veins and how can I prevent them?

A. Swollen, blue-tinted varicose veins and smaller spider veins, appearing as jagged purple or red lines similar in appearance to spider webs, often arrive with age. About 60% of adults experience these warped blood vessels on their legs and sometimes their ankles.

They occur when problems with the one-way valves in veins leading to the heart allow blood to pool and pressure to increase. The vein wall weakens and the vein will twist and bulge.

Women are twice as likely to get these abnormal veins, and the condition is more common in those who regularly spend several hours on their feet. Other contributing factors include prior trauma, obesity, pregnancy, a previous leg surgery or a genetic predisposition.

In addition to cosmetic problems, varicose veins can lead to discomfort, reduced circulation, painful blood clots and sometimes large sores.

Exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping leg muscles toned and blood circulating freely can help prevent spider and varicose veins. Those who spend a lot of time on their feet should stretch their leg muscles often, and pregnant women should sleep on their left sides rather than their backs.

Q. I have no appetite and feel queasy. Could I have a stomach flu?

A. A stomach or intestinal infection, known as gastroenteritis, is not the flu, but usually a virus, bacteria or parasite is the culprit. Viral infections, the most common types of gastroenteritis, usually run their course after three days, but those caused by bacteria or parasites may last longer.

Viral gastroenteritis infects the body’s cells, inflames the intestine and stomach lining and is very contagious. Bacteria increase faster in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees, so make sure to keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Gastroenteritis caused by parasites does not occur often in the U.S. or other developed countries.

Symptoms of a stomach virus may include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and also possibly fever, chills, a headache and abdominal pain. Gastroenteritis can be dangerous to babies, the elderly and those with compromised health. Dehydration is the most common complication.

Most cases subside after a few days with plenty of fluids and rest. Those with symptoms that are severe or linger should see their physician to rule out other conditions that cause similar stomach trouble.

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How connecting children to nature is good for both

Plenty of older Americans hold fond childhood memories of climbing trees, catching frogs, and engaging in endless hours of tag or hide-and-seek with friends.

Most children today, though, spend much less time outdoors, with their recreational hours instead devoted to TV, video games and computers, a trend that has nature advocates concerned.

“If they don’t feel a connection to nature, they aren’t going to feel it’s important,” 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.

“The question is, how do we get them to make that connection. The answer is that the responsibility lies with you and me. I think it’s important to educate both kids and grownups about the world’s environmental wonders.”

Advocacy groups are trying to do just that.

The National Wildlife Federation, for example, has a Green Hour program designed to encourage parents, grandparents, schools, and others to adopt a goal of an hour per day for children to play and learn outdoors in nature.

Butcher says that he tries to bring nature to people through his photography in the hopes they will be inspired to experience it for themselves.

“My goal is for them to say, ‘Wow, I want to go there. I want to see the real thing,’ ” he says.

Introducing children to the great outdoors is about more than just building extraordinary memories. Butcher and other nature proponents say benefits include:

Time outdoors can equal happiness. “Nature is one of those things that can really bring your spirits up,” Butcher says. Indeed, studies show that spending time outdoors is good for your mental health, and those who manage to do so are generally happier than those who stay cooped up inside. Butcher does his part to try to put people in touch with nature. Just recently, his gallery in the Big Cypress Swamp in south Florida sponsored a fall festival that included guided swamp-walk tours for children and adults alike. Those swamp walks provide what Butcher thinks of as education by immersion.

Time outdoors makes children healthier. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to children being overweight, which in turn increases their risk for a number of diseases, such as asthma and diabetes. When children spend time outdoors, they are almost certain to get more exercise, reducing those risks. Health professionals also say that, while over exposure to the sun can be harmful, some time absorbing the sun’s rays is helpful in such ways as boosting your body’s vitamin D.

Time outdoors makes children better stewards of the earth. It’s important to protect the environment, and to preserve natural wonders for future generations, but it’s difficult to truly appreciate nature without venturing out into it, Butcher says. Children who take the time to explore what nature has to offer, he says, are more likely to become advocates for protecting it.

“Sometimes, in the abstract, it’s difficult to understand why nature is so important,” Butcher says. “But when children step into it, and see it firsthand, they can fall in love with it. Then they begin to understand.”

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5 ways women can celebrate the single life

There’s still a stigma and stereotype attached to being a single woman. Society often equates marriage with success and happiness, and questions why some women remain unattached well into their 20s, 30s, or beyond.

Further, the perception persists that single, childless women are unfulfilled and unhappy. But one report refutes that description, suggesting instead that unmarried women without children are the happiest segment in the population. And in Hollywood, where image is a major factor for actors and actresses, some such as Emma Watson are embracing single womanhood. Watson even coined a new term, “self-partnered.”

Acamea Deadwiler (www.Acameadeadwiler.com), author of Single That: Dispelling the Top 10 Myths of the Single Woman, says it’s past time for society to stop defining single women by their relationship status.

“Single women get unflattering labels and insecurities projected upon them by not just men, but even their female friends,” Deadwiler says. “Being single is not synonymous with lonely or desperate. Being single does not mean that you are broken or bitter or jealous.

“Those assumptions need to be put to rest. Single women can be empowered to refuse being defined by whether or not they have a significant other.”

Deadwiler suggests five ways single women can empower themselves to find fulfillment and happiness and ignore negative perceptions:

Pursue a new hobby or interest. “With time to focus on you, expand your experience to include things you like to do, or have always wanted to do,” Deadwiler says. “Perhaps time constraints or self-doubt once held you back, but now you have the room to explore interests outside of work and other relationships. Pursue what makes you happy, what fulfills you, or what piques your curiosity.”

Appreciate the good things in your life. While some people view single women negatively or with skepticism, Deadwiler says appreciating all the positives in your life helps block out the outside perception. “Attitude is key when you’re single, starting with how you view yourself,” Deadwiler says. “Focusing on the positives will shift your perspective to gratitude and happiness. Take stock of your family, friends, your job, your health, and your good qualities.”

Treat yourself. “You deserve to treat yourself,” Deadwiler says. “Splurge now and then. Take a spa day, get that bag you’ve been eyeing; whatever it is, make yourself a priority for some enjoyment.”

Learn to like being alone. “You can’t really know yourself unless you spend time with yourself, independent of the needs and influence of others,” Deadwiler says. “In spending time alone, we get to hear our thoughts without all of the outside noise. We learn our authentic likes and dislikes, what we need, and who we are. This process of self-discovery is invaluable to truly being a happy, single woman.”

Prioritize friends and family. “Your time, money, and energy is yours and yours alone,” Deadwiler says. “You get to spend each as you see fit without consulting with anyone else, which makes scheduling time with your friends and family all the easier. And just as you need a good support network, it’s important that you be a strong member of other support networks.”

“When I witness bashing or arrogance as it relates to being single, I don’t get it,” Deadwiler says. “My big annoyance comes mainly with the insinuation that there is something inherently wrong with the circumstance of being a single woman. But a single woman is not a problem to be fixed. It’s a way to get whole, a way to be free and enjoy being the full you.”

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Selecting and caring for your Christmas tree

By MELINDA MYERS

The holiday tree is the center of many family celebrations. Ornaments collected over the years decorate the boughs while brightly wrapped gifts are carefully placed underneath.

But the hunt for the perfect tree can be an important part of the tradition. Many try to find the right size and shape for the space allotted, a fragrance the whole family prefers and good needle retention for long lasting beauty. Load the family into the car or walk to the corner Christmas tree lot and let the hunt begin.

Size and shape are important. Your tree needs to fit but finding a fresh tree to last through the holidays is equally important. Here are a few tips to help you find the right tree and keep it looking its best throughout the holidays.

Buy local. You’ll support local Christmas tree growers and reduce the risk of spreading unwanted pests into your landscape when purchasing locally grown trees. Your local University Extension Service and Department of Natural Resources will provide updates on any threats.

Select the right variety. Family tradition may dictate your tree choice. Many prefer the fragrance of balsam fir and the needle retention of other firs like Fraser, white, Grand and Noble. Though not a true fir, Douglas fir needles have a wonderful aroma when crushed. White pines lack the fragrance that many prefer. Its pliable branches only support lightweight ornaments, but the soft needles have less bite than the popular Scots or Scotch pine. This evergreen has stiff branches that support heavier ornaments and its needles hold even when dry.

Check for freshness. A fresh tree will last throughout the holidays. Run your hand along the stem. The needles should be pliable, yet firmly attached to the branch. Avoid trees with lots of moss, lichens, vines, broken branches and other signs of poor care.

The right fit. Look closely at the overall shape and size of the tree. Stand the tree upright to make sure it will fit in the allotted space. Check the trunk. It should be straight and the base small enough to fit in your tree stand.

Make a fresh cut. Remove at least an inch from the base of the trunk before setting it in the stand. Straight or diagonal cuts work equally well. A diagonal or V-shaped cut may make it difficult to properly support the tree in the stand.

Proper watering is key. Fill the stand with water and check it often. Fresh trees can absorb as much as 2 quarts of water in the first 24 hours. Keeping your tree stand filled with water is the best way to keep your tree looking its best throughout the season.

Once your tree is in place you can add lights and decorations. Then be sure to take time throughout the busy holiday season to sit down, relax with your favorite winter beverage and enjoy the beauty of your Christmas tree.

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From the files of the FBI

The Flying Bank Robber

How a Resourceful Thief Was Captured 60 Years Ago

On April 15, 1959, the FBI officially put the cuffs on Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Frank Sprenz, aka the “Flying Bank Robber,” in Laredo, Texas.

But Sprenz’s flight from the law had actually ended across the border some days earlier, thanks in part to Mexican authorities and, of all things, a meandering cow.

Sprenz had been in trouble with the law at an early age. By his late 20s, he had landed in federal prison in Akron, Ohio. In April 1958, he fashioned a key out of a piece of metal from his bed and managed to unlock his cell door. Sprenz and four of his fellow convicts overwhelmed the guards and fled. All but Sprenz were quickly killed or captured.

Following his jailbreak, Sprenz crossed state lines, giving the FBI jurisdiction in the case. Using a variety of aliases, stealing more than two dozen cars, and crisscrossing the country, Sprenz proved elusive. On September 10, 1958, the FBI added Sprenz to its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, and the hunt intensified.

Meanwhile, Sprenz continued his bank robbery spree. At one point, he traveled to Washington state, where he took flying lessons using the proceeds from one of his thefts. Now he was able to put into place a novel crime strategy that kept him a step ahead of law enforcement: He would steal a car, rob a bank, drive to the airport, snatch a plane, fly to a distant city, and repeat the process.

The plan worked, for a time at least.

In February 1959, Sprenz pilfered a plane in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and flew to Colchester, Vermont. The next month, he robbed a bank in Hamilton, Ohio, stealing around $25,000.

By this point, the FBI and its partners were in full pursuit. The Bureau’s office in Cleveland had the investigative lead, with offices around the nation providing crucial support. The FBI had already been working with international authorities, including in Canada, where Sprenz had reportedly stolen a plane.

Wanted by the FBI poster for former Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Frank Sprenz

When the news media further increased Sprenz’s notoriety by dubbing him the “Flying Bank Robber,” he decided to flee the country. Using a small plane he purchased with stolen money, he eventually flew to Raymondville, Texas, near the border of Mexico. Fearing he had been recognized, he quickly flew on to Mexico.

Sprenz was right—he had been spotted. Authorities contacted the FBI. The Bureau’s international office, or legal attaché, in Mexico City was put on alert.

Sprenz had refueled and was taking off for Cuba when fate intervened: A cow stepped in front of his plane, causing him to swerve and hit a tree. His plane was damaged beyond repair. An FBI legal attaché agent assisted Mexican authorities in tracking down Sprenz, and he was arrested and later returned to the U.S. He was found guilty of various crimes and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He was paroled in 1970 but later returned to his life of crime, and, ultimately, died in prison.

The capture of Frank Sprenz was a testament to two major pillars of the FBI’s work, then and now. First, it demonstrated the power of national and international cooperation, with both Mexican and Canadian authorities supporting the investigation. Second, the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program was crucial in his capture.

As Sprenz told the news media after his arrest, “Ever since I made the list, I've felt like I was walking down a glass sidewalk that might break at any minute. I'm glad it’s over.”

While partnerships with law enforcement and the public are instrumental to catching felons and fugitives like Sprenz, in this case, at least, an assist from a four-legged beast certainly didn’t hurt, either.

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The Pizza Connection

Painstaking Work Leads to Landmark 1980s Heroin Bust

In early April 1984, the FBI closed in on a real-life Mafia godfather.

His name was Gaetano Badalamenti, and he was the former top boss of the Sicilian Mafia. Though banished from Sicily by rival mobsters in 1978, Badalamenti had continued to secretly lead one of the world’s most prolific drug cartels. Frequently on the move, he ultimately traveled with his wife and oldest son to Madrid. Pietro Alfano, a nephew who was his top operative in the American Midwest, took a flight from Chicago to meet them.

Little did Badalamenti know that Spanish authorities, acting on information from the FBI, were watching closely. On April 8, Badalamenti and Alfano ventured out onto the streets of Madrid and were quickly taken into custody. His son was arrested soon after.

The next day, the FBI conducted a carefully coordinated roundup of nearly 30 Mafia members and associates who worked with Badalamenti in the United States. Under the leadership of FBI New York, agents in six Bureau offices made arrests and carried out search warrants, seizing drug paraphernalia, large amounts of cash and weapons, and a trove of documents.

Among those swept up in the dragnet was Salvatore “Toto” Catalano, the owner of a bakery in Queens and a major figure in the Bonanno Mafia family based in New York. Catalano served as Badalamenti’s primary nexus to the American Mafia and the leader of his U.S. crew, a group of Sicilian immigrants known as the “Zips.”

The trial began on October 24, 1985, with 22 total defendants, all Sicilian-born men. As the government made its case over 16 grueling months—giving rise to the longest criminal jury trial in U.S. history to this day—two men pleaded guilty to lesser charges. One was brutally murdered, likely a victim of friction between Catalano and Badalamenti (Alfano was later shot and nearly killed in retaliation). That left 19 defendants by the time the jury delivered its verdict on March 2, 1987.

Federal prosecutors—including Louis Freeh, who would later become Director of the FBI—argued that the men were part of a vast, long-running drug conspiracy that touched four continents. The scheme involved purchasing morphine base from suppliers in Turkey, processing it into heroin in Sicily, smuggling it into the U.S., and then selling it through pizza shops and other Mafia-run businesses stretching from New York to Illinois and Wisconsin. Cocaine was also being imported from South America as part of the operation.

It was a lucrative business. From January 1975 until April 1984, an estimated $1.6 billion worth of heroin was shipped to this country in the plot. The cash profits were then illegally laundered through a web of banks and brokerages in the U.S. and overseas.

1984 U.S. Marshals arrest photo of Gaetano Badalamenti, part of the Pizza Connection case.

Gaetano Badalamenti

The case, dubbed “The Pizza Connection” by the news media because of the frequent use of pizza parlors as fronts for drug sales, was enormously complex and laborious. Undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, who had infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in 1976, delivered crucial intelligence that helped set the case in motion. Over time, the investigation snowballed into a massive multi-agency and multi-national effort, with key contributions coming from the New York Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Customs, and international authorities (including FBI international legal attaché offices) in Italy, Sicily, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, and Mexico.

Over more than four years, the FBI and its partners gathered a mountain of records and evidence and utilized an array of investigative capabilities. They conducted surveillance on multiple players on multiple continents, sometimes around the clock. They traced and analyzed thousands of telephone calls, often from remote pay phones. Since the conspirators mostly spoke Sicilian and used coded phrases to conceal their true activities, turning their many covert conversations into plain English was especially challenging, requiring a team of expert translators from the FBI and elsewhere.

In the end, the painstaking efforts paid off. All but one of the final 19 defendants were convicted, with Gaetano Badalamenti and Catalano receiving hefty prison sentences.

The case has had some lasting downstream benefits as well. By fortifying partnerships, it helped pave the way for the expansion of the FBI’s network of legal attaché offices, so vital today in addressing global threats like terrorism and cybercrime. The first major drug bust after the Bureau was given concurrent jurisdiction with the DEA over narcotics violations in 1982, the probe also set an investigative standard for similar cases by employing the same suite of tools and approaches used by the FBI to address organized crime—most notably, the use of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to take down larger illicit groups and not just isolated actors.

Director Freeh would later put the case’s importance in perspective, calling it “the FBI’s first major, transnational criminal enterprise investigation and prosecution” and “a historic turning point for international police cooperation and coordinated enforcement action.”

The Pizza Connection was clearly a watershed, and 35 years later, it continues to pay dividends for policing and public safety.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Can I Increase My Benefit by Withdrawing from Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I’m 67 and have been collecting Social Security for a couple of years now but I want to increase my benefit. Will you please explain what Social Security’s Form SSA-521 is for? Would it benefit me as a retiree to be able to gain more on my monthly benefits? Where and how could I request or access this form? Signed: Seeking Answers

Dear Seeking: Social Security’s Form SSA-521, Request for Withdrawal of Application, is used when someone has applied for Social Security benefits and later decides they do not want to collect their benefits after all. The form can be submitted within 12 months of the start-date of your benefits, and if approved will require that all benefits which have been paid to you, or on your behalf by Social Security - including Medicare premiums, withheld taxes and any benefits (including those paid to your spouse or any other dependents on your record) - are fully reimbursed to the Social Security Administration. It might be used, for example, by those who claim prior to their full retirement age, perhaps because they become unemployed and need the money, and then later become employed again. Or it might be used by someone who applies for benefits early but later simply change their mind and now wants to delay claiming to increase their benefit amount. This form is how someone can initiate the “do over option” that you sometimes hear Social Security pundits speak of. It essentially “wipes the slate clean” with Social Security, but it cannot be used by someone who has been collecting benefits for more than one year and it cannot be used more than once in your lifetime.

From what you have told me, the Request for Withdrawal of Application Form SSA-521 will not work for you. However, there is another way you can increase your Social Security benefit. Since you have already reached your full retirement age you can now request that Social Security “suspend” your benefit payments so that you can earn “delayed retirement credits” (DRCs). If you suspend your benefits, you’ll earn DRCs at the rate of 2/3rds of 1% per month you delay (8% per year of delay), and when you eventually restart your benefits the amount will be higher (how much higher depends upon the number of months your benefits have been suspended). You can earn DRCs up to age 70, so you should not wait beyond age 70 to restart your benefits. But beware, because there’s a catch to suspending your benefits – your spouse, or any other dependent, cannot collect benefits based upon your work record while your benefits are suspended. And if your Medicare Part B premium is deducted from your Social Security payment, you’ll need to make special arrangements to pay that Part B premium directly to Medicare.

If you decide to suspend and allow your benefit to grow, you will need to contact Social Security directly, either via the general number (800.774.1213) or by contacting your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator). You may ask Social Security to suspend your benefits either verbally or in writing. So, if you have found that you don’t need your Social Security benefit at this time and wish to allow it to grow, and you understand that anyone else collecting on your record cannot get benefits while you are not collecting, then suspending your benefits and restarting later would give you the higher benefit you are seeking. Your benefits will restart automatically the month you turn 70.

An open air car for the open road

If you are a free spirit who loves nothing more than the thrill of wending your way along a country road in a convertible, perhaps you’d like to take your next drive in a car with no roof, windshield or side windows. British automaker, McLaren — known for its racing and sports cars — has just unveiled a roadster that offers the ultimate open air experience. The Elva is the newest addition to the company’s line of Ultimate sports cars and is the first to employ the company’s Active Air Management System that protects passengers in “a bubble.” The bubble is created by forcing a high velocity stream of air to flow above and around the cockpit. The supercar comes with a $1.7 million price tag.

A boy with a plan

If you have a nine year old at home, he or she is likely to be a middle schooler. Not Laurent Simons. He may become the world’s youngest college graduate when he receives his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the age of nine from Eindhoven University in the Netherlands. But, Laurent is not one to sit on his laurels; he is already busy on a quest to earn a doctorate in engineering. He wants to study medicine, too, and then embark on a mission to invent artificial organs. Will he succeed? Sjoerd Hulshof, his school’s education director, has faith in this child prodigy. Hulshof describes the lad as “hyper intelligent” and “the fastest student we have ever had here.”

A pair of docs

Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg traveled around the world in 80 days. But a pair of British doctors recently made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for doing it in 218 days, 22 hours. They earned the record on a bicycle built for two. They covered more than 18,000 miles across Australia, Asia, India, Europe and North America. In Verne’s novel, Around the World in 80 Days, Fogg’s circumnavigation of the world was done on a bet. Doctors Lloyd Collier and Louis Snellgrove did it to raise money for Spinal Research and the Brain Foundation.

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Brighten your spirits and indoor décor with a colorful cyclamen

By MELINDA MYERS

Add some unique beauty to your indoor décor or give the gift of low maintenance splendor with the easy-care cyclamen. You’ll enjoy the colorful plain or ruffled white, pink, rose or lavender flowers that look like shooting stars hovering over heart shaped leaves with silvery highlights.

Best of all, there’s a size for every home and occasion. Use miniatures as a place card holder at your next gathering, for added color in a terrarium or to brighten any small space. Dress up the dinner table, mantle or side table with one of the larger varieties. Large or small, they make wonderful party favors and hostess gifts. Place the plants in a decorative container, basket or colorful tin for an even more impressive display.

Grow your cyclamen in a cool bright location. These Mediterranean plants thrive in cooler temperatures and should be kept out of drafts of hot and cold air. Consider moving your plant to an even cooler room at night to extend the bloom time.

Use your finger to monitor soil moisture. Water thoroughly when the potting mix that’s just below the soil surface is starting to dry. Pour off any excess water that collects in the saucer, decorative basket or foil wrap. Allowing plants to sit in water leads to soggy soil and the decline of the plant’s health and beauty.

Or set the plant on a saucer of pebbles. The excess water will collect in the saucer while the pebbles elevate the pot above the water. You’ll reduce the risk of root rot and save time by eliminating the need to pour off this excess water.

Remove any yellow leaves to keep your plant looking its best. Adjust watering frequency and growing conditions if this is a frequent problem. Overwatering or allowing the soil to dry to the point of wilting can cause the leaves to yellow. Low light and drafts of hot and cold air can do the same.

Remove flowers as they fade. Gently twist and pull off or cut spent flower stems back at their base in the foliage. Regular deadheading will increase the number of flowers and length of bloom. With proper care, you will be enjoying flowers for four weeks or more.

Don’t be alarmed when the leaves yellow and dry soon after the plant stops flowering. It is entering a natural dormant period. If you like a challenge, try forcing it into bloom a second time.

Simply cut back on watering when you notice the leaves begin to yellow. Then stop watering once all the leaves have dried. Move the plant to a cool dark location for several months. After the rest period, bring your plant out of dormancy and encourage it to bloom. Begin watering, fertilize once new growth appears and place it in a sunny window. Then wait for a beautiful floral display.

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Social Security Matters

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Does Paying Social Security Payroll Tax Increase my Benefit?

Dear Rusty: After losing my job of 31 years in 2013 at 63 years of age, I decided to start drawing my Social Security benefits. In 2015 I started a part time job, which I still have. In January 2020 I will fully retire. I have been paying Social Security taxes for the last 4 years without receiving any increase in my Social Security benefit amount. Can I therefore claim an increase in benefits, or even a refund of those taxes? If not, is there anything that I can do? Signed: Overtaxed Senior

Dear Overtaxed Senior: I'm afraid it doesn't work that way, nor is there anything you can do to get either an increase in your benefit amount from (or a refund of) those FICA payroll tax contributions you made to Social Security while you were working and also collecting Social Security benefits. Everyone who works and earns - even those who are collecting Social Security benefits - must pay the Social Security FICA payroll tax. But paying that payroll tax doesn't entitle you to a benefit increase. The FICA tax you pay doesn't get credited to a personal account for you; rather it goes into the Social Security general fund to help pay benefits to all current beneficiaries.

Social Security’s basic premise since inception in 1935 is that current workers pay for current beneficiaries. Today, there are about 175 million workers contributing to pay benefits to over 63 million beneficiaries. And actually, the ratio of workers to beneficiaries has been declining for years, which is largely responsible for Social Security’s current financial issues. For example, in 1950 there were about 16.5 workers for each Social Security beneficiary; today there are about 2.4 workers per beneficiary.

As I said, everyone who works and earns must pay the Social Security FICA tax, but the FICA taxes you pay do not increase your benefit and there is no refund of FICA taxes for those already collecting Social Security benefits. Once you claimed your Social Security benefit, the amount was set and will only change as a result of COLA (cost of living adjustment) increases, or if any of your current/recent earnings are more than any of the inflation-adjusted earnings in the 35 year lifetime work record used to originally compute your benefit. Social Security uses the highest earning 35 years in your lifetime work history (adjusted for inflation) to compute your benefit, and if you don’t have earnings in at least 35 years they put in zeros to make a full 35 years. In that case, any current earnings you have would replace any zero earning years in your 35-year history which would slightly increase your benefit. But except for those circumstances, your benefit won’t change simply because you are paying Social Security FICA payroll taxes while you are working.

Think of it this way: The Social Security benefits you are now receiving are being paid for by those Americans currently working, and that will continue even after you retire completely in January. And, you’ll continue to get those Social Security benefits for the rest of your life, from the payroll taxes paid by those still working.

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They lived happily ever after

Charlotte and John Henderson of Austin, TX were married in 1939 and will celebrate their 80th anniversary in December. But that’s not the reason they made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. It is because they are officially the oldest known married couple. He’s 106 years old and she’s 105. And they said it wouldn’t last.

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A throne fit for a king

There’s a solid gold toilet on display in the UK, but a Hong Kong jewelry company recently unveiled its own gold toilet festooned with 40,815 diamonds embedded in its seat. It’s a must-see attraction at Shanghai’s International Import Expo and, as you might expect, it is soon to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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It’s like herding cats

One cool cat at a shelter in Houston, TX is giving caretakers there a run for their money. Quilty, a seven-year-old feline, has developed a knack for opening the doors to the free-roaming common rooms, giving Quilty and his cat-mates access to the lobby. That, in turn, keeps the staff at the Friends For Life Animal Rescue and Adoption Organization busy rounding them up. Herding cats, as we know, can be a truly difficult task so the shelter is now using broom sticks to prevent future escapes.

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Winter is here: Prepare pets for frigid weather

The Humane Society of Missouri offers tips to keep furry friends safe in freezing temperatures

The days are shorter and freezing temps have arrived! As it drops down into the teens this week and snow hits the ground, it’s tempting to think your pet’s fur will keep them warm while they’re outside. But remember – if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pet! The Humane Society of Missouri urges all pet owners to keep the safety of their four-legged friends top of mind this winter with our lifesaving motto:

35 Degrees and Below, Protect Fido!

Remember these six tips to protect pets in cold temperatures:

Bring pets inside: A common misconception that fur will protect a pet in cold weather is just that, a misconception! Just like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite and should not be left outside in the cold for prolonged periods of time, no matter the circumstance.

Provide a cozy space: If there are no other options and dogs are going to be left outdoors, owners must provide a well-insulated, draft-free, appropriately sized doghouse with a sturdy, flexible covering to prevent icy winds from entering.

Press “paws” on pet injuries: Check your animal’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather damage, such as a cracked paw pad, redness between toes and any bleeding, especially after a walk.

Layer up your pup: If your dog has a thinner coat or seems bothered by cooler temperatures, consider a sweater or a dog coat. But be careful – a wet sweater or coat can actually make your dog colder, so keep it dry.

Prevent poisoning: Make sure to quickly clean up any antifreeze spills or buildup as it is poisonous and can cause serious health issues. Dry your pet off with a towel after they have been outside to remove ice, salt and chemicals.

Schedule a winter wellness exam: If your pet has not visited the veterinarian for their annual wellness exam, don’t delay. Cold weather may worsen certain medical conditions such as arthritis, so prepare your pet for the season by visiting the vet!

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Now’s the time to force a few spring flowering bulbs

By MELINDA MYERS

In just fifteen minutes you can plant a beautiful garden guaranteed to brighten your spirits and indoor décor this winter. All you need is a container with drainage holes, potting mix and some tulips, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. Once you have gathered the needed materials, you can get started planting.

Select bulbs labeled for forcing, shorter varieties that are less likely to flop or pre-chilled bulbs that don’t need chilling. Plant a container of one type of bulb or use a combination for added color, texture, form and a longer bloom time. Tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are most common, but you may want to add another layer of color with shorter bulbs like crocus, squills, and grape hyacinths.

Select a container with drainage holes and cover the bottom with an inch or two of well-drained potting mix. Set bulbs on the potting mix with the pointed side, if it has one, up and root side down. Place the flat side of the tulip bulb toward the outside of the pot for a better display. Pack the container full of bulbs for an impressive display. Cover the bulbs with soil and water thoroughly.

Or create a garden of spring flowers in a pot using a variety of large and small bulbs. Place the largest bulbs on the lowest level of a large container. Cover with soil and add the medium sized bulbs. Cover these and add the smallest bulbs. Then cover with several inches of potting mix and water thoroughly.

Move the potted bulbs to a cold location with temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees for 15 weeks to initiate flowering. This is often the most challenging part of the process. Place the potted bulbs in a spare refrigerator where you do not store fruits and vegetables that produce ethylene that can interfere with flowering. Skip this step if you purchased pre-chilled bulbs that need no additional cold treatment.

Start removing the pots from cold storage after fifteen weeks of chilling. Extend your enjoyment by removing pots at one- or two-week intervals.

Move the chilled container of bulbs to a cool location with indirect light for two weeks. Water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil moist. Move them to a bright sunny window when the leaves are about four to six inches tall. Bright sunlight and temperatures around 65 degrees Fahrenheit will give you the best results. You’ll be enjoying flowers in about three to four weeks after removing them from storage.

Use pots of forced bulbs as centerpieces or flowering accents indoors. Save a few to use outdoors on your balcony, deck or front steps for added color in your spring landscape. Dress up your display by placing the pots in window boxes or planters and cover with mulch or moss.

Planting and forcing bulbs will help you add spring flowering bulbs to your indoor décor or outdoor landscape. They provide a colorful bridge between your winter and summer gardens.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Using a Restricted Application to Maximize Benefits

Dear Rusty: I was born on 1/14/1953, and my wife was born on 6/27/1954. I will have the largest Social Security benefit by 2 or 3 to one. She has been retired for a year or so, but I am working part time. We planned on not taking our SS until 70, since my IRA and Social Security will cover us until 90plus. I want to maximize my SS benefit in case we live past then. I have read about a restricted application and file and suspend, but I get conflicting information on who must be born before 1/2/54. Is there anything we can do besides wait to 70 to maximize our benefits? Signed: Wanting to Maximize

Dear Wanting: How you, as a married couple, should plan your Social Security depends largely upon whether your wife will be eligible for a spousal benefit from you and, if so, how much her spousal benefit will be. Your wife will get a spousal benefit from you if her own benefit amount at her full retirement age (66) is less than half of your benefit amount at your full retirement age (66). The difference between those two amounts will be added to your wife’s own benefit (from her own work record) to become her spousal benefit. At her full retirement age (FRA) she would get 50% of the amount you were eligible for at your FRA, which you reached in January 2019. If your wife’s benefit at age 70 will be more than her spousal benefit will be, then it would be prudent for her to delay claiming until age 70 when her benefit will be 32% more than it would be when she turns 66. However, if her spousal benefit will be more, it could make sense for your wife to file for her own benefit first, which would allow you to file a “restricted application for spousal benefits only.” Your wife cannot file a restricted application because she was born after January 1, 1954, but you can file the restricted application because you were born before that (the “File and suspend” option which allowed your wife to collect spouse benefits while your benefits are suspended is no longer available).

Provided your current finances, as well as your health and expected longevity suggest you can delay, it would be a wise strategy for you to delay claiming until age 70 because it will provide you with the maximum possible monthly benefit and also the most in cumulative lifetime benefits if you attain at least “average” longevity (about 84). This would also give your wife the highest possible survivor benefit should you predecease her (as your widow, your wife gets 100% of the benefit you were receiving at your death). Your wife cannot collect a spousal benefit from you until you start your own benefits, but if she were to choose to claim her own Social Security retirement benefit from her own work record first (so you could file the restricted application), she would switch to her higher spousal benefit when you claim.

So, if your wife’s spousal benefit will be her highest benefit, as a couple you may wish to consider your wife filing for her own benefit to start in January (will be reduced by about 3.3%) and, at that time, you file a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” which means you will collect 50% of your wife’s (unreduced) FRA benefit amount while your own Social Security benefit continues to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs). DRCs are given at the rate of 2/3rd of 1% per month of delay (8% per year of delay), up until age 70 when your benefit will be 24% more than it would be at age 67. Then, at age 70, when you switch from the spousal benefit from your wife to your own SS retirement benefit, your wife can file for her spousal benefit from you. If you are, indeed, fortunate enough to live well into your 80s, the above will provide you with considerably more in lifetime benefits than any other strategy you might consider.

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History Matters

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

On November 19, 1863 -- in the midst of the Civil War -- President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech that defined the American experience during the ceremonies that dedicated the Gettysburg Battlefield as a National Cemetery. His remarks lasted just two minutes, but the speech has been described as one of the most important in history.

Lincoln concluded: “…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth--” words that have been remembered with reverence.

For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America by Garry Wills.

One of the most distressing events of the 20th century happened in Dallas: November 22, 1963. President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy arrived at Love Field aboard Air Force One at 11:30 in the morning to deliver a speech. As his motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, just past noon, shots rang out, and struck President Kennedy. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital; thirty minutes later, the 35th president of the United States was pronounced dead.

For more about this difficult event, the Grateful American Book Prize suggests "The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson.

Thanksgiving was America’s first holiday—declared by the first president, George Washington, to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26, 1789. His proclamation urged citizens to give thanks for the founding of the new American republic. But, it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving decree, that the celebration would be forever observed on the fourth Thursday in November.

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Do you crave a “bigger burger?”

Some fast-food restaurants brag that their hamburgers are made with a half-pound of ground beef. But Bangkok’s Chris Steaks and Burgers boasts that they’re ready to serve you a burger made with a 13-pound beef patty. It comes with fried onion rings, bacon, mayonnaise and a cash prize of more than $300, if you can down it in nine minutes. The owners say that at least three of their customers have already managed to devour what some call the “whopper of all whoppers.”

Mississippi Squirrel Revival

An intrusive squirrel disrupted morning services at Alabama’s Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church recently. The incident prompted senior pastor Bill Brunson to adjust his sermon that day with an appropriate reference not to a biblical passage but to a classic country song. Brunson used the occasion to recall that "many years ago [singer/songwriter] Ray Stevens sang a song entitled Mississippi Squirrel Revival, when a squirrel went berserk in the First Self Righteous church in the sleepy little town of Pascagoula."

A penny saved is a penny earned

Guinness World Record holder Cory Nielsen finished building a penny pyramid with more than a million pennies last spring. He assembled the project without resorting to the use of an adhesive in quest of the title. It made it a lot easier for him to dismantle the 6,000 pound structure recently so that he could exchange the 1,030,315 pennies for 10,303 dollars and 15 cents.

Alcohol & the brain

A new study may have finally found an explanation for the high relapse rates in people who struggle with alcohol dependence. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine discovered that acetate, a byproduct of alcohol breakdown, traveled straight to the brain’s learning system and directly affected the proteins that regulate DNA function in an animal model. This process was also found to affect pregnant mice and their fetuses, which could lead to insights into potential treatments for fetal alcohol syndrome.

MDs & assault victims

While physicians are aware of the physical and emotional responsibilities they have to patients who have survived sexual assault, a recent article proposes that physicians also have a social responsibility. “The first tenet of our social responsibility is prevention. We need to recognize acquaintance rape as the public health crisis it is,” the authors said. Florencia Greer Polite, a gynecologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, became aware of this responsibility after realizing that many of her patients had suffered some sort of sexual assault but had never spoken about it.

Americans & the Supreme Court

More than two-thirds of Americans trust the Supreme Court to advocate in the best interests of the American people, but less than half believe the justices set aside their personal beliefs to make rulings. The survey of 1,104 adults was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center and also revealed that 63% of Americans believe that the court fluctuates between liberal and conservative “depending on the law and facts of the case.”

Spinal disc injuries

Researchers may have found a way to increase the short window of time doctors have to treat spinal disc injuries. The method involves using a biological inhibitor that relaxes cells around the injury and prevents them from kicking off a faulty healing response. “These data show us that treating disc injuries very soon after injury is essential, before this transition in phenotype occurs and the scar tissue forms,” said Robert Mauck of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

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Failing to plan for these 4 expenses could cost you fun money in retirement

Good retirement planning takes many factors into account, but with so many costs to consider it can be overwhelming. Thus, people may forget some retirement expenses that are less visible now or downplay others that they think will be unlikely or infrequent.

But the retirement expenses you miss, dismiss, or underestimate in your planning could prove costly.

“Even for those who prepare thoroughly for retirement, they can’t predict with complete accuracy across the board how much they’ll spend,” says Clayton Alexander (www.retireteton.com), an investment adviser and founder of Teton Wealth Group. “The retirement expenses you forget to plan for or ignore could seriously cost you and help sabotage the kind of retirement you were otherwise planning to have.”

Alexander goes over some key retirement expenses that may fly under the radar years in advance of retirement but nonetheless should be planned for:

Long-term care. This can be one of the most expensive costs during retirement. Many people don’t plan adequately for it because they’ve been healthy throughout their life. But the statistics point out the importance of planning for long-term care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists the average cost of a semi-private nursing home room at $6,800 per month. The HHS also says that 70 percent of retirees will need long-term care at some point. Medicare won’t cover long-term care, and if one doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, the patient is responsible for the bill. “It’s easy to ignore the thought of needing long-term care when you have many years of working left and have been healthy,” Alexander says. “But it’s a reality for many in their last years. One way to prepare is building the expenses into your retirement fund by using a Health Savings Account. Or you can buy long-term care insurance before you retire in order to get better rates.”

Caring for family members. Retirement ideally is a time to relax and enjoy one’s newfound free time, but nearly one-third of seniors say they serve as a caregiver. That can strain the budget, so Alexander says it’s important before you retire to think about how much you’re able to help family members and budget that amount annually.

Home repairs and renovations. These aren’t the everyday costs you plan for when creating a retirement budget, but they’re inevitable and could take a large bite out of your budget. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average person 65 and older spends about $2,300 per year on home repairs and maintenance. A major expense such as a new roof is a big hit. “Building an emergency fund is essential,” Alexander says. “It’s prudent to put aside two or three thousand dollars a year in your retirement budget for home repair and maintenance costs.”

Transportation. Retirement planners say this is a sneaky expense that is easy for retirees to underestimate. Transportation costs represent 16% of expenditures for adults 65 and over according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “It’s one of the most under-planned items in retirement, but the costs can really bite you,” Alexander says. “It goes beyond buying a car — gas, maintenance, insurance, repairs, and public transportation. Even if a retiree no longer has a car payment, financial advisors need to factor in these types of costs.”

“It’s difficult to cover every scenario,” Alexander says, “but adhering to a careful plan laid out well before the retirement years can help one handle the unexpected costs as well as the ones that are easy to overlook and add up.”

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Away from the office – permanently? How working remotely is changing real estate

A corner office isn’t what it once was. No office is.

Technology has made it easier than ever for people to work remotely, handling their jobs from wherever they happen to be at any moment. That flexibility affects more than just how people schedule their lives and work assignments. It also has a large impact on real estate.

“The ways in which real estate gets bought, sold, leased, managed, and so on have already changed dramatically in recent years because of technology,” says Aaron Block, co-author with Zach Aarons of PropTech 101: Turning Chaos into Cash Through Real Estate Innovation (www.proptech101.com).

“The rise of telecommuting is one more way in which technology is changing how people work, and that affects how much office space a company needs, possibly the length of their lease agreements, and other factors that the commercial real estate world needs to adjust to.”

Block and Aarons, co-founders of MetaProp, a leading PropTech venture capital firm, say the challenge for the real estate industry will continue to grow as more people, and their employers, discover the flexibility and cost savings telecommuting can provide.

Already about 40 percent of the American workforce works remotely at least on occasion, according to an analysis that GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com conducted using the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005-2017 American Community Survey.

“Part of this is driven by changing demographics, with millennials now the largest generation in the workforce,” Aarons says. “Millennials are the architects of the so-called sharing economy, and they are fine with spending their workdays in coffee shops or co-working spaces.”

Block and Aarons say some ways all this impacts real estate include:

What companies expect from an office is evolving. “In fact, the whole notion of office space – how it looks, where it’s located, how it’s valued, the services it offers – is shifting,” Block says. A number of tech-enabled firms, such as WeWork, Convene and TechSpace, are not only changing the way office space is leased, managed, and configured, but also how it is conceptualized. To remain competitive, commercial real estate firms will need to offer space that has more services and has flexible leasing terms, he says.

“Many businesses and workers today do not want to be tied to long leases and oppressive space with cubicles, fluorescent lights, and bad coffee,” Aarons says. If workers spend much of their time elsewhere, companies no longer need the amount of space they once did, so sharing conference rooms, kitchens and other facilities with multiple businesses just makes sense.

Yes, there are apps for that. Whether you are a freelancer or part of a large team, you can book workspace through apps, rather than going through more traditional methods such as responding to a newspaper advertisement or contacting a property manager or a broker. Spaces are available in all shapes, sizes, and locations for any length of time. “You can book space for a month, a year, or even by the hour if you want,” Block says. Aarons recognized the potential for the real-estate-on-demand trend early on and was in investor in Breather, one company that helps people make those connections.

“Technology already has had an enormous and lasting effect on numerous industries, such as taxi companies and the newspaper business, in some cases upending companies that once were very profitable,” Aarons says. “Unless real estate practitioners want to follow in the footsteps of some of those businesses, ignoring the ways in which technology is remaking the industry is not an option.

“Instead, make sure you keep tabs on the tech trends likely to affect your business. Building a realistic strategy that takes emerging threats and opportunities into account is more critical than ever.”

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How to keep good employees happy and reap the business benefits

While many business owners say that the first rule of a successful company is keeping customers happy, studies show that also keeping employees happy is critical to the whole process.

The better a business owner and upper management treat good employees, the more committed and engaged they will be to perform at a consistently high level and do their part to help make the business successful.

“The big key to business success is the productivity level of your employees and the culture in which they operate,” says Paul Trapp (www.eventprep.com), founding owner/CEO of EventPrep, Inc., a full-service meeting planning and management company, and co-author with Stephen Davis of Prep for Success: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Achieving Your Dreams.

“Employee happiness results directly in success and goes hand-in-hand with company culture. The primary focus of leadership in that culture should be making sure their employees are happy, safe, respected, and making a competitive wage.”

If you get it right with your employees, Trapp and Davis say, they’ll get it right with the customer.

“It’s simple, really,” says Davis, who is EventPrep’s founding owner/president/COO.

“The folks you bring on board are going to spend a significant amount of time with their work family, so why wouldn’t the people running the business want it to be a cool place to work, and why wouldn’t they want it to be the most productive place they could possible make it?”

Trapp and Davis explain the key factors that find the right employees and keep them happy and productive:

Recruiting. “You’ve got to get the right people first, the people with the qualities that make for a passionate, productive worker who contributes to a positive culture,” Davis says. “Recruiting is about connecting with people and connecting them with their passion, their purpose, and enabling them to reach their potential. Recruiting isn’t an event, but a process, and sometimes finding the right person for a particular job can take months or even years. You’re always looking, listening, assessing and asking questions — and really getting to know the person you may hire.”

Establishing a culture. “You want people to want to come to work, and to do that you want people to work in the culture you’re creating,” Trapp says. “Culture is created at the top and cascades downward. What values and ethics do you have as a business owner that can make employees passionately want to be a part of that culture?”

Investing in them. ”Investing in your people raises their performance and strengthens their commitment, but it means far more than giving them raises,” Davis says. “It’s about making them feel like a part of your family, including giving them compassion and understanding when they need it most. Employees in turn embrace that kind of culture and own it. That’s what you want — a self-perpetuating work culture where everyone feels cared for and important.”

Recognizing them. “Keeping people happy and encouraging them to want to stay isn’t magic,” Trapp says. “Just as important as recruiting the right talent, business owners and leaders need to make the culture attractive and sustainable in order to retain the right talent. Retaining is about recognizing and celebrating, showing gratitude and appreciation. Recognizing employees for exceptional work, and giving them a cash bonus or special trip, is a key element toward retaining them.”

“A happy employee who’s engaged and connected, who wants to be there every day, makes the workplace a better place and a stronger business,” Davis says.

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Housecalls

By Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan

Assistant professor Department of Family and Preventive Medicine

College of Medicine

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Q. My hair recently began falling out. Why is this happening?

A. Hair is made up of keratin, a protein produced in follicles in the skin’s outer layer. When new hair cells form, dead keratin cells (hairs visible to us) erupt from the skin’s surface.

Each follicle has a life cycle of two to six years. The average person has 100,000 to 150,000 hairs and loses up to 100 a day, so finding few stray hairs on your brush is normal. Those noticing an increase should consult their physician.

Temporary thinning on the scalp may be due to changes in the growth cycle. Other causes of hair loss include a natural, gradual thinning with age or a genetic condition. An autoimmune disorder can cause patchy hair loss in children and young adults and may lead to complete baldness. In some cases, all body hair falls out, but most of those affected see their hair return in a few years.

Other reasons for hair loss include treatment and styling, abnormal hormone levels, certain drugs, diets or diseases. Once the condition is treated, hair usually returns unless scarring prevents it.

Q. Is melatonin safe?

A. This hormone made by the pineal gland, which is found just above the middle of the brain, helps the body regulate sleep. The body, using its internal clock and the amount of daily light it experiences, makes more melatonin at night.

People with insomnia, jobs that disrupt typical sleep schedules or a delay in falling asleep, turn to melatonin supplements, either natural or synthetic, for help. Some studies say it could help prevent or treat jet lag and doctors are studying whether the supplements could help those with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Melatonin has fewer side effects than other sleep aid medicines but may include daytime sleepiness, headaches, dizziness, stomach issues, crankiness, anxiety, or brief bouts with depression.

Complications are possible for patients also taking blood-thinning medication, immune system suppressants, birth control pills or diabetes medicine. Visit with your physician before taking any supplement, especially if you have a health condition or are taking any medicine.

Melatonin may not work for everyone. Studies on its effectiveness vary, and there is still not enough research to conclude whether it helps with any non-sleep related issues.

Q. Why do foot problems increase with age?

A. Our feet are literally on the frontline, and, after decades of use, they begin to show it.

One of the most common reasons for heel pain is plantar fasciitis, when the tissue connecting the front and back of the foot becomes irritated and swollen. The exact cause is unknown, but it seems more common in those aged 40 to 60 and those who subject their feet to repetitive impact, such as runners.

Problems with the Achilles, a thick tendon connecting calf muscles to the heel, also increase as we get older and its blood supply slows, leaving it weakened and more prone to injury.

Other age-related foot problems include: osteoarthritis, when the cartilage breaks down and bones rub against one another; bone spurs, when smooth bony growths develop at the edge of bones in the foot; and bunions, bony lumps that grow at the joint where the big toe connects to the foot.

To reduce the chance of foot problems, exercise to tone muscles, strengthen arches and maintain proper blood circulation. Make sure shoes fit properly and offer adequate room in the toe box.

Q. Why is my elderly mother always cold, even in the summer?

A. One possibility is that she is anemic. This occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen through the body. Other symptoms of anemia include being weak, dizzy, tired, or short of breath.

Anemia can be caused by a lack of iron or Vitamin B12, which can be found in chicken eggs and fish. Some people may eat enough of these foods but still have trouble absorbing the vitamin due to an illness or medicine they take.

Coldness is also a symptom of the thyroid gland or pituitary gland not producing enough of certain hormones.

Cold hands and feet can be side effects of some medications like beta-blockers, which help relax the heart of someone with heart disease and prevent the body from producing harmful chemicals. Coldness centered on the body’s extremities can also be a symptom of other diseases, ranging from those affecting the body’s circulatory system to kidney disease. Coldness may also be a sign of an eating disorder. A visit to her physician can determine the cause and treat her with dietary changes, supplements or other treatment.

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Medal of Honor: Marine Cpl. Lee H. Phillips

BY KATIE LANGE

A lot of Medal of Honor recipients have engaged in the fight of their lives, just to fight on another day. This was true for Marine Corps Cpl. Lee H. Phillips, who earned the nation's highest honor during a vicious fight in which he emerged victorious, only to die a few weeks later.

Phillips was born on Feb. 3, 1930, in Stockbridge, Georgia. He went to school in nearby Ellenwood until 1945, when he moved north to Atlanta to work. On Jan. 17, 1948, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. Six months later, he was recruited to active duty.

Phillips served at home, in the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean until August, 1950, when he was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marines Division to prepare for service in Korea, where they were sent a month later.

Less than two months after that, the 7th Marine Regiment was directed to march north and relieve an allied South Korean regiment that had reportedly been hit by Chinese units. Their objective was also to reach the Chosin Reservoir, a man-made lake about 45 miles inland.

The reservoir became a major battlefield in the war when China entered the conflict, infiltrating the northeastern part of North Korea. It would also mark Phillips' final resting place.

On Nov. 4, 1950, Phillips' company was near Sudong, North Korea. They were tasked with trying to overtake an enemy position on a vital hill, despite five previously unsuccessful attempts by Marines and other friendly forces.

As his company's squad leader, Phillips assumed the point position in the attack, which he knew would be difficult because the target was strongly defended by a well-entrenched, much larger enemy force. Phillips bravely led his men in a bayonet charge up the steep slope. They were immediately greeted with mortar, small-arms and machine-gun fire.

Despite the onslaught, Phillips rallied his squad and continued to lead them through the bombarded area. By the time they got to the crest of the hill, only five men remained. Those who survived were immediately hit with a counterattack.

They were heavily outnumbered, but Phillips didn't give up. Instead, he engaged the attackers, firing his rifle, throwing hand grenades and getting the few surviving men he was with to storm forward. They were able to overwhelm the massive enemy force.

By then, Phillips and only two other Marines remained. But they pushed on, determined to get to the last remaining strongpoint, a rocky, nearly inaccessible portion of the hill that four enemy fighters were using as cover.

Phillips used one hand to scale the jagged cliff while using the other to throw grenades. The three men succeeded in knocking out the pocket of resistance and were able to regroup before another counterattack came. Phillips and his men fired on those insurgents, and despite the odds, were able to push them back. Phillips wasn't injured, and the trio emerged victorious, thanks to the young corporal's leadership and bravery.

Unfortunately, Phillips was killed in action on Nov. 27, 1950, only a few weeks after that hard-fought battle. He was buried at the Chosin Reservoir along with other fallen troops.

On March 29, 1954, Phillips' mother accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf from Navy Secretary Robert Anderson during a Pentagon ceremony.

Phillips was the 40th Marine to earn the Medal of Honor for actions in Korea. Along with that honor, his decorations include the Purple Heart and the Presidential Unit Citation with two Bronze Star medals.

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Six things to help evergreens through winter

By MELINDA MYERS

Prepare your evergreens now before winter weather takes its toll on your boxwood, camellias and rhododendrons. Winter wind, sun, frozen soil, snow and ice can wreak havoc on our plants, especially evergreens.

Water plants, especially evergreens and new plantings thoroughly before the first hard freeze in preparation for drier winter conditions. Evergreens continue to lose moisture throughout the winter even when the landscape appears dormant. Keep the hose handy and water thoroughly when the soil is dry. Winter watering as needed prevents yellow and brown needles and leaves on evergreens.

Apply a layer of mulch to the soil under and around trees and shrubs or freshen existing mulch. A two- to three-inch layer of woodchips or shredded bark insulates roots from temperature extremes, conserves moisture, suppresses weeds during the growing season and improves the soil as it breaks down in the future. Keep mulch several inches away from the trunk of trees and stems of shrubs.

Shelter evergreens from winter winds and sun that increase moisture lost through evergreen needles and leaves. Broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and boxwoods are most susceptible and benefit from protection when planted in exposed locations.

Create an attractive winter shelter with one of the commercially available winterizing products or build your own. Use a bit of decorative fencing or recycle a locally grown Christmas tree to cast a bit of shade and block the wind. Christmas tree windbreaks also add greenery to the winter landscape and shelter for visiting birds.

Be prepared to cover tender plants when extreme cold temperatures are in the forecast. Floating row covers allow light and water through while protecting the plants from freezing temperatures. These can be left in place for as long as the threat of cold is in the forecast. Or cover tender plants with old sheets or blankets before damaging temperatures arrive and remove them whenever temperatures have warmed.

As the seasons change, animal habits can also change. Install fencing, apply repellents or enlist scare tactics to reduce the risk of damage from hungry animals. Applying wildlife protection before critters start feeding increases your chance of success. Monitor plantings for damage, adjust as needed and consider using a combination of animal protections.

Delay major pruning until the worst of winter weather has passed. The inner needles and leaves of evergreens have been sheltered by the outer layer of growth. Removing the outermost growth in fall exposes the tender inner growth to the drying winter sun and wind, increasing the risk of winter damage.

A few hours spent preparing evergreens for winter now can save you hours repairing damage next spring and money spent on replacement plants.

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How parents can show the love equally to each very different child

Children need love and attention from their parents, but having two or more children can pose a challenge for moms and dads to spread the warmth evenly.

Sometimes this imbalance occurs when siblings are sharply different in terms of talents and personality. Jennifer Lynch, an educator, child advocate and author of the children’s book Livi and Grace (www.jenniferlynchbooks.com), says giving children equal attentiveness is important to their happiness and starts with parents appreciating their uniqueness.

“Children are unique, unknown little people waiting to be revealed,” Lynch says. “Parents need to ask themselves, how can I embrace these differences and make each child feel and recognize their beautiful uniqueness?

“Let the mystery of who they are and who they are meant to be unfold in their own authentic way, however awesome or peculiar it is. Everyone is different and it’s important to make every child feel special, important and loved.”

Lynch offers these tips to help parents balance their attention on multiple children who have different interests, personalities, and talents:

Give them quality one-on-one time. Consistently taking time to give your children one-on-one time, Lynch says, shows them you care and that they are important. “This means no phones, no distractions, and being 100 percent present with your child,” Lynch says. “Make eye contact, ask questions, and just listen and let them lead at whatever activity or interaction is taking place. This makes them feel safe, in control and loved.”

Celebrate their uniqueness. An imbalance in parental attention can lead to siblings comparing themselves — never a good idea because that can create jealousy and low self-esteem, thus accentuating a sibling rivalry. At the same time, children may think the parent is showing favoritism. “Susie may be faster than Johnny, but Johnny may be a brilliant chess player,” Lynch says. “So when they begin to compare themselves with their siblings, take that conversation and turn it into how great it is that they each have a place that shines. And bring in more examples of how their differences are beautiful and important. Set up scenarios showing examples of how those differences are good.”

Show your love for them. “You obviously love your children, so don’t be afraid to show it,” Lynch says. “Give them that authentic shout-out, or the gentle, grace- filled redirection and encouragement when they need to try again at something, whether it’s poor behavior or just losing a game. Leave the shame out of it.”

Validate them but be authentic. When it comes to praise, Lynch says quality is much more important than quantity. “Children can recognize a fake compliment a mile away,” Lynch says. “They know if you’ve really seen them or not. They know if it’s from the heart or just surface praise.”

“In these ways, showing appreciation for who each of them are will help your children develop confidence in themselves,” Lynch says. “They will take your lead and begin to find other amazing things about themselves and their friends. Making each of your very different children feel truly loved and valued will help them grow up to be happy and responsible adults.”

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Ways to avoid reckless holiday spending that could wreck your retirement

While an enjoyable part of the holiday season is giving to others, those nearing retirement would be prudent to give something back to themselves as the year nears its end.

That’s the advice from some retirement planners: Reduce holiday spending to provide more money for one’s retirement savings. But it’s a well-known fact that much of America wakes up with a credit card hangover on New Year’s Day, and curtailing holiday expenses in favor of financial planning for one’s future requires more discipline and a stronger commitment.

“It’s easy to overspend during the holidays and make too many emotional purchase decisions,” says Jay Sharifi, an investment advisor at Legacy Wealth Management (www.lwealthmanagement.com) and author of Building a Better Legacy: Retirement Planning for Your Lifetime and Beyond. “That hurts your long-term financial goals.

“The holiday shopping list may seem to get longer as you get older, but at some point you need to draw a line and balance your urge to give with the must of retirement considerations. It doesn’t mean you leave people out, but rather, you don’t go overboard and leave a little more for yourself. It can make a big difference in the long run.”

Sharifi offers these tips on saving more for retirement during the holiday season:

Review your past expenses and plan for the big picture. The holidays are a good time to reflect on how you spent your earnings over the past year. Adjustments may be necessary to get your retirement savings on track. “All through the year, money gets away from people a little bit at a time,” Sharifi says. “That’s often because they don’t have a firm plan. Not dealing with your expenses correctly can be very costly to your retirement. The holidays are the right time to recalibrate for the future.”

Make a holiday list, check it twice. Sharifi says people should approach their holiday season spending in a way that can help them get on track toward retirement goals. That starts with a budget and sticking to it, but many people overspend during the holidays and end up paying for it well into the new year. “If you have a budget set for holiday shopping, you can prioritize and figure out how you will get it done within those boundaries,” Sharifi says. “Look for deals to stretch your dollars. Setting a budget will help you avoid spending sprees that leak onto your credit cards. The carryover there is you may need to dedicate funds in the coming year to reduce that debt, which makes it harder to save for retirement.”

Sock away gifts from the company. Getting extra money from your company is a reward that can be used wisely toward retirement. “If you receive a nice bonus, don’t spend it,” Sharifi says. “Put that extra cash in a 401(k). That lowers your taxable income and gives you a boost toward your savings goals. And if your company offers you a raise, set a healthy percentage of that raise aside for retirement savings in the coming year.”

Make extra money. Holiday seasonal jobs are an excellent opportunity to put extra money away for retirement. Online positions allow someone to work from home, and pet sitting is another popular part-time job with more people traveling during the holidays.

“It’s very tempting to spend this extra money, but if you have the big picture in mind, putting it in a long-term savings account is a great gift to yourself,” Sharifi says. “With many Americans sinking further into debt during the holidays, it might be the right time for them to rethink how they spend and how it affects retirement,” Sharifi says.

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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 at Age 67 if I’m working?

Dear Rusty: My wife and I were talking to some other senior citizens who say it would be more beneficial to start drawing social security when I turn 67 next year, rather than wait till 70, even if I work full time. Can I do that? Signed: Working Senior

Dear Working Senior: Yes, you can do that, but it may not be your best strategy. Let’s explore your options:

If your wife is already collecting Social Security on her work record, you might consider filing a “restricted application for spousal benefits only” and collect a spousal benefit from your wife, while continuing to delay your claim for your own benefit, thus allowing your benefit to continue to grow. You can do this because you were born before 1/2/1954, which is the cutoff date for filing in this manner. In this way you could collect 50% of the benefit your wife is entitled to at her full retirement age (FRA) until such time as you file for your own benefit. If you wait until age 70 to file for your own, your payment will be 24% more than it will be when you are 67. But you cannot use this option unless, or until, your wife is collecting her Social Security benefit from her own work record.

There is no simple answer to when you should claim. It depends upon your current financial needs, your current health and your anticipated longevity (considering your family history). If you anticipate a long healthy life and don’t urgently need the money, then waiting until age 70 to claim your benefit will not only give you the highest possible monthly payment but also the most in lifetime benefits (assuming you live to at least the “average” age (84 for a man today). Waiting until 70 will also ensure that your wife gets the highest possible survivor benefit, should you predecease her (at her FRA, your surviving spouse gets 100% of the amount you were receiving at your death).

As for you working, since you’ve reached your full retirement age you no longer need to worry about Social Security’s “earnings test” which takes back benefits from anyone whose earnings exceed a certain limit. But it would be wise to consider that Social Security benefits are subject to Federal Income Tax (and, depending upon where you live, possibly a State income tax), so adding your Social Security income to your earnings from work could be an important tax consideration for you.

Claiming your benefit at age 67 will give you a payment which is 8% more than you would have gotten at age 66. But if the factors discussed above suggest you should wait longer, then you’ll earn an additional 8% for each additional year you wait to claim your benefit, up to age 70 when your maximum benefit is reached. What is the downside to waiting? Well, only that your wife, if she will be eligible for a spousal benefit from you, cannot collect that spousal benefit until you start collecting your own benefit. Your wife’s spousal benefit would be half of your age 66 benefit if she claims at her full retirement age.

So, as you can see, there is no easy answer to whether you should claim Social Security at age 67, but with the above information you should be able to make an informed decision. And here’s one final suggestion: don’t take Social Security advice from “armchair experts” and don’t be swayed by those who might say “collect now because Social Security is going bankrupt.” It’s not. It’s true that Congress needs to fix some portions of the program soon, and it’s also true they’ve been dragging their collective feet to do so. But, historically, Congress has always stepped up to the task when they had to, and I’m confident they will eventually do so again.

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A spooky treat

It has long been a seasonal tradition for homeowners to light up their houses for the Thanksgiving, Hanukah and Christmas holidays. In recent years, however, we’ve seen more and more homeowners extending the season as early as Halloween. For an outstanding example of how ghoulishly delightful All Hallow’s Eve decorations can be you’ll have to travel to the home of Tom BetGeorge in Tracy, California. BetGeorge is a lighting designer and his Halloween decorations are spectacular as well as enticingly spooky, attracting crowds of visitors seeking to get in the mood. Meanwhile, a particularly artful video of his creation that is posted on YouTube, has been attracting tens of thousands of viewers. Check it out for yourself by visiting the Web site www.youtube.com/watch?v=uANjW0bEhIc.

It’s not just a pumpkin

The celebration of Halloween can become an obsession for some people. Take Justin Ownby, a farmer in Cleveland, Tennessee. Justin has been trying to grow bigger and bigger pumpkins for years and this year, instead of planting lots of pumpkin seeds, he focused on growing one bigger and better pumpkin, according to his wife, Christin. And, indeed, he produced a 910-pound pumpkin. But instead of carving it into a giant jack-o-lantern, he decided to turn it into a rowboat, which he used to go sailing on his farm’s pond.

How creepy is that

What better way to celebrate the Halloween holiday than by participating in a Creepy Doll Contest like the one organized this year by Minnesota’s History Center of Olmsted County? Some of the contestants can be disconcerting. The museum’s curator Dan Nowakowski, for example, says that he finds that the dolls with repurposed human hair can be particularly unsettling. But that is the purpose of the contest: to find the creepiest doll of all.

Dogs & genes

A recent study shows that the difference in behaviors among dog breeds can partly be attributed to genetic distinctions. The link between behaviors and genetic disposition has long been suspected, but this hypothesis was finally supported by research relying on behavioral data collected by James Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. He and colleagues from around the country found 131 sites of variation in the genome dealing with a breed’s behavioral patterns. Some of the differential genetic behaviors include guarding, hunting and companionship.

Price of noise

In an increasingly loud world, non-stop noise can disturb sleep, which can lead to cardiovascular problems, mood disorders and an overall reduced quality of life. Persistent noise was also found to cause an increase in the production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. In an effort to alleviate these effects, Mathias Basner the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania recommends actively seeking out quiet spaces and using noise-cancelling headphones.

Twitter & gender

A study on the impact and reach of academics on Twitter found that the social media platform reflects the familiar “old boys club” present in academic institutions. The study, conducted by a team of Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics Senior Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania, found that, despite having a similar amount of engagement, female researchers were found to have less reach and influence than their male counterparts. However, differences between assistant professors, who are at the beginning of their careers, were smaller than those between full-time professors, offering hope for the future of gender parity.

Mindfulness at work

Workplace wellness strategies such as yoga and meditation are intended to manage stress and create a more productive worker, and research shows they work. Seven to eight minutes of meditation has been proven to improve relational cooperation and functioning, especially in workplaces with frequent collaboration and interaction between co-workers and supervisors. “Even with a one-time intervention, you’re getting smoother, pleasant, more helpful workers. That’s one of the key benefits,” Lindsey Cameron of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School said.

Efficient hiring

Despite the economy’s stabilization since the 2008 recession, many companies are now grumbling that they can’t find qualified workers. However, a Wharton School marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania argues that the problem doesn’t lie in the economy, but rather in the companies’ hiring processes. “They’re looking at cost per hire, time to fill, and they’re not looking at whether our practices give us good candidates or not.”

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How an exotic invasion in the Everglades has its fans worried

Burmese pythons and their battles with alligators get the headlines, but those large reptiles that came from Southeast Asia as part of the exotic-pet trade aren’t the only invasive species wreaking havoc on the Florida Everglades.

The National Park Service reports that the Everglades are suffering from a barrage of pressure brought on by numerous nonnative species, including exotic fish that gobble up native fish species and melaleuca trees that crowd out indigenous plants.

Now the pressure on the fragile ecosystem in south Florida could get even worse. Just recently, the Trump administration said it was disbanding the Interior Department’s Invasive Species Advisory Committee, which had coordinated the federal government’s efforts at controlling pythons and other invasive species plaguing the nation.

That has fans and defenders of the Everglades concerned.

“The Everglades have faced a number of threats over the years, and certainly one of the very serious ones has been invasive species,” 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.

Butcher and his photography have been witness to some of the changes invasive species have wrought. He notes that one of his early photographs taken in 1986 along the Tamiami Trail provides an example of the delicate balance in the Everglades. A thick cloud formation and a dark sky initially draw a viewer’s attention, but Butcher points to the grassy plains in the foreground.

“Most of the grass in that picture was sawgrass, which later was overcome by invasive exotic plants,” Butcher says.

He says many people going about their daily lives, even in south Florida, are unaware of what would be lost if more isn’t done to protect this unique natural wonder from invasive species and other environmental hazards.

“With my photography, I’m trying to educate people that the environment is really important, and they need to actually experience it themselves,” Butcher says. “Looking at photographs in a gallery where you have air conditioning and there are no bugs is nice, but there’s nothing like experiencing the real thing.”

A few of the reasons that invasive species are a concern to Butcher and other defenders of the Everglades include:

Lack of natural predators. Because nonnative species typically lack natural predators, they can outcompete native species, the National Park Service reports. They can multiply unchecked, using up valuable resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. Native species suffer from this intense competition.

Severe decline of mammal population. Those Burmese pythons aren’t just wrestling with alligators. They also make meals out of mammals that call the Everglades home, which is one reason the state sponsors hunting contests among other efforts to get rid of them. Since the late 1990s, the Everglades have seen a steep decline in populations of raccoons, opossums, and bobcats, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. Marsh rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and foxes effectively disappeared.

Economic impact. Infestations of invasive plants and animals can negatively affect property values, agricultural productivity, public utility operations, native fisheries, tourism, and outdoor recreation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In a state like Florida, where agriculture and tourism are major industries, that’s significant.

Butcher says walking through the Everglades can be a spiritual experience, one he would like to see as many people as possible share.

“For me, the inspiration has been overwhelming to try to record this for people, for posterity, because it’s so unique in the world,” he says. “I’m not sure there’s another place like it.”

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These thieves don’t want your entire ID; just a piece of it

If people weren’t worried enough about protecting their identities, now comes “synthetic identity fraud,” the Frankenstein monster of ID theft where crooks cobble together bits and pieces of different people’s identities to pull off their crimes.

“One example of how it works is when a thief will take your Social Security number and blend it with someone else’s address and a fake name to create a fictitious identity,” says Stephen Hyduchak, CEO of Aver (www.goaver.com), an identity-verification service.

Synthetic identity fraud isn’t really new, but it’s been growing rapidly in the last few years to become the fastest-growing financial crime. While these identity thieves can use an adult’s Social Security number, they often target children because they aren’t currently using their Social Security numbers and likely won’t discover the subterfuge until the day, several years from now, when they accept their first summer job or apply for a credit card.

“The thieves will use these manufactured identities to apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for loans or utility services, or even rent a place to live,” Hyduchak says.

And, unfortunately, many banks and businesses aren’t doing a good job of making sure they are actually dealing with who they think they are dealing with, he says. As a result, Equifax reports that synthetic identification fraud now accounts for 80% of all credit card fraud losses, and nearly one-fifth of credit card charge-offs.

Hyduchak says there are steps consumers can take to protect themselves and their identities, such as avoid using debit cards whenever possible and don’t put their date of birth and place of birth on social media.

With synthetic ID fraud, though, the onus largely falls on businesses, which need to do a better job of protecting their customers, he says.

Hyduchak says there are a few clues that could indicate to businesses something is amiss with the person they are dealing with:

Criminals often use common male names. In the United States, for example, you can’t get more common than a name like John Smith, and fraudsters use that to their advantage because it’s hard to distinguish people with common names from each other, Hyduchak says. “Using the data and statistics to play the odds, the criminals use this to trick reports,” he says.

Fraudsters don’t have much social footprint. Hyduchak says his team has noticed that fraudsters usually don’t take the time to build much of a social media profile with their fake identifications. “Linkedin profiles with less than two work histories and no college experience are immediate flags,” he says. “Many do not even have a social media profile of any nature.”

Applications lack birthdates. In some cases, identity thieves don’t like to give definitive birthdates. “That’s because a search of the common name they are impersonating turns up a lot of individuals with the same name, meaning the ages are all over the map,” Hyduchak says. “The bad actors try to play the odds and hope to get through compliance systems.”

Name and email addresses don’t match. Most adults use an email address that is some variation of their first and last names, perhaps with a number or a middle initial added if someone else already had the email address. “When a name does not match the email, it is something else that is a flag for identity fraud,” Hyduchak says.

“Even though each of these pieces can be ambiguous and subjective, they can be a strong indicator of fraud,” Hyduchak says. “It’s imperative that banks and businesses have some sort of identity-verification system in place to protect both themselves and their customers.”

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When the creative light bulb flips on, here’s how to make your idea take off

Smart business ideas can pop into someone’s head just about any time and anywhere: While walking or jogging, when driving, before going to bed, while doing housework, or during a brainstorming session.

The idea is usually triggered when the person notices a problem or need. The exciting moment the idea springs to life may seem like an epiphany, akin to a light bulb flipping on brightly in the brain. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a good, viable business idea, and discerning whether it will work doesn’t happen nearly as easily as the idea originally came.

“Getting a business idea from zero to reality requires numerous steps, lots of important details, and diligence,” says Deni Sciano (www.ScoreGameDayBag.com), the founder of Score! Designs, LLC, a women-owned designer handbag company based in San Antonio, Texas.

Sciano got her business idea to design clear handbags when waiting in a long security line at a professional sports event. Her products are now sold in 100 stores across the U.S.

“When you have that ‘a-ha!’ moment of discovery, your passion for your idea can take over, but that passion doesn’t give you the pragmatic side of business that you’ll need to properly investigate its potential and make it work. Having said that, by taking the right steps, being persistent and figuring it out, your idea might really take off.”

Sciano offers five ways to turn your idea into a business reality:

Do your homework. “The idea person who’s basically new to marketing and selling really needs to self-educate as much as possible,” Sciano says. “Read books on sales and marketing. Learn the importance of trade shows and networking as well as online marketing. Research the market; you need to carry out a full analysis of your idea by investigating the target audience and its demographics.”

Plan to spend money. The dream-big side of a new idea is countered by — and sometimes ended by — the reality-check side of having enough money to invest in the project. “You have to ask yourself early-on, ‘Can I afford this?’ ” Sciano says. “That’s the No. 1 thing that can stop you. There are many money factors to consider — for a lawyer, an accountant, to hire staff, to get trademarks, do the marketing, etc. There’s a lot that goes toward building your brand and your market.”

Find mentors. “It’s crucial to form relationships with entrepreneurs who had an idea, believed in it, and made it happen,” Sciano says. “You need the knowledge and inspiration gained from them and their successful experience.”

Keep the faith. “The grinding day-after-day part of pursuing your idea and turning it into a business reality can be drudgery, overwhelming, and discouraging at times,” Sciano says. “Fear is a huge factor that stops people from following through. It’s like a chain on your ankle. But let your adventurous spirit and your continuing curiosity shine through. Keep the faith in yourself and your product.”

Learn how to juggle. Sciano says that if it’s done properly, dedicating oneself to a product investigation and launch is extremely time-consuming. The person with the idea needs to weigh whether following through on it is worth the personal sacrifices they must make. “You have to go all-out, and the first couple of years you have to give up some of those things you enjoy — spending time with friends, hobbies, etc.,” Sciano says. “Figure out what kind of work-life balance you need.”

“After you come up with a great idea, trying to make it work can seem like hitting a wall over and over again,” Sciano says. “You learn how to go over the wall, and going for it is worth it.”

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Plan ahead for amaryllis blooms all winter long

By MELINDA MYERS

Let amaryllis fill your home with flowers for the holidays and keep the blossoms coming all winter long. When you plant several different types of amaryllis bulbs, from both the southern and northern hemisphere, you can be sure to get a long-lasting, colorful show that will brighten your mood and surroundings throughout the winter months.

Kick off the holiday season with amaryllis bulbs that are imported from growers in Peru. As we enter autumn, it’s springtime in South America, and these bulbs are eager to start blooming. Pot them up before early November for flowers in December.

Amaryllis varieties grown in the southern hemisphere include deep red Mandela, frosty white Denver, coral-pink Bolero and two-tone Charisma. Combine these impressive blossoms with greens, poinsettias, candles and other holiday décor, or give them as living gifts to friends, family and neighbors.

Most amaryllis bulbs that are grown in the U.S. are imported from Holland, and their natural bloom time is January through March. Exactly when the flowers will open is impossible to predict. The best strategy is to choose a number of different varieties and plant them 3 to 4 weeks apart during November, December and January. This way you will always have flowers coming into bloom.

Plan a winter filled with amaryllis blossoms by referring to Longfield Gardens’ article, longfield-gardens.com/article/When-Will-Your-Amaryllis-Bloom, for insight on when different amaryllis varieties will bloom.

Start your indoor flower display with an early bloomer such as Evergreen, which is always quick to break out of dormancy. Its flowers have narrow, lime/chartreuse petals on 20-inch plants. Enjoy the impressive display as each bulb produces 2 stems with 4 to 6 blooms.

Minerva’s extra-large, cherry-red flowers have a white star in the middle and an apple green throat. They are eye-catching from afar and spectacular up close. Apple Blossom is a long-time favorite with snow-white petals brushed with pink and a lime green throat. Or grow a double amaryllis such as Double King with layers of burgundy-red petals and up to a dozen flowers.

Enjoy some of the more unusual amaryllis colors and flower styles by planting varieties such as Naranja, with its tropical red-orange blossoms or Sweet Nymph, a romantic double amaryllis with stunning, coral-pink petals. Add elegance to your indoor garden with Picotee. Its 8” flowers are white with a thin red line around each petal.

As winter turns to early spring, celebrate with an explosion of indoor blooms from Red Pearl, Spartacus and other proven performers. The velvety, burgundy-red flowers of Red Pearl have a deep maroon throat that sets off the glittering gold stamens. Spartacus turns heads with its crimson petals and bold white stripes.

Display your amaryllis on a mantle, kitchen counter or entryway table where you can watch the amazing show as the first sprout appears, followed by buds and the spectacular trumpet-shaped blooms. Amaryllis are also beautiful, long-lasting cut flowers.

For best selection, order your bulbs early and store them in a cool, dry, dark place until you are ready to plant. Once you pot up the bulbs and place them in a warm, bright location, flower buds should appear in about 6 to 10 weeks.

Protect yourself from the winter blahs by investing in amaryllis. You can count on their big flowers and bright colors to lift your spirits and ease your way to spring.

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How Americans can rediscover civility in a time of political turmoil

America has been a nation divided for a while.

Now, with Washington mired in a Congressional impeachment inquiry that’s investigating the dealings of President Donald Trump, that divide has grown ever wider. Americans on all sides express a mixture of anger and frustration that they have been betrayed by their country, by their leaders or by their fellow Americans.

That raises a question: Can the nation find its way back to some semblance of civility and reconciliation, or have things gone too far?

“Even in down times, there’s always a road back if we give each other the courage to both look for it and take it,” says Susan Stautberg, co-author with Elaine Eisenman, PhD, of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing (www.bouncefrombetrayal.com).

Stautberg, a former TV journalist who covered Watergate in the 1970s, and Eisenman, an organizational psychologist, say that any successful institution – whether it’s a country or a corporation – requires a sense of strong interconnectedness and shared pride.

“That’s something that is severely lacking at the moment in the media and the world,” Eisenman says.

Instead, on social media and sometimes in person, friends, family and strangers argue heatedly over every political revelation and treat each other like mortal enemies, unwilling to consider the other side’s arguments, much less feelings.

Regardless of how the impeachment inquiry plays out – and who feels betrayed by whom in the process – Stautberg and Eisenman suggest a few ways each American, and society as a whole, can seek to heal their relationships with those they don’t see eye to eye with.

Keep communication lines open. “You detoxify disputes when you personalize them, which is why it’s important to continue contact with people you disagree with,” Stautberg says. “As Gandhi put it, ‘You can’t shake hands with a closed fist.’ ”

Remember the value of tact. Sometimes you must have a sense of how to say or do the right thing in order to maintain good relations with others and avoid offending them, Eisenman says. “That may sound easy and simple, but it’s not,” she says. “Tact takes brains and discipline. It’s a form of empathy. You see someone is embarrassed or unhappy and you decide not to make it worse; you decide to be gracious instead.”

Find ways to build community. “We need to work together to end social isolation and build communities by weaving together a social fabric,” Stautberg says. “We need to build relationships and hubs where disenfranchised networks of people can come together for solidarity and support. With each other’s help, we can look beyond the moment, not in rearview mirrors.”

“We are living through such challenging times and need civility and friendship, despite differing points of view,” Eisenman says. “Willingness to embrace and celebrate our differences brings out our best.

“Our purpose should be frank, open and spirited discussions of issues, not dividing debates. Close friendships can survive these times of intense political change. We just need to put friendship first and find common ground.”

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From the files of the FBI

Phishing the famous, man who targeted celebrities sentenced

Kwamaine Ford traveled in famous circles. He worked for a celebrity and had social media accounts that showed him living a glamorous life, surrounded by well-known people.

But Ford, now 28, funded his lifestyle with an illegal hobby—using his knowledge of celebrities to phish their personal accounts and charge the associated credit cards.

Between 2015 and 2018, Ford, posing as an Apple customer service employee, emailed various celebrities to ask them to change or share their passwords.

More than 100 victims, including athletes and musicians, unwittingly gave Ford their passwords. Since the passwords were for their iCloud accounts, he had access to anything stored in the cloud, including email and photos.

Apple notified the FBI, who began investigating.

“A lot of people are using cloud-based services to back up data from their devices. This important information is stored remotely and accessed through login credentials,” said Special Agent Joseph Zadik, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.

Investigators learned Ford stole an estimated $325,000 by fraudulently using victims’ credit card numbers that he accessed through phishing.

Ford pleaded guilty to computer fraud and aggravated identity theft charges earlier this year. In July, he was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

Phishing is a growing problem. Phishers send emails or text messages that instruct recipients to click on links or provide other information to the scammer. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, there were more than 26,000 victims of phishing and similar crimes reported in 2018.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your information.

“Everyone—especially high-profile or high-net worth individuals—needs to be aware that your personal information is very valuable. You are likely being targeted.”

Joseph Zadik, special agent, FBI Atlanta

Zadik said companies do not generally ask for your passwords. If you receive an unsolicited request via text or email, don’t click on anything. Look up the company’s phone number on your own (not the one a potential scammer is providing). Call the company or bank to ask if the request is legitimate. It is probably a would-be scammer.

It’s also important to set up two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication on any account that it allows it and never disable it.

Be careful of how much information you share online or on social media. If one of your security questions is your pet’s name, and you reveal your pet’s name on a social media account, someone can easily guess your answer.

In some cases, Ford convinced his victims to disable their two-factor authentication or to give him the answers to their security questions. Then, once he had their passwords, he had automatic access to their accounts, Zadik said.

“Everyone—especially high-profile or high-net worth individuals—needs to be aware that your personal information is very valuable. You are likely being targeted,” Zadik said. “You wouldn’t give out the alarm code to your house or the combination to your safe. You shouldn’t give out your passwords, either.”

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Former state prison guard pleads guilty to smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs to inmates

ROME, GA. - Voltaire Peter Pierre, a former corrections officer at Hays State Prison, has pleaded guilty to smuggling methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and marijuana past prison security and into the hands of inmates in exchange for payments. Because Pierre stored the drugs at his family home before smuggling them into the prison, he also pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine on premises where a minor resides.

“Public service is a duty and a privilege, not an opportunity to leverage a position of trust for personal financial gain,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “As a former corrections officer, Pierre violated his oath to uphold the law, betrayed the community, and endangered his fellow officers and inmates. We will continue working with our federal and state law enforcement partners to ferret out and remove corrupt officials and to combat the flow of drugs and other contraband into our prisons.”

“Smuggling illegal contraband into a prison not only jeopardizes the safety of staff and inmates, it also fosters criminal activities inside and outside of the prison,” said the Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, Chris Hacker. “Pierre not only violated his sworn oath, but betrayed every hard working corrections officer. The FBI will vigorously pursue any allegations of corruption in these facilities to ensure the safety of both staff and inmates.”

“The Georgia Department of Corrections maintains a zero tolerance policy for individuals who choose to ignore their oath and jeopardize our non-negotiable mission of public safety. We appreciate the support of our Federal partners in our efforts to see that justice is served on this former Officer,” said GDC Commissioner Timothy C. Ward. “The actions of this individual do not reflect the hundreds of Officers who are committed each and every day to ensuring the safety of the public and the safe operations of our facilities.”

According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: Beginning in June 2018, and continuing until his arrest on October 1, 2018, Pierre smuggled methamphetamine, crack cocaine, marijuana, and tobacco into Hays State Prison in Trion, Georgia, for distribution to inmates, many of whom were members of the Bloods criminal street gang. He coordinated with inmates and their associates outside prison to arrange drug drop-offs at motels and at his family’s home. After receiving the drugs, the defendant smuggled them into the prison in soup containers and other seemingly innocuous items. Inmates and their associates paid the defendant through a mobile payment app.

On October 2, 2019, Voltaire Peter Pierre, 39, of Norcross, Georgia, was charged via criminal information with (1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, crack cocaine, and marijuana and (2) possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine on premises where a minor resides. Pierre pleaded guilty to both of those charges.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating this case in coordination with the Georgia Department of Corrections.

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Film producer pleads guilty in movie financing fraud scheme

A South Florida movie financier pled guilty in connection with a scheme to steal over $60 million from investors and producers seeking financing for motion pictures and theater performances.

Benjamin McConley, 37, of South Florida, admitted his role in orchestrating the sophisticated fraud scheme during a change-of-plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Ursula M. Ungaro. McConley pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. McConley faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years’ in prison.

According to court records, McConley held himself out as a film producer and financier. In those roles, McConley offered to provide financing to investors and producers seeking funds to produce motion pictures, theater performances, and other projects. McConley promised the victims that, in exchange for the victims’ cash contribution, McConley would match the contribution and use the combined funds to secure financing from financial institutions in South Florida and elsewhere.

Based on these false representations and promises, victims sent tens of millions of dollars to accounts controlled by McConley and his co-conspirators. In truth, McConley never “matched” the victims’ contributions as promised in the funding agreements.

Instead of fulfilling their promises to victims, McConley and his co-conspirators stole the victims’ money by transferring the funds to their personal and corporate bank accounts, often within days of the victims’ contributions or loans.

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Historic cases of the FBI: The fabulous Brink's robbery

Shortly before 7:30 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, a group of armed, masked men emerged from 165 Prince Street in Boston, Massachusetts, dragging bags containing $1,218,211.29 in cash and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. These men had just committed the “crime of the century,” the “perfect crime,” the “fabulous Brink’s robbery.” At 7:27 p.m. as the robbers sped from the scene, a Brink’s employee telephoned the Boston Police Department. Minutes later, police arrived at the Brink’s building, and special agents of the FBI quickly joined in the investigation.

At the outset, very few facts were available to the investigators. From interviews with the five employees whom the criminals had confronted, it was learned that between five and seven robbers had entered the building. All of them wore Navy-type peacoats, gloves, and chauffeur’s caps. Each robber’s face was completely concealed behind a Halloween-type mask. To muffle their footsteps, one of the gang wore crepe-soled shoes, and the others wore rubbers.

The robbers did little talking. They moved with a studied precision which suggested that the crime had been carefully planned and rehearsed in the preceding months. Somehow the criminals had opened at least three—and possibly four—locked doors to gain entrance to the second floor of Brink’s, where the five employees were engaged in their nightly chore of checking and storing the money collected from Brink’s customers that day.

All five employees had been forced at gunpoint to lie face down on the floor. Their hands were tied behind their backs and adhesive tape was placed over their mouths. During this operation, one of the employees had lost his glasses; they later could not be found on the Brink’s premises.

As the loot was being placed in bags and stacked between the second and third doors leading to the Prince Street entrance, a buzzer sounded. The robbers removed the adhesive tape from the mouth of one employee and learned that the buzzer signified that someone wanted to enter the vault area. The person ringing the buzzer was a garage attendant. Two of the gang members moved toward the door to capture him; but, seeing the garage attendant walk away apparently unaware that the robbery was being committed, they did not pursue him.

The Investigation

In addition to the general descriptions received from the Brink’s employees, the investigators obtained several pieces of physical evidence. There were the rope and adhesive tape used to bind and gag the employees and a chauffeur’s cap which one of the robbers had left at the crime scene.

Roll of waterproof adhesive tape (used to gag and bind Brinks' employees), left at the scene of the crime in Boston at the Great Brinks Robbery on January 17, 1950, where five men hauled away $1.2 million in cash and $1.5 million in checks.

The FBI further learned that four revolvers had been taken by the gang. The descriptions and serial numbers of these weapons were carefully noted since they might prove a valuable link to the men responsible for the crime.

In the hours immediately following the robbery, the underworld began to feel the heat of the investigation. Well-known Boston hoodlums were picked up and questioned by police. From Boston, the pressure quickly spread to other cities. Veteran criminals throughout the United States found their activities during mid-January the subject of official inquiry.

Since Brink’s was located in a heavily populated tenement section, many hours were consumed in interviews to locate persons in the neighborhood who might possess information of possible value. A systematic check of current and past Brink’s employees was undertaken; personnel of the three-story building housing the Brink’s offices were questioned; inquiries were made concerning salesmen, messengers, and others who had called at Brink’s and might know its physical layout as well as its operational procedures.

An immediate effort also was made to obtain descriptive data concerning the missing cash and securities. Brink’s customers were contacted for information regarding the packaging and shipping materials they used. All identifying marks placed on currency and securities by the customers were noted, and appropriate “stops” were placed at banking institutions across the nation.

Hundreds of Dead Ends

The Brink’s case was “front page” news. Even before Brink’s, Incorporated, offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible, the case had captured the imagination of millions of Americans. Well-meaning persons throughout the country began sending the FBI “tips” and theories which they hoped would assist in the investigation.

For example, from a citizen in California came the suggestion that the loot might be concealed in the Atlantic Ocean near Boston. (A detailed survey of the Boston waterfront previously had been made by the FBI.) Former inmates of penal institutions reported conversations they had overheard while incarcerated which concerned the robbing of Brink’s. Each of these leads was checked out. None proved fruitful.

Many other types of information were received. A man of modest means in Bayonne, New Jersey, was reported to be spending large sums of money in night clubs, buying new automobiles, and otherwise exhibiting newly found wealth. A thorough investigation was made concerning his whereabouts on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950. He was not involved in the Brink’s robbery.

Rumors from the underworld pointed suspicion at several criminal gangs. Members of the “Purple Gang” of the 1930s found that there was renewed interest in their activities. Another old gang which had specialized in hijacking bootlegged whiskey in the Boston area during Prohibition became the subject of inquiries. Again, the FBI’s investigation resulted merely in the elimination of more possible suspects.

Many “tips” were received from anonymous persons. On the night of January 17, 1952—exactly two years after the crime occurred—the FBI’s Boston Office received an anonymous telephone call from an individual who claimed he was sending a letter identifying the Brink’s robbers. Information received from this individual linked nine well-known hoodlums with the crime. After careful checking, the FBI eliminated eight of the suspects. The ninth man had long been a principal suspect. He later was to be arrested as a member of the robbery gang.

Of the hundreds of New England hoodlums contacted by FBI agents in the weeks immediately following the robbery, few were willing to be interviewed. Occasionally, an offender who was facing a prison term would boast that he had “hot” information. “You get me released, and I’ll solve the case in no time,” these criminals would claim.

One Massachusetts racketeer, a man whose moral code mirrored his long years in the underworld, confided to the agents who were interviewing him, “If I knew who pulled the job, I wouldn’t be talking to you now because I’d be too busy trying to figure a way to lay my hands on some of the loot.”

In its determination to overlook no possibility, the FBI contacted various resorts throughout the United States for information concerning persons known to possess unusually large sums of money following the robbery. Race tracks and gambling establishments also were covered in the hope of finding some of the loot in circulation. This phase of the investigation greatly disturbed many gamblers. A number of them discontinued their operations; others indicated a strong desire that the robbers be identified and apprehended.

The mass of information gathered during the early weeks of the investigation was continuously sifted. All efforts to identify the gang members through the chauffeur’s hat, the rope, and the adhesive tape which had been left in Brink’s proved unsuccessful. On Feb. 5, 1950, however, a police officer in Somerville, Massachusetts, recovered one of the four revolvers which had been taken by the robbers. Investigation established that this gun, together with another rusty revolver, had been found on Feb. 4, 1950, by a group of boys who were playing on a sand bar at the edge of the Mystic River in Somerville.

Shortly after these two guns were found, one of them was placed in a trash barrel and was taken to the city dump. The other gun was picked up by the officer and identified as having been taken during the Brink’s robbery. A detailed search for additional weapons was made at the Mystic River. The results were negative.

Through the interviews of persons in the vicinity of the Brink’s offices on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, the FBI learned that a 1949 green Ford stake-body truck with a canvas top had been parked near the Prince Street door of Brink’s at approximately the time of the robbery. From the size of the loot and the number of men involved, it was logical that the gang might have used a truck. This lead was pursued intensively.

On March 4, 1950, pieces of an identical truck were found at a dump in Stoughton, Massachusetts. An acetylene torch had been used to cut up the truck, and it appeared that a sledge hammer also had been used to smash many of the heavy parts, such as the motor. The truck pieces were concealed in fiber bags when found. Had the ground not been frozen, the person or persons who abandoned the bags probably would have attempted to bury them.

The truck found at the dump had been reported stolen by a Ford dealer near Fenway Park in Boston on November 3, 1949. All efforts to identify the persons responsible for the theft and the persons who had cut up the truck were unsuccessful.

The fiber bags used to conceal the pieces were identified as having been used as containers for beef bones shipped from South America to a gelatin manufacturing company in Massachusetts. Thorough inquiries were made concerning the disposition of the bags after their receipt by the Massachusetts firm. This phase of the investigation was pursued exhaustively. It proved unproductive.

Nonetheless, the finding of the truck parts at Stoughton, Massachusetts, was to prove a valuable “break” in the investigation. Two of the participants in the Brink’s robbery lived in the Stoughton area. After the truck parts were found, additional suspicion was attached to these men.

Field of Suspects Narrows

As the investigation developed and thousands of leads were followed to dead ends, the broad field of possible suspects gradually began to narrow. Among the early suspects was Anthony Pino, an alien who had been a principal suspect in numerous major robberies and burglaries in Massachusetts. Pino was known in the underworld as an excellent “case man” and it was said that the “casing” of the Brink’s offices bore his “trademark.” Pino had been questioned as to his whereabouts on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, and he provided a good alibi. The alibi, in fact, was almost too good. Pino had been at his home in the Roxbury Section of Boston until approximately 7 p.m.; then he walked to the nearby liquor store of Joseph McGinnis. Subsequently, he engaged in a conversation with McGinnis and a Boston police officer. The officer verified the meeting. The alibi was strong, but not conclusive. The police officer said he had been talking to McGinnis first, and Pino arrived later to join them. The trip from the liquor store in Roxbury to the Brink’s offices could be made in about 15 minutes. Pino could have been at McGinnis’ liquor store shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, and still have participated in the robbery.

And what of McGinnis himself? Commonly regarded as a dominant figure in the Boston underworld, McGinnis previously had been convicted of robbery and narcotics violations. Underworld sources described him as fully capable of planning and executing the Brink’s robbery. He, too, had left his home shortly before 7 p.m. on the night of the robbery and met the Boston police officer soon thereafter. If local hoodlums were involved, it was difficult to believe that McGinnis could be as ignorant of the crime as he claimed.

Neither Pino nor McGinnis was known to be the type of hoodlum who would undertake so potentially dangerous a crime without the best “strong-arm” support available. Two of the prime suspects whose nerve and gun-handling experience suited them for the Brink’s robbery were Joseph James O’Keefe and Stanley Albert Gusciora. O’Keefe and Gusciora reportedly had “worked” together on a number of occasions. Both had served prison sentences, and both were well known to underworld figures on the East Coast. O’Keefe’s reputation for nerve was legend. Reports had been received alleging that he had held up several gamblers in the Boston area and had been involved in “shakedowns” of bookies. Like Gusciora, O’Keefe was known to have associated with Pino prior to the Brink’s robbery. Both of these “strong-arm” suspects had been questioned by Boston authorities following the robbery. Neither had too convincing an alibi. O’Keefe claimed that he left his hotel room in Boston at approximately 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950. Following the robbery, authorities attempted unsuccessfully to locate him at the hotel. His explanation: He had been drinking at a bar in Boston. Gusciora also claimed to have been drinking that evening.

The families of O’Keefe and Gusciora resided in the vicinity of Stoughton, Massachusetts. When the pieces of the 1949 green Ford stake-body truck were found at the dump in Stoughton on March 4, 1950, additional emphasis was placed on the investigations concerning them. Local officers searched their homes, but no evidence linking them with the truck or the robbery was found.

In April 1950, the FBI received information indicating that part of the Brink’s loot was hidden in the home of a relative of O’Keefe in Boston. A Federal search warrant was obtained, and the home was searched by agents on April 27, 1950. Several hundred dollars were found hidden in the house, but could not be identified as part of the loot.

On June 2, 1950, O’Keefe and Gusciora left Boston by automobile for the alleged purpose of visiting the grave of Gusciora’s brother in Missouri. Apparently, they had planned a leisurely trip with an abundance of “extracurricular activities.” On June 12, 1950, they were arrested at Towanda, Pennsylvania, and guns and clothing which were the loot from burglaries at Kane and Coudersport, Pennsylvania, were found in their possession.

Following their arrests, a former bondsman in Boston made frequent trips to Towanda in an unsuccessful effort to secure their release on bail. On Sept. 8, 1950, O’Keefe was sentenced to three years in the Bradford County Jail at Towanda and fined $3,000 for violation of the Uniform Firearms Act. Although Gusciora was acquitted of the charges against him in Towanda, he was removed to McKean County, Pennsylvania, to stand trial for burglary, larceny, and receiving stolen goods. On Oct. 11, 1950, Gusciora was sentenced to serve from five to 20 years in the Western Pennsylvania Penitentiary at Pittsburgh.

Even after these convictions, O’Keefe and Gusciora continued to seek their release. Between 1950 and 1954, the underworld occasionally rumbled with rumors that pressure was being exerted upon Boston hoodlums to contribute money for these criminals’ legal fight against the charges in Pennsylvania. The names of Pino, McGinnis, Adolph “Jazz” Maffie, and Henry Baker were frequently mentioned in these rumors; and it was said that they had been with O’Keefe on “the Big Job.”

Despite the lack of evidence and witnesses upon which court proceedings could be based, as the investigation progressed there was little doubt that O’Keefe had been one of the central figures in the Brink’s robbery. Pino also was linked with the robbery, and there was every reason to suspect that O’Keefe felt Pino was turning his back on him now that O’Keefe was in jail.

Both O’Keefe and Gusciora had been interviewed on several occasions concerning the Brink’s robbery, but they had claimed complete ignorance. In the hope that a wide breach might have developed between the two criminals who were in jail in Pennsylvania and the gang members who were enjoying the luxuries of a free life in Massachusetts, FBI agents again visited Gusciora and O’Keefe. Even in their jail cells, however, they showed no respect for law enforcement.

In pursuing the underworld rumors concerning the principal suspects in the Brink’s case, the FBI succeeded in identifying more probable members of the gang. There was Adolph “Jazz” Maffie, one of the hoodlums who allegedly was being “pressured” to contribute money for the legal battle of O’Keefe and Gusciora against Pennsylvania authorities. He had been questioned concerning his whereabouts on Jan. 17, 1950, and was unable to provide any specific account of where he had been.

Henry Baker, another veteran criminal who was rumored to be “kicking in to the Pennsylvania defense fund,” had spent a number of years of his adult life in prison. He had been released on parole from the Norfolk, Massachusetts, Prison Colony on Aug. 22, 1949—only five months before the robbery. At the Prison Colony, Baker was serving two concurrent terms of four to ten years, imposed in 1944 for “breaking and entering and larceny” and for “possession of burglar tools.” At the time of Baker’s release in 1949, Pino was on hand to drive him back to Boston.

Questioned by Boston police on the day following the robbery, Baker claimed that he had eaten dinner with his family on the evening of Jan. 17, 1950, and then left home at about 7 p.m. to walk around the neighborhood for about two hours. Since he claimed to have met no one and to have stopped nowhere during his walk, he actually could have been doing anything between 7 and 9 on the night of the crime. Prominent among the other strong suspects was Vincent James Costa, brother-in-law of Pino. Costa was associated with Pino in the operation of a motor terminal and a lottery in Boston. He had been convicted of armed robbery in 1940 and served several months in the Massachusetts State Reformatory and the Norfolk, Massachusetts, Prison Colony. Costa claimed that after working at the motor terminal until approximately 5 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, he had gone home to eat dinner; then, at approximately 7 p.m., he left to return to the terminal and worked until about 9 p.m.

The FBI’s analysis of the alibis offered by the suspects showed that the hour of 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, was frequently mentioned. O’Keefe had left his hotel at approximately 7 p.m. Pino and Baker separately decided to go out at 7 p.m. Costa started back to the motor terminal at about 7 p.m. Other principal suspects were not able to provide very convincing accounts of their activities that evening. Since the robbery had taken place between approximately 7:10 and 7:27 p.m., it was quite probable that a gang - as well drilled as the Brink’s robbers obviously were - would have arranged to rendezvous at a specific time. By fixing this time as close as possible to the minute at which the robbery was to begin, the robbers would have alibis to cover their activities up to the final moment.

Grand Jury Hearings

Any doubts which the Brink’s gang had that the FBI was on the right track in its investigation were allayed when the federal grand jury began hearings in Boston on Nov. 25, 1952, concerning this crime. The FBI’s jurisdiction to investigate this robbery was based upon the fact that cash, checks, postal notes, and United States money orders of the Federal Reserve Bank and the Veterans Administration district office in Boston were included in the loot. After nearly three years of investigation, the Government hoped that witnesses or participants who had remained mute for so long a period of time might “find their tongues” before the Grand Jury. Unfortunately, this proved to be an idle hope.

After completing its hearings on Jan. 9, 1953, the Grand Jury retired to weigh the evidence. In a report which was released on Jan. 16, 1953, the Grand Jury disclosed that its members did not feel they possessed complete, positive information as to the identify of the participants in the Brink’s robbery because (1) the participants were effectively disguised; (2) there was a lack of eyewitnesses to the crime itself; and (3) certain witnesses refused to give testimony, and the Grand Jury was unable to compel them to do so.

Ten of the persons who appeared before this Grand Jury breathed much more easily when they learned that no indictments had been returned. Three years later, almost to the day, these ten men, together with another criminal, were to be indicted by a state Grand Jury in Boston for the Brink’s robbery. Following the Federal Grand Jury hearings, the FBI’s intense investigation continued. J. Edgar Hoover and his men were convinced that they had identified the actual robbers, but evidence and witnesses had to be found.

Pino’s Deportation Troubles

While O’Keefe and Gusciora lingered in jail in Pennsylvania, Pino encountered difficulties of his own. Born in Italy in 1907, Pino was a very young child when he entered the United States. But he never became a naturalized citizen. Due to his criminal record, the Immigration and Naturalization Service instituted proceedings in 1941 to deport him. This occurred while he was in the state prison at Charlestown, Massachusetts, serving sentences for breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony and for having burglar tools in his possession.

That prison term, together with Pino’s conviction in March, 1928, for carnal abuse of a girl, provided the basis for the deportation action. Pino determined to fight against deportation. In the late summer of 1944, he was released from the state prison and was taken into custody by Immigration authorities. During the preceding year, however, he had filed a petition for pardon in the hope of removing one of the criminal convictions from his record.

In September, 1949, Pino’s efforts to evade deportation met with success. He was granted a full pardon by the Acting Governor of Massachusetts. The pardon meant that his record no longer contained the second conviction; thus, the Immigration and Naturalization Service no longer had grounds to deport him.

On Jan. 10, 1953, following his appearance before the Federal Grand Jury in connection with the Brink’s case, Pino was taken into custody again as a deportable alien. The new proceedings were based upon the fact that Pino had been arrested in December, 1948, for a larceny involving less than $100. He received a one-year sentence for this offense; however, on Jan. 30, 1950, the sentence was revoked and the case was “placed on file.”

On Jan. 12, 1953, Pino was released on bail pending a deportation hearing. Again, he determined to fight, using the argument that his conviction for the 1948 larceny offense was not a basis for deportation. After surrendering himself in December, 1953, in compliance with an Immigration and Naturalization Service order, he began an additional battle to win release from custody while his case was being argued. Adding to these problems was the constant pressure being exerted upon Pino by O’Keefe from the county jail in Towanda, Pennsylvania.

In the deportation fight which lasted more than two years, Pino won the final victory. His case had gone to the highest court in the land. On April 11, 1955, the Supreme Court ruled that Pino’s conviction in 1948 for larceny (the sentence which was revoked and the case “placed on file”) had not “attained such finality as to support an order of deportation....” Thus, Pino could not be deported.

During the period in which Pino’s deportation troubles were mounting, O’Keefe completed his sentence at Towanda, Pennsylvania. Released to McKean County, Pennsylvania, authorities early in January, 1954, to stand trial for burglary, larceny, and receiving stolen goods, O’Keefe also was confronted with a detainer filed by Massachusetts authorities. The detainer involved O’Keefe’s violation of probation in connection with a conviction in 1945 for carrying concealed weapons.

Before his trial in McKean County, he was released on $17,000 bond. While on bond he returned to Boston; and on Jan. 23, 1954, he appeared in the Boston Municipal Court on the probation violation charge. When this case was continued until April 1, 1954, O’Keefe was released on $1,500 bond. During his brief stay in Boston, he was observed to contact other members of the robbery gang. He needed money for his defense against the charges in McKean County, and it was obvious that he had developed a bitter attitude toward a number of his close underworld associates.

Returning to Pennsylvania in February, 1954, to stand trial, O’Keefe was found guilty of burglary by the state court in McKean County on March 4, 1954. An appeal was promptly noted, and he was released on $15,000 bond.

O’Keefe immediately returned to Boston to await the results of the appeal. Within two months of his return, another member of the gang suffered a legal setback. “Jazz” Maffie was convicted of Federal income tax evasion and began serving a nine-month sentence in the Federal Penitentiary at Danbury, Connecticut, in June, 1954.

Hatred and Dissension Increase

Underworld rumors alleged that Maffie and Henry Baker were “high on O’Keefe’s list” because they had “beaten him out of” a large amount of money. If Baker heard these rumors, he did not wait around very long to see whether they were true. Soon after O’Keefe’s return in March, 1954, Baker and his wife left Boston on a “vacation.”

O’Keefe paid his “respects” to other members of the Brink’s gang in Boston on several occasions in the Spring of 1954, and it was obvious to the agents handling the investigation that he was trying to solicit money. He was so cold and persistent in these dealings with his co-conspirators that the agents hoped he might be attempting to obtain a large sum of money—perhaps his share of the Brink’s loot.

During these weeks, O’Keefe renewed his association with a Boston racketeer who had actively solicited funds for the defense of O’Keefe and Gusciora in 1950. Soon the underworld rang with startling news concerning this pair. It was reported that on May 18, 1954, O’Keefe and his racketeer associate took Vincent Costa to a hotel room and held him for several thousand dollars’ ransom. Allegedly, other members of the Brink’s gang arranged for O’Keefe to be paid a small part of the ransom he demanded, and Costa was released on May 20, 1954.

Special agents subsequently interviewed Costa and his wife, Pino and his wife, the racketeer, and O’Keefe. All denied any knowledge of the alleged incident. Nonetheless, several members of the Brink’s gang were visibly shaken and appeared to be abnormally worried during the latter part of May and early in June,1954.

Two weeks of comparative quiet in the gang members’ lives were shattered on June 5, 1954, when an attempt was made on O’Keefe’s life. The Boston underworld rumbled with reports that an automobile had pulled alongside O’Keefe’s car in Dorchester, Massachusetts, during the early morning hours of June 5. Apparently suspicious, O’Keefe crouched low in the front seat of his car as the would-be assassins fired bullets which pierced the windshield.

A second shooting incident occurred on the morning of June 14, 1954, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, when O’Keefe and his racketeer friend paid a visit to Baker. By this time, Baker was suffering from a bad case of nerves. Allegedly, he pulled a gun on O’Keefe; several shots were exchanged by the two men, but none of the bullets found their mark. Baker fled and the brief meeting adjourned.

A third attempt on O’Keefe’s life was made on June 16, 1954. This incident also took place in Dorchester and involved the firing of more than 30 shots. O’Keefe was wounded in the wrist and chest, but again he managed to escape with his life. Police who arrived to investigate found a large amount of blood, a man’s shattered wrist watch, and a .45 caliber pistol at the scene. Five bullets which had missed their mark were found in a building nearby.

On June 17, 1954, the Boston police arrested Elmer “Trigger” Burke and charged him with possession of a machine gun. Subsequently, this machine gun was identified as having been used in the attempt on O’Keefe’s life. Burke, a professional killer, allegedly had been hired by underworld associates of O’Keefe to assassinate him.

After being wounded on June 16, O’Keefe disappeared. On Aug. 1, 1954, he was arrested at Leicester, Massachusetts, and turned over to the Boston police who held him for violating probation on a gun-carrying charge. O’Keefe was sentenced on Aug. 5, 1954, to serve 27 months in prison. As a protective measure, he was incarcerated in the Hampden County Jail at Springfield, Massachusetts, rather than the Suffolk County Jail in Boston.

O’Keefe’s racketeer associate, who allegedly had assisted him in holding Costa for ransom and was present during the shooting scrape between O’Keefe and Baker, disappeared on Aug. 3, 1954. The missing racketeer’s automobile was found near his home; however, his whereabouts remain a mystery. Underworld figures in Boston have generally speculated that the racketeer was killed because of his association with O’Keefe.

Other members of the robbery gang also were having their troubles. There was James Ignatius Faherty, an armed robbery specialist whose name had been mentioned in underworld conversations in January, 1950, concerning a “score” on which the gang members used binoculars to watch their intended victims count large sums of money. Faherty had been questioned on the night of the robbery. He claimed he had been drinking in various taverns from approximately 5:10 p.m. until 7:45 p.m. Some persons claimed to have seen him. Continuous investigation, however, had linked him with the gang.

In 1936 and 1937, Faherty was convicted of armed robbery violations. He was paroled in the Fall of 1944, and remained on parole through March, 1954, when “misfortune” befell him. Due to unsatisfactory conduct, drunkenness, refusal to seek employment, and association with known criminals, his parole was revoked and he was returned to the Massachusetts State Prison. Seven months later, however, he was again paroled.

McGinnis had been arrested at the site of a still in New Hampshire in February, 1954. Charged with unlawful possession of liquor distillery equipment and violation of Internal Revenue laws, he had many headaches during the period in which O’Keefe was giving so much trouble to the gang. (McGinnis’ trial in March, 1955, on the liquor charge, resulted in a sentence to 30 days’ imprisonment and a fine of $1,000. In the Fall of 1955, an upper court overruled the conviction on the grounds that the search and seizure of the still were illegal.)

Adolph Maffie, who had been convicted of income tax violation in June, 1954, was released from the Federal Corrections Institution at Danbury, Connecticut, on Jan. 30, 1955. Two days before Maffie’s release, another strong suspect died of natural causes. There were recurring rumors that this hoodlum, Joseph Sylvester Banfield, had been “right down there” on the night of the crime. Banfield had been a close associate of McGinnis for many years. Although he had been known to carry a gun, burglary—rather than armed robbery—was his criminal specialty; and his exceptional driving skill was an invaluable asset during criminal getaways.

Like the others, Banfield had been questioned concerning his activities on the night of Jan. 17, 1950. He was not able to provide a specific account, claiming that he became drunk on New Year’s Eve and remained intoxicated through the entire month of January. One of his former girl friends who recalled having seen him on the night of the robbery stated that he definitely was not drunk.

Even Pino, whose deportation troubles then were a heavy burden, was arrested by the Boston police in August, 1954. On the afternoon of Aug. 28, 1954, “Trigger” Burke escaped from the Suffolk County Jail in Boston, where he was being held on the gun-possession charge arising from the June 16 shooting of O’Keefe. During the regular exercise period, Burke separated himself from the other prisoners and moved toward a heavy steel door leading to the solitary confinement section. As a guard moved to intercept him, Burke started to run. The door opened, and an armed masked man wearing a prison guard-type uniform commanded the guard, “Back up, or I’ll blow your brains out.” Burke and the armed man disappeared through the door and fled in an automobile parked nearby.

An automobile identified as the car used in the escape was located near a Boston hospital, and police officers concealed themselves in the area. On Aug. 29, 1954, the officers’ suspicions were aroused by an automobile which circled the general vicinity of the abandoned car on five occasions. This vehicle was traced through motor vehicle records to Pino. On August 30, he was taken into custody as a suspicious person. Pino admitted having been in the area, claiming that he was looking for a parking place so that he could visit a relative in the hospital. After denying any knowledge of the escape of “Trigger” Burke, Pino was released. (Burke was arrested by FBI agents at Folly Beach, South Carolina, on Aug. 27, 1955, and returned to New York to face murder charges which were outstanding against him there. He subsequently was convicted and executed.)

O’Keefe Confesses

Despite the fact that substantial amounts of money were being spent by members of the robbery gang during 1954, in defending themselves against legal proceedings alone, the year ended without the location of any bills identifiable as part of the Brink’s loot. In addition, although violent dissension had developed within the gang, there still was no indication that any of the men were ready to “talk.” Based on the available information, however, the FBI felt that O’Keefe’s disgust was reaching the point where it was possible he would turn against his confederates.

During an interview with him in the jail in Springfield, Massachusetts, in October,1954, special agents found that the plight of the missing Boston racketeer was weighing on O’Keefe’s mind. In December, 1954, he indicated to the agents that Pino could look for rough treatment if he (O’Keefe) again was released.

From his cell in Springfield, O’Keefe wrote bitter letters to members of the Brink’s gang and persisted in his demands for money. The conviction for burglary in McKean County, Pennsylvania, still hung over his head, and legal fees remained to be paid. During 1955, O’Keefe carefully pondered his position. It appeared to him that he would spend his remaining days in prison while his co-conspirators would have many years to enjoy the luxuries of life. Even if released, he thought, his days were numbered. There had been three attempts on his life in June, 1954, and his frustrated assassins undoubtedly were waiting for him to return to Boston.

Evidently resigned to long years in prison or a short life on the outside, O’Keefe grew increasingly bitter toward his old associates. Through long weeks of empty promises of assistance and deliberate stalling by the gang members, he began to realize that his threats were falling on deaf ears. As long as he was in prison, he could do no physical harm to his Boston criminal associates. And the gang felt that the chances of his “talking” were negligible because he would be implicated in the Brink’s robbery along with the others.

Two days after Christmas of 1955, FBI agents paid another visit to O’Keefe. After a period of hostility, he began to display a friendly attitude. Interviewed again on Dec. 28, 1955, he talked somewhat more freely, and it was obvious that the agents were gradually winning his respect and confidence.

At 4:20 p.m. on Jan. 6, 1956, O’Keefe made the final decision. He was through with Pino, Baker, McGinnis, Maffie, and the other Brink’s conspirators who had turned against him. “All right,” he told two FBI agents, “what do you want to know?”

In a series of interviews during the succeeding days, O’Keefe related the full story of the Brink’s robbery. After each interview, FBI agents worked feverishly into the night checking all parts of his story which were subject to verification. Many of the details had previously been obtained during the intense six-year investigation. Other information provided by O’Keefe helped to fill the gaps which still existed.

The following is a brief account of the data which O’Keefe provided the special agents in January 1956:

Although basically the “brain child” of Pino, the Brink’s robbery was the product of the combined thought and criminal experience of men who had known each other for many years. Serious consideration originally had been given to robbing Brink’s in 1947, when Brink’s was located on Federal Street in Boston. At that time, Pino approached O’Keefe and asked if he wanted to be “in on the score.” His close associate, Stanley Gusciora, had previously been recruited, and O’Keefe agreed to take part. The gang at that time included all of the participants in the Jan. 17, 1950, robbery except Henry Baker. Their plan was to enter the Brink’s building and take a truck containing payrolls. Many problems and dangers were involved in such a robbery, and the plans never crystallized.

In December, 1948, Brink’s moved from Federal Street to 165 Prince Street in Boston. Almost immediately, the gang began laying new plans. The roofs of buildings on Prince and Snow Hill Streets soon were alive with inconspicuous activity as the gang looked for the most advantageous sites from which to observe what transpired inside Brink’s offices. Binoculars were used in this phase of the “casing” operation.

Before the robbery was carried out, all the participants were well acquainted with the Brink’s premises. Each of them had surreptitiously entered the premises on several occasions after the employees had left for the day. During their forays inside the building, members of the gang took the lock cylinders from five doors, including the one opening onto Prince Street. While some gang members remained in the building to ensure that no one detected the operation, other members quickly obtained keys to fit the locks. Then the lock cylinders were replaced. (Investigation to substantiate this information resulted in the location of the proprietor of a key shop who recalled making keys for Pino on at least four or five evenings in the Fall of 1949. Pino previously had arranged for this man to keep his shop open beyond the normal closing time on nights when Pino requested him to do so. Pino would take the locks to the man’s shop, and keys would be made for them. This man subsequently identified locks from doors which the Brink’s gang had entered as being similar to the locks which Pino had brought him. This man claimed to have no knowledge of Pino’s involvement in the Brink’s robbery.)

Each of the five lock cylinders was taken on a separate occasion. The removal of the lock cylinder from the outside door involved the greatest risk of detection. A passerby might notice that it was missing. Accordingly, another lock cylinder was installed until the original one was returned. Inside the building, the gang members carefully studied all available information concerning Brink’s schedules and shipments. The “casing” operation was so thorough that the criminals could determine the type of activity taking place in the Brink’s offices by observing the lights inside the building, and they knew the number of personnel on duty at various hours of the day.

A few months prior to the robbery, O’Keefe and Gusciora surreptitiously entered the premises of a protective alarm company in Boston and obtained a copy of the protective plans for the Brink’s building. After these plans were reviewed and found to be unhelpful, O’Keefe and Gusciora returned them in the same manner. McGinnis previously had discussed sending a man to the United States Patent Office in Washington, D.C., to inspect the patents on the protective alarms used in the Brink’s building.

Considerable thought was given to every detail. When the robbers decided that they needed a truck, it was resolved that a new one must be stolen because a used truck might have distinguishing marks and possibly would not be in perfect running condition. Shortly thereafter—during the first week of November—a 1949 green Ford stake-body truck was reported missing by a car dealer in Boston. During November and December, 1949, the approach to the Brink’s building and the flight over the “getaway” route were practiced to perfection. The month preceding Jan. 17, 1950, witnessed approximately a half-dozen approaches to Brink’s. None of these materialized because the gang did not consider the conditions to be favorable.

During these approaches, Costa—equipped with a flashlight for signaling the other men— was stationed on the roof of a tenement building on Prince Street overlooking Brink’s. From this “lookout” post, Costa was in a position to determine better than the men below whether conditions inside the building were favorable to the robbers.

The last “false” approach took place on Jan. 16, 1950—the night before the robbery.

At approximately 7 p.m. on Jan. 17, 1950, members of the gang met in the Roxbury section of Boston and entered the rear of the Ford stake-body truck. Banfield, the driver, was alone in the front. In the back were Pino, O’Keefe, Baker, Faherty, Maffie, Gusciora, Michael Vincent Geagan, and Thomas Francis Richardson.

(Geagan and Richardson, known associates of other members of the gang, were among the early suspects. At the time of the Brink’s robbery, Geagan was on parole, having been released from prison in July, 1943, after serving eight years of a lengthy sentence for armed robbery and assault. Richardson had participated with Faherty in an armed robbery in February 1934. Sentenced to serve from five to seven years for this offense, he was released from prison in September, 1941. When questioned concerning his activities on the night of Jan. 17, 1950, Richardson claimed that after unsuccessfully looking for work he had several drinks and then returned home. Geagan claimed that he spent the evening at home and did not learn of the Brink’s robbery until the following day. Investigation revealed that Geagan, a laborer, had not gone to work on Jan. 17 or 18, 1950.)

During the trip from Roxbury, Pino distributed Navy-type peacoats and chauffeur’s caps to the other seven men in the rear of the truck. Each man also was given a pistol and a Halloween-type mask. Each carried a pair of gloves. O’Keefe wore crepe-soled shoes to muffle his footsteps; the others wore rubbers.

As the truck drove past the Brink’s offices, the robbers noted that the lights were out on the Prince Street side of the building. This was in their favor. After continuing up the street to the end of the playground which adjoined the Brink’s building, the truck stopped. All but Pino and Banfield stepped out and proceeded into the playground to await Costa’s signal. (Costa, who was at his “lookout” post, previously had arrived in a Ford sedan which the gang had stolen from behind the Boston Symphony Hall two days earlier.)

After receiving the “go ahead” signal from Costa, the seven armed men walked to the Prince Street entrance of Brink’s. Using the outside door key they had previously obtained, the men quickly entered and donned their masks. The other keys in their possession enabled them to proceed to the second floor where they took the five Brink’s employees by surprise.

When the employees were securely bound and gagged, the robbers began looting the premises. During this operation, a pair of glasses belonging to one of the employees was unconsciously scooped up with other items and stuffed into a bag of loot. As this bag was being emptied later that evening, the glasses were discovered and destroyed by the gang.

The robbers’ carefully planned routine inside Brink’s was interrupted only when the attendant in the adjoining Brink’s garage sounded the buzzer. Before the robbers could take him prisoner, the garage attendant walked away. Although the attendant did not suspect that the robbery was taking place, this incident caused the criminals to move more swiftly.

Before fleeing with the bags of loot, the seven armed men attempted to open a metal box containing the payroll of the General Electric Company. They had brought no tools with them, however, and were unsuccessful.

Immediately upon leaving, the gang loaded the loot into the truck which was parked on Prince Street near the door. As the truck sped away with nine members of the gang—and Costa departed in the stolen Ford sedan—the Brink’s employees worked themselves free and reported the crime.

Banfield drove the truck to the house of Maffie’s parents in Roxbury. The loot was quickly unloaded, and Banfield sped away to hide the truck. (Geagan, who was on parole at the time, left the truck before it arrived at the home in Roxbury where the loot was unloaded. He was certain he would be considered a strong suspect and wanted to begin establishing an alibi immediately.) While the others stayed at the house to make a quick count of the loot, Pino and Faherty departed.

Approximately one and one-half hours later, Banfield returned with McGinnis. Prior to this time, McGinnis had been at his liquor store. He was not with the gang when the robbery took place.

The gang members who remained at the house of Maffie’s parents soon dispersed to establish alibis for themselves. Before they left, however, approximately $380,000 was placed in a coal hamper and removed by Baker for security reasons. Pino, Richardson, and Costa each took $20,000, and this was noted on a score sheet.

Before removing the remainder of the loot from the house on Jan. 18, 1950, the gang members attempted to identify incriminating items. Extensive efforts were made to detect pencil markings and other notations on the currency which the criminals thought might be traceable to Brink’s. Even fearing the new bills might be linked with the crime, McGinnis suggested a process for “aging” the new money “in a hurry.”

On the night of Jan. 18, 1950, O’Keefe and Gusciora received $100,000 each from the robbery loot. They put the entire $200,000 in the trunk of O’Keefe’s automobile. Subsequently, O’Keefe left his car—and the $200,000—in a garage on Blue Hill Avenue in Boston.

During the period immediately following the Brink’s robbery, “the heat” was on O’Keefe and Gusciora. Thus, when he and Gusciora were taken into custody by state authorities during the latter part of January, 1950, O’Keefe got word to McGinnis to recover his car and the $200,000 which it contained.

A few weeks later, O’Keefe retrieved his share of the loot. It was given to him in a suitcase which was transferred to his car from an automobile occupied by McGinnis and Banfield. Later, when he counted the money, he found that the suitcase contained $98,000. He had been “short changed” $2,000.

O’Keefe had no place to keep so large a sum of money. He told the interviewing agents that he trusted Maffie so implicitly that he gave the money to him for safe keeping. Except for $5,000 which he took before placing the loot in Maffie’s care, O’Keefe angrily stated, he was never to see his share of the Brink’s money again. While Maffie claimed that part of the money had been stolen from its hiding place and that the remainder had been spent in financing O’Keefe’s legal defense in Pennsylvania, other gang members accused Maffie of “blowing” the money O’Keefe had entrusted to his care.

O’Keefe was bitter about a number of matters. First, there was the money. Then, there was the fact that so much “dead wood” was included—McGinnis, Banfield, Costa, and Pino were not in the building when the robbery took place. O’Keefe was enraged that the pieces of the stolen Ford truck had been placed on the dump near his home, and he generally regretted having become associated at all with several members of the gang.

Before the robbery was committed, the participants had agreed that if anyone “muffed,” he would be “taken care of.” O’Keefe felt that most of the gang members had “muffed.” Talking to the FBI was his way of “taking care of” them all.

Arrests and Indictments

On January 11, 1956, the United States Attorney at Boston authorized special agents of the FBI to file complaints charging the 11 criminals with (1) conspiracy to commit theft of government property, robbery of government property, and bank robbery by force and violence and by intimidation, (2) committing bank robbery on Jan. 17, 1950, and committing an assault on Brink’s employees during the taking of the money, and (3) conspiracy to receive and conceal money in violation of the Bank Robbery and Theft of Government Property Statutes. In addition, McGinnis was named in two other complaints involving the receiving and concealing of the loot.

Six members of the gang—Baker, Costa, Geagan, Maffie, McGinnis, and Pino— were arrested by FBI agents on Jan. 12, 1956. They were held in lieu of bail which, for each man, amounted to more then $100,000.

Three of the remaining five gang members were previously accounted for, O’Keefe and Gusciora being in prison on other charges and Banfield being dead. Faherty and Richardson fled to avoid apprehension and subsequently were placed on the list of the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.” Their success in evading arrest ended abruptly on May 16, 1956, when FBI agents raided the apartment in which they were hiding in Dorchester, Massachusetts. At the time of their arrest, Faherty and Richardson were rushing for three loaded revolvers which they had left on a chair in the bathroom of the apartment. The hideout also was found to contain more than $5,000 in coins. (The arrests of Faherty and Richardson also resulted in the indictment of another Boston hoodlum, as an accessory after the fact).

As a cooperative measure, the information gathered by the FBI in the Brink’s investigation was made available to the District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. On Jan. 13, 1956, the Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments against the 11 members of the Brink’s gang. O’Keefe was the principal witness to appear before the state grand jurors.

Part of the Loot Recovered

Despite the arrests and indictments in January, 1956, more than $2,775,000, including $1,218,211.29 in cash, was still missing. O’Keefe did not know where the gang members had hidden their shares of the loot—or where they had disposed of the money if, in fact, they had disposed of their shares. The other gang members would not talk.

Early in June, 1956, however, an unexpected “break” developed. At approximately 7:30 p.m. on June 3, 1956, an officer of the Baltimore, Maryland, Police Department was approached by the operator of an amusement arcade. “I think a fellow just passed a counterfeit $10 bill on me,” he told the officer.

In examining the bill, a Federal Reserve note, the officer observed that it was in musty condition. The amusement arcade operator told the officer that he had followed the man who passed this $10 bill to a nearby tavern. This man, subsequently identified as a small-time Boston underworld figure, was located and questioned. While the officer and amusement arcade operator were talking to him, the hoodlum reached into his pocket, quickly withdrew his hand again and covered his hand with a raincoat he was carrying. Two other Baltimore police officers who were walking along the street nearby noted this maneuver. One of these officers quickly grabbed the criminal’s hand, and a large roll of money fell from it.

The hoodlum was taken to police headquarters where a search of his person disclosed he was carrying more than $1,000, including $860 in musty, worn bills. A Secret Service agent, who had been summoned by the Baltimore officers, arrived while the criminal was being questioned at the police headquarters; and after examining the money found in the bill changer’s possession, he certified that it was not counterfeit.

This underworld character told the officers that he had found this money. He claimed there was a large roll of bills in his hotel room—and that he had found that money, too. The criminal explained that he was in the contracting business in Boston and that in late March or early April, 1956, he stumbled upon a plastic bag containing this money while he was working on the foundation of a house.

A search of the hoodlum’s room in a Baltimore hotel (registered to him under an assumed name) resulted in the location of $3,780 which the officers took to police headquarters. At approximately 9:50 p.m., the details of this incident were furnished to the Baltimore Field Office of the FBI. Much of the money taken from the money changer appeared to have been stored a long time. The serial numbers of several of these bills were furnished to the FBI Office in Baltimore. They were checked against serial numbers of bills known to have been included in the Brink’s loot, and it was determined that the Boston criminal possessed part of the money which had been dragged away by the seven masked gunmen on January 17, 1950.

Of the $4,822 found in the small-time criminal’s possession, FBI agents identified $4,635 as money taken by the Brink’s robbers. Interviews with him on June 3 and 4, 1956, disclosed that this 31-year-old hoodlum had a record of arrests and convictions dating back to his “teens” and that he had been conditionally released from a Federal prison camp less than a year before—having served slightly more than two years of a three-year sentence for transporting a falsely made security interstate. At the time of his arrest, there also was a charge of armed robbery outstanding against him in Massachusetts.

During questioning by the FBI, the money changer stated that he was in business as a mason contractor with another man on Tremont Street in Boston. He advised that he and his associate shared office space with an individual known to him only as “Fat John.” According to the Boston hoodlum, on the night of June 1, 1956, “Fat John” asked him to rip a panel from a section of the wall in the office; and when the panel was removed, “Fat John” reached into the opening and removed the cover from a metal container. Inside this container were packages of bills which had been wrapped in plastic and newspapers. “Fat John” announced that each of the packages contained $5,000. “This is good money,” he said, “but you can’t pass it around here in Boston.”

According to the criminal who was arrested in Baltimore, “Fat John” subsequently told him that the money was part of the Brink’s loot and offered him $5,000 if he would “pass” $30,000 of the bills.

The Boston hoodlum told FBI agents in Baltimore that he accepted six of the packages of money from “Fat John.” The following day (June 2, 1956), he left Massachusetts with $4,750 of these bills and began passing them. He arrived in Baltimore on the morning of June 3 and was picked up by the Baltimore Police Department that evening.

The full details of this important development were immediately furnished to the FBI Office in Boston. “Fat John” and the business associate of the man arrested in Baltimore were located and interviewed on the morning of June 4, 1956. Both denied knowledge of the loot which had been recovered. That same afternoon (following the admission that “Fat John” had produced the money and had described it as proceeds from the Brink’s robbery), a search warrant was executed in Boston covering the Tremont Street offices occupied by the three men. The wall partition described by the Boston criminal was located in “Fat John’s” office, and when the partition was removed, a picnic-type cooler was found. This cooler contained more than $57,700, including $51,906 which was identifiable as part of the Brink’s loot.

The discovery of this money in the Tremont Street offices resulted in the arrests of both “Fat John” and the business associate of the criminal who had been arrested in Baltimore. Both men remained mute following their arrests. On June 5 and June 7, the Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments against the three men—charging them with several state offenses involving their possessing money obtained in the Brink’s robbery. (Following pleas of guilty in November, 1956, “Fat John” received a two-year sentence, and the other two men were sentenced to serve one year’s imprisonment.)

(After serving his sentence, “Fat John” resumed a life of crime. On June 19, 1958, while out on appeal in connection with a five-year narcotics sentence, he was found shot to death in an automobile which had crashed into a truck in Boston.)

The money inside the cooler which was concealed in the wall of the Tremont Street office was wrapped in plastic and newspaper. Three of the newspapers used to wrap the bills were identified. All had been published in Boston between Dec. 4, 1955, and Feb. 21, 1956. The FBI also succeeded in locating the carpenter who had remodeled the offices where the loot was hidden. His records showed that he had worked on the offices early in April, 1956, under instructions of “Fat John.” The loot could not have been hidden behind the wall panel prior to that time.

Because the money in the cooler was in various stages of decomposition, an accurate count proved most difficult to make. Some of the bills were in pieces. Others fell apart as they were handled. Examination by the FBI Laboratory subsequently disclosed that the decomposition, discoloration, and matting together of the bills were due, at least in part, to the fact that all of the bills had been wet. It was positively concluded that the packages of currency had been damaged prior to the time they were wrapped in the pieces of newspaper; and there were indications that the bills previously had been in a canvas container which was buried in ground consisting of sand and ashes. In addition to mold, insect remains also were found on the loot.

Even with the recovery of this money in Baltimore and Boston, more than $1,150,000 of currency taken in the Brink’s robbery remained unaccounted for.

Death of Gusciora

The recovery of part of the loot was a severe blow to the gang members who still awaited trial in Boston. Had any particles of evidence been found in the loot which might directly show that they had handled it? This was a question which preyed heavily upon their minds.

In July, 1956, another significant turn of events took place. Stanley Gusciora, who had been transferred to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania to stand trial, was placed under medical care due to weakness, dizziness, and vomiting. On the afternoon of July 9, he was visited by a clergyman. During this visit, Gusciora got up from his bed, and, in full view of the clergyman, slipped to the floor, striking his head. Two hours later he was dead. Examination revealed the cause of his death to be a brain tumor and acute cerebral edema.

O’Keefe and Gusciora had been close friends for many years. When O’Keefe admitted his part in the Brink’s robbery to FBI agents in January, 1956, he told of his high regard for Gusciora. As a Government witness, he reluctantly would have testified against him. Gusciora now had passed beyond the reach of all human authority; and O’Keefe was all the more determined to see that justice would be done.

Trial of Remaining Defendants

With the death of Gusciora, only eight members of the Brink’s gang remained to be tried. (On January 18, 1956, O’Keefe had pleaded guilty to the armed robbery of Brink’s.) The trial of these eight men began on the morning of Aug. 6, 1956, before Judge Feliz Forte in the Suffolk County Courthouse in Boston. The defense immediately filed motions which would delay or prevent the trial. All were denied, and the impaneling of the jury was begun on August 7.

In the succeeding two weeks, nearly 1,200 prospective jurors were eliminated as the defense counsel used their 262 peremptory challenges. Another week passed—and approximately 500 more citizens were considered—before the 14-member jury was assembled.

More than 100 persons took the stand as witnesses for the prosecution and the defense during September, 1956. The most important of these, “Specs” O’Keefe, carefully recited the details of the crime, clearly spelling out the role played by each of the eight defendants.

At 10:25 p.m. on Oct. 5, 1956, the jury retired to weigh the evidence. Three and one-half hours later, the verdict had been reached. All were guilty.

The eight men were sentenced by Judge Forte on Oct. 9, 1956, Pino, Costa, Maffie, Geagan, Faherty, Richardson, and Baker received life sentences for robbery, two-year sentences for conspiracy to steal, and sentences of 8 years to 10 years for breaking and entering at night. McGinnis, who had not been at the scene on the night of the robbery, received a life sentence on each of eight indictments which charged him with being an accessory before the fact in connection with the Brink’s robbery. In addition, McGinnis received other sentences of two years, two and one-half to three years, and eight to ten years.

While action to appeal the convictions was being taken on their behalf, the eight men were removed to the State prison at Walpole, Massachusetts. From their prison cells, they carefully followed the legal maneuvers aimed at gaining them freedom.

The record of the state trial covered more than 5,300 pages. It was used by the defense counsel in preparing a 294-page brief which was presented to the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. After weighing the arguments presented by the attorneys for the eight convicted criminals, the State Supreme Court turned down the appeals on July 1, 1959, in a 35-page decision written by the Chief Justice.

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When dad stays home: Advice for couples who buck the stereotype

As more women have joined the workforce, many are dedicated to growing their careers or running successful businesses. Those efforts often demand long hours, travel, and time away from home.

And while it’s no longer unusual for women to be the main breadwinner in their family, another U.S. social dynamic has occurred in the wake of those demands: A substantial increase in the number of dads staying home as the primary caregiver for the children.

Parents experiencing this change in the day-to-day household structure say it requires strong mutual support between spouses. Andreas Wilderer, author of Lean On: The Five Pillars Of Support For Women In Leadership, calls it, “The partnership pillar, beginning with empowering your partner.”

“It’s incumbent on stay-at-home dads to step up to the caregiving role in the same devoted way that their wives do as the financial provider,” says Wilderer (www.andreaswilderer.com). “Each must take care to empower the other.

“In a healthy relationship, the partners accept and appreciate each other’s roles, but some couples sink into disrespect and disdain. If the partners are redefining their roles in the family, they should anticipate a learning period and be careful not to get in the way of each other’s progress. They should build each other up rather than tear each other down.”

Wilderer offers ways couples can support each other when the mother works and the father stays home to care for the children:

Look beyond your own interests. “To empower your partner, you must carefully consider his or her needs and wants,” Wilderer says. “Conflicts are common in any relationship, but having several of them can lead to destructive tension. Look for a true solution that isn’t selfish. By talking and sharing feelings, a compromise can work for both.”

Hand over the keys with trust. ”Adjusting to new roles can take time,” Wilderer says. “Egos and pride get in the way. Neither partner should micromanage or undercut the other’s responsibilities. With patience and understanding, each should adjust well to the model that they together agreed to adopt for the good of the family.”

Ignore the whispers, rise above negativity. Men and women can sense or hear criticism from outsiders when swapping traditional roles. “Many women today are gaining the confidence to break the glass ceiling in the workplace,” Wilderer says. “Yet they could use more of that confidence in their home lives as well, and their stay-at-home husbands can help them with that. Why should women feel guilty about their success? They are providing well for their families. Likewise, a man who has assumed the support role in the home may imagine that people are whispering he should be making a living for his family. But none of what people say matters when the husband and wife have total respect for each other and for their respective roles.”

Listen to each other’s ‘job frustrations.’ The mother may have frustrations and stress from work that she wants to air to her husband when she gets home. Likewise, the partner who has been watching over the house and kids all day may want to vent. “The main focus for both should be listening; most of the time neither desires unsolicited advice,” Wilderer says. “They need compassion and understanding, a sympathetic ear. Each partner should treat the other’s heart with care and tenderness.”

“Loving partners bestow the gift of self-reliance generously on each other,” Wilderer says. “Each must be willing to step back, patiently and respectfully, to allow the other to build a sense of pride in a job well done.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – How Does My Husband’s Federal Pension Affect Benefits?

Dear Rusty: My husband retired at his full retirement age of 66. He qualified for Social Security but also qualified for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Being so, he falls under the Windfall Offset Provision, and subsequently had his Social Security benefit reduced from around $900 to $450. His full CSRS benefit is $3,400. I have not claimed my Social Security benefit, but I expect it to be around $2000 at my full retirement age of 66 in November. At my full retirement age could I collect half of his benefit and let mine grow until age 70? Or upon filing, am I forced to take my full benefit instead? If I can take half of his benefit, would it be half of his full benefit or half of the reduced benefit? Also, upon claiming my benefit, would my husband be entitled to claim half, and thus increase what he is currently receiving on his own benefit? In addition, upon my death, would my husband qualify for my full Social Security benefit or is he subject to offset by the Windfall Offset or Government Pension Offset? Signed: Confused About SS

Dear Confused: Because of your husband’s CSRS pension, his own Social Security benefit is reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), and any spousal benefit he may be entitled to will be affected by the Government Pension Offset (GPO). Both WEP and GPO are provisions which affect anyone with a pension from employment which did not participate in the Social Security program.

GPO is the more severe of these two provisions, because it reduces any spousal (or survivor) benefit your husband might be entitled to by 2/3rds of his CSRS pension, which means that he will not be able to get a spousal benefit from you when you apply (2/3rds of his CSRS pension is more than he would get as a spousal benefit). You, on the other hand, will be eligible (at your full retirement age, or “FRA,” of 66) to file a “Restricted Application for Spousal Benefits Only,” which will give you half of his WEP-reduced Social Security benefit (about $225/month). You are eligible to use the restricted application because you were born before January 2, 1954 (those born after January 1,1954 cannot use this option). By doing so, you can collect a spousal benefit from your husband while allowing your own SS retirement benefit to grow by 8% per year of delay (2/3rds of 1% per month of delay) up until you are 70 years of age, when your benefit amount will be 32% more than it would be at age 66. But when you claim your benefit at age 70 your husband’s spousal benefit won’t be based on your increased amount, but rather upon your FRA benefit amount of $2000, which means he still won’t get a spousal benefit due to the Government Pension Offset.

Finally, if you should predecease your husband, the GPO will also affect his survivor’s benefit, which is based upon 100% of what you were receiving at your death (not on your FRA benefit). So, using the numbers you provided, if your FRA benefit would be about $2000 your age 70 benefit will be about $2640 (not including COLA increases). Since 2/3rds of your husband’s CSRS pension is $2268, he’d normally be entitled to the difference $372) as his survivor’s benefit. But since that amount is less than his own WEP-reduced SS benefit, he won’t get a survivor’s benefit. As you may be aware, the Federal CSRS plan has been replaced by the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) which participates in Social Security, so WEP and GPO do not apply to those who retire under FERS.

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History Matters

A feature courtesy of

The Grateful American Book Prize

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

Abraham Lincoln achieved national attention during his 1858 campaign to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. His rival was Democrat Stephen A. Douglas; during the run-up, the two faced off in a series of debates about slavery. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, as they came be known, attracted widespread, country-wide attention. Lincoln believed slavery should be abolished, while Douglas argued that the decision belonged to the states.

Lincoln lost that election, but two years later, the newly formed Republican Party selected him to run against Douglas, but—this time—for the presidency. On November 6, 1860 Lincoln was declared the 16th president of the United States.

On November 7, 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first--and only-- president to win a fourth term. He served from March 4, 1933 through April 12, 1945; he died of a stroke at the age of 63. His vice president, Harry S. Truman, succeeded him.

The unprecedented longevity of Roosevelt’s tenure was a difficult time; during his stewardship, Roosevelt led the country through the Great Depression, and World War II—a conflict that was fought by America, and its allies in Europe and the Pacific.

In 1947, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, which limited a president’s service to two terms. it was ratified by the states in 1951.

On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the U.S. Navy to raise two battalions of Marines for service as landing forces. The Navy and the Marine Corps were essential to the task of winning American independence. But, in 1783, they were disbanded when the revolution ended; they were given “new life” when they were re-established in the mid-1790s, yet, their birth dates remained October 13 and November 10, 1775, respectively.

A nutty story, indeed

Holly Persic had parked her car in the open in Allegheny County, PA over the weekend. She was off to the library on Monday morning and a squirrelly thing happened en route. She heard strange noises coming from the engine and smelled something burning, so she pulled over and opened the hood only to find a stash of some 200 walnuts in a bed of grass. Apparently squirrels were attracted by a walnut tree in the Persic yard and got busy gathering a supply of nuts for the winter, stashing them atop the auto’s engine block.

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Chirper alert

This almost biblical story comes to us from San Antonio, TX, which was under siege by scary swarms of crickets recently. The experts say that the invasion of the chirping critters could last for weeks and explained that it was the result of weather conditions -- a dry summer, followed by rains and the onslaught of cooling conditions. Thousands of the pesky visitors covered walls, blocked doors and made life that much more difficult for residents, prompting some of them to liken the infestation to a “plague.”

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In the blink of an eye

Eventually everyone needs to blink, try as you may to win a “no blinking contest.” At most, it appears, you might keep your eyes wide open, without blinking, for as long as one hour, seventeen minutes and three seconds. That’s the record Paolo Ballesteros set in a recent televised challenge as part of a Philippine variety show. Ballesteros may have a shot at making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, if they decide to create a “no blinking” category. By the way, the runner up in the Philippine contest had no chance. He was only able to keep his eyes open for a paltry 34 seconds before giving in to a reflexive blink.

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She’d paint the town red, if she could

It’s been decades since the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but apparently there is still a love of the color red among some who live in parts of the former USSR. Take Zorica and Zoran Rebernik who live in a red house in the former Red State of Yugoslavia. The Bosnian couple have been wed for nearly 40 years. When they married Zorica wore a red wedding dress. Their home is furnished in various shades of red. Zorica sports a head of red hair, eats from red plates and drinks from red glasses. Mr. and Mrs. Rebernik have even gone so far as to import red granite tombstones from India.

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A true fish story

It’s pretty hard to reel in a big fish if your line is not strong enough and it isn’t easy for a youngster even if his line is strong. But don’t tell that to eight year old Jayden Millauro, an Australian boy was out for a day of fishing off the coast of New South Wales with his dad recently. Turns out that dad and a few other fishermen on the scene had to hold on to Jayden’s harness as he reeled in the 692-pound tiger shark he hooked. It certainly gives the boy a story he can tell for the rest of his life and it just might be a record setting catch. The official record of the International Game Fish Association's "small fry" category is a 687 pound tiger shark set in 1997.

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Scoop the poop

Most people would agree that there’s nothing more off putting than to come across dog droppings on the sidewalk when you are out for a walk. But, the town of Springfield, Missouri, may have found a way to deal with the problem and it’s easier than using a troop of pooper-scoopers. The town put up a variety clever flags reminding pet owners of their civic responsibility when taking their pooch for a walk. They read: Is this your turd? Cuz that's absurd, this is a nudge to pick up the fudge and Scoop the Poop.

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Political polarization

Despite the widespread perception that political polarization skyrocketed after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication compared the levels of political polarization in 2014 to those in 2017 and found no significant difference. While the studies did show that the U.S. remains undoubtedly politically polarized, it is not any more or less so than it was before the 2016 presidential election. )

Gene therapy

A gene therapy being developed to stop the severe muscle deterioration associated with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a rare, genetic disease, has now been shown to be successful in both large and small animals. The study, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, engineered a “substitute” protein for dystrophin that protected muscles without retaliation from their immune systems. The gene therapy’s success spurs hope for the future development of treatment for DMD.

Restoring culture

In an effort to undo the damage ISIS wrought, archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and others, are

rebuilding three cultural heritage sites destroyed during the fighting, as well as a number of smaller Christian churches. Backed by $4 million in funding from a variety of sources, including the U.S. State Department, the work will take years, but the archaeologists hope that restoring the physical sites will help draw displaced communities back to their homes and return to these areas a sense of normalcy following years of destruction.

Bile duct on a chip

With the creation of the first bile duct-on-a-chip, researchers will now be able to study illnesses related to the difficult-to-access tissue more readily. The chip, created by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, is only 4 mm long and .16 mm wide and is made using a clear, gas polymer and collagen. Researchers are specifically interested in using the bile duct on a chip to study the difference in vulnerability between adult and child bile ducts. “This access could open doors for more research into liver diseases such as primary biliary cholangitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, and biliary atresia,” researcher Rebecca Wells said.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Income Tax on Social Security vs. the Earnings Test

Dear Rusty: I retired from work this year (age 62) and I will receive my first social security benefits in September. Is there a special rule for the first year you retire that allows you to not pay taxes on your social security since you have earned no other income since you retired? Before I retired, I earned about $50,000, which I know is more than the usual allowed income. Signed: Retired Senior

Dear Retired Senior: I'm afraid there is no such "first year" rule which exempts you from paying income tax on your Social Security benefits. When you file your Federal income taxes with the IRS you will need to claim your Social Security (SS) benefits as part of your income, and whether it is taxable will depend upon whether your "modified adjusted gross income" (MAGI) for the year exceeds $25,000 (if you file single) or $32,000 (if you file married-filing jointly). "MAGI" includes your taxable income from all sources (your “adjusted gross income” from your Federal income tax return), plus any tax-exempt interest you may have received, plus half of your annual Social Security benefits. If your MAGI exceeds the above levels, then up to 50% of your Social Security benefits will become a part of your taxable income; or if you exceed $34,000 (filing single) or $44,000 (filing married-jointly) then up to 85% of your annual SS benefits will become taxable. If you don't exceed those levels your SS benefits aren't taxable as income.

However, I suspect you may be confusing income tax on your Social Security benefits with another rule - Social Security's "earnings test" which, if you have not yet reached your full retirement age, sets a limit on what you can earn without your benefit payments being affected. If you are collecting benefits before you have reached your full retirement age and you exceed the annual earnings limit ($17,640 for 2019) Social Security will withhold some of your benefits – $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. If that is what you're referring to then, yes, there is a special rule for the first year you are collecting Social Security. That special first year rule says that if you claim benefits mid-year and you have not yet reached your full retirement age, you'll be subject to a monthly earnings test for the remainder of that year, rather than the annual test. So, if your benefits start in September, provided you don’t earn more than $1470 in September or any month thereafter in 2019 you won't lose any benefits. But if you do exceed that monthly limit, even by $1, you won't be entitled to any SS benefits for that month. The monthly test is only in the calendar year you claim benefits - it goes away for you in 2020 and you'll be subject to the annual earnings test only for next year.

Please note that the earnings limits are considerably more if you are claiming in the year you will reach your full retirement age. If this were the year you will reach your full retirement age, the annual limit would be $46,920 and the monthly limit would be $3910 (these limits change annually). However, if you stay fully retired and don’t return to work you will not need to worry about the Social Security earnings test but, depending on your “MAGI,” you may need to pay income taxes on your Social Security benefits.

Ask Rusty – What should I know about Social Security?

Dear Rusty: I’m 59 years old. When do I need to start looking at what’s available for me - when I start getting closer to age 65? Signed: Planning Ahead

Dear Planning Ahead: Kudos to you for thinking about Social Security in advance! Fifty-nine years of age is a great time to start planning. Your strategy may be different, depending on whether you are married, if you plan to continue working well into your sixties (or later), your health, and your expected longevity.

You have an 8-year window between ages 62 – 70 during which you can claim your benefits, and the age you claim will greatly influence the amount of your benefit. If you claim at age 62, your payment will be 30% less than it would be if you wait until your full retirement age (FRA), which for you is age 67. If you choose to delay past your FRA until age 70, your benefit will be 24% more than it will be at your FRA. Your full retirement age is when you get 100% of the benefit you have earned from a lifetime of working - claiming earlier will result in a lower benefit and claiming later (up to age 70) will mean a higher benefit (8% more per year of delay).

The age you claim should consider your plans for working, because if you claim earlier than your FRA and continue to work you’ll be subject to Social Security’s earnings limit until you reach your FRA. If you exceed the limit ($17,640 for 2019), SS will take back $1 for every $2 you are over the limit by withholding future benefits. The earnings limit goes up by about 2.5 times during the year you reach your FRA and goes away once you reach FRA. If you exceed the earnings limit SS will withhold benefits for as many months needed to recover what is due, which means you could go months without receiving any benefits. Although, at your FRA, you will get time credit for any months withheld (thus a benefit adjustment), it could (depending upon the amount) take many years to recover any withheld benefits.

Your health and expected longevity are key factors in determining the age to claim SS. The life-expectancy for the “average” man your age today is about 84. If your health and family history suggest you will enjoy at least average longevity, then delaying your claim to a later age will yield more in cumulative lifetime benefits, as well as a higher monthly payment. Conversely, if you’re in poor health and expect less than average longevity, delaying may not be a practical option for you.

If you are married there are special considerations if your wife is, or was, a lower-earner or stay-at-home mom and has a smaller SS benefit than you. Your wife may be eligible for a spousal benefit from you and will also be eligible for a survivor benefit if you should predecease her. The widow’s benefit your wife would be entitled to is based upon the actual amount you are receiving at your death. If you claim at age 62, your widow would get your age 62 benefit, but if you wait until later (up to 70) to claim, your widow gets the higher benefit you were receiving because you delayed claiming (if that’s higher than her own).

Finally, your financial needs should be included in your planning. If your circumstances are such that you do not urgently need your Social Security benefits to live comfortably, then delaying your claim will provide you with a higher monthly benefit in retirement. If, on the other hand, you need the extra money to make ends meet, then claiming early makes sense (but beware of the earnings limit mentioned above).

By setting up your personal online account at www.ssa.gov you’ll be able to see the benefit amounts you are estimated to receive at age 62, at your FRA, and at age 70. Having these numbers, and taking the above points into consideration, should allow you to develop a strategy for when you should claim your Social Security benefits.

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Medal of Honor: Army Pfc. Richard G. Wilson

BY KATIE LANGE

Military medics are serious about taking care of their fellow service members in battle, often risking their own lives to do that difficult job. Army Pfc. Richard G. Wilson was one of those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice to save another during the Korean War. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor.

Wilson was born in Marion, Illinois, on Aug. 19, 1931. His family moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, when he was a boy.

In 1948, Wilson left high school after his junior year to join the Army, enlisting on his 17th birthday. He trained at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and volunteered to go to airborne school.

Wilson left for Korea with his unit, Company I of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, in late summer 1950. On Oct. 20, he and his fellow paratroopers jumped behind enemy lines north of Pyongyang, North Korea, to cut off retreating enemy units. The jump was one of the largest airdrops in American military history.

The next day, Wilson accompanied his company on a reconnaissance mission on a hillside near the small town of Opari. As most of the unit was passing through a narrow valley flanked on three sides by hills, enemy soldiers ambushed them, opening up a barrage of mortar and gun fire.

A lot of men fell as they tried to get to safety, and Wilson was among them. He moved from one injured man to another to tend their wounds. The unarmed medic constantly exposed himself to enemy fire, but his fellow soldiers reported that he didn't seem to be worried about his own safety.

The unit was ordered to withdraw so they wouldn't be surrounded and isolated. Wilson helped many of the wounded men to safety, making sure that no one was left behind. But when he learned one man who had been presumed dead was seen trying to crawl to safety, he went back — despite protests from his fellow soldiers.

Without a weapon, Wilson returned to the onslaught, going back to one of the most dangerous locations on the hillside to find his fallen comrade.

He never came back. Two days later, a patrol found him lying beside the man for whom he had gone back. Wilson had been shot several times while trying to shield and give aid to the soldier. He was 19.

Wilson's bravery and self-sacrifice inspired his fellow soldiers and earned him the Medal of Honor. In a ceremony at the Pentagon on Aug. 2, 1951, the medal was presented to Wilson's widow, who he had married shortly before he deployed to Korea.

In the decades since, several buildings on military installations have been named in his honor, including one at Fort Sam Houston and at an elementary school at Fort Benning, Georgia.

This article is part of a series called "Medal of Honor Monday," which recognize 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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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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Is your business’ global message lost in translation?

American businesses with plans to take their products global know they will need to overcome language barriers, but that little chore could prove to be a greater challenge than they realize.

The potential for missteps abounds as companies attempt to translate websites, apps, user manuals, print advertisements, marketing emails, and other materials for a customer base that’s not their usual audience.

“It’s critical that companies be aware of not just how their products will be perceived, purchased, and used in other countries, but also that selling internationally requires tweaking business processes,” says Ian A. Henderson, author of Global Content Quest: In Search of Better Translations and co-founder with his wife, Francoise, of Rubric (www.rubric.com), a global language-service provider.

“Many products designed for and by Americans are in high demand in other countries, but that doesn’t mean the user experience will be exactly the same.

Some translation complications that businesses encounter could easily be avoided, Rubric’s founders say. A few of those problematic situations include:

Creating poor user journeys. The Hendersons say they sometimes encounter clients who have a general idea of what the content should be in English, but have not thought about what it should be in other languages, or how to adjust it for different cultures. “Because of this,” Ian Henderson says, “people often end up translating for the sake of translating from some vague idea of necessity, rather than to intentionally grow the international market for their product in a strategic way. This leads to a poor user journey.” If you don’t put time and thought into what you are translating and why, he says, you may end up with inconsistency in content.

Using misapplied tools. Companies often look for software that will solve all their problems, and in many cases a multi-language feature is sold as part of a content-management system, or a product-information management system. “Unfortunately, it is often not very effective,” Francoise Henderson says. “Translation is more of an art than a science, and it is rarely as simple as plugging words into a program.” She recommends running a pilot program to test out new software before committing to buying it.

Adding translation to someone’s other responsibilities. Companies often make the mistake of assigning translation duties to someone already on staff simply because they speak the languages in question. “On the surface, that seems to make sense because the person knows your product and is already on your payroll,” Ian Henderson says. But the employee won’t make translation a priority because of competing responsibilities. When the employee does prioritize the translation, the rest of their work suffers. Also, just because they speak the language doesn’t mean they are competent writers who can successfully convey a message from one language to another.

Being stuck in silos. If departments within a company fail to communicate, information might be unintentionally translated multiple times, costing the company thousands in extra translation costs, Ian Henderson says. Other times, different departments will use different vendors to translate. So when put through translation, a product’s packaging claim might not correspond to the material that marketing or legal is sending out. One solution, the Hendersons say, is to have a central communications hub through which everything flows.

“One thing we’ve learned is translation is more than just a language problem,” Francoise Henderson says. “People and the products they buy vary from country to country. As a result, marketing can’t be too uniform because it won’t speak to all the audiences. But if it’s too individualized, you can lose your brand identity. The trick is creating a balance that both preserves the global brand and serves the local needs.”

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You’re never too old

A 70-year old Bolivian grandmother, Mirtha Munoz, took the road less traveled, especially for senior citizens, and she showed that she has the right stuff. Munoz is the oldest participant in Bolivia’s punishing Skyrace bicycle competition. In fact, says the senior advocacy organization, the road she took on her bicycle is known as the “Death Road.” The nearly 40 mile long, two mile high trail starts in the jungles of Bolivia and winds its way up until it reaches the treacherous, snow-covered crests of the Andes. The Death Road gets its name from the fact that it is said to be “the world’s most dangerous road,” as Reuter’s put it. It’s said that the vertical highway has claimed the lives of thousands of daring travelers over the years.

This good deed went unpunished

These alleged sea-going drug smugglers turned the tables on the police who were chasing them. Police off the Spanish coast engaged their suspects in a high-speed, ocean-going chase but they suddenly lost control of their speedboat and the three lawmen on board wound up in the drink. Not to worry. The drug traffickers came to their rescue, saving the cops as a police helicopter watched from above. However, the good deed did not give them a pass. They were arrested after the cops found their three-ton stash of hashish.

Winning the lottery is not always what you think it is

2-2-2-2 was the lucky pick in a recent South Carolina Education Lottery drawing with $3.4 million at stake. But dreams of vast riches quickly went up in smoke when the one-thousand-four-hundred winners found out that they have to share the lottery loot. That comes to an average payout per ticket of just about $2,500.

Gun-violence patients

When providing medical care to victims of traumatic injury, including gun violence, knowledge of a patient’s environment plays a role. For example, people who come to the emergency room for a minor injury and who also have symptoms of depression or anxiety have poorer outcomes 12 months later, said Therese Richmond of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Her research also shows that factors such as adverse childhood experiences and poor childhood environments worsen the severity of post-injury mental health symptoms. “Health is driven not just by individual behaviors or risks but where you spend most of your time, where you live, play, work, worship,” Richmond said. “Those environments can have profound positive or negative effects on both physical and mental health.”

Immigration & the economy

Immigration policy in the United States is important to future economic growth over the next few decades, due to the country’s aging population and relatively low native fertility, according to experts from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “If we want to continue growing, if we want to maintain our relative position in the world population, really the only way we’re going to accomplish that is if we bring in more immigrants,” said Alexander Arnon of the Penn Wharton Budget Model, which has built an online immigration policy simulator. The essential findings of the simulator include: Shifting the mix of legal immigrants toward college graduates would have little impact on employment and slightly increase gross domestic product (GDP); legalization of undocumented workers would slightly reduce employment and have a negligible impact on GDP; increasing deportations would substantially reduce both employment and GDP.

Intelligent machines

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept flourishing solely in sci-fi worlds filled with robots and androids. It’s become an integral part of modern life. But despite AI’s ubiquity, many uncertainties remain. How is it being used today? How will it be used in the future? What trade-offs are acceptable in terms of privacy, ethics, and human decision-making? And how much control over and input into the process should individuals have? Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who are working to answers these questions say the bottom line is that AI is here to stay, so the key is to figure out how to live in a world shared by humans and smart machines.

Three rivers

The Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers meet in the center of Pittsburgh. This wealth of water also presents a unique set of challenges for the region, including sewer overflows, flooding, indus­trial and agricultural pollutants, emerging contaminants, aging infrastructure and poorly coordinat­ed land use. An in-depth study by the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, has shown that, while the Pittsburgh region has made progress on some of these issues, many remain unaddressed. The report also underscores how climate change and changing land use patterns will exacerbate these impacts. Now embarking on a second phase of the project, the Water Center, with support from the Heinz Foundation, is working to develop and implement a road map for water resource management.

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If college sports were a stock, they would be on everyone’s buy list

Big money and big-time college sports have been entwined for some time.

But that connection may have grown even closer recently when California passed a first-of-its-kind law that allows student athletes to hire agents and make money on endorsement deals, something the NCAA actively opposes.

California’s new law, along with discussions about paying college players, may lead to fiery debates among sports fans, but there’s no denying that sports are a profitable undertaking for many universities. In fact, one financial professional says that if college sports were a stock, a lot of people might add the NCAA to their portfolios.

“You have some top college football programs that bring in well over $100 million in revenue, with a 50 percent profit margin,” says Jason Lambert (www.nwfts.net), president and CEO of Northwest Financial & Tax Solutions and author of the upcoming book The Retirement Trailhead.

“If that were a business, I would definitely invest in it. It’s a unique business model.”

Lambert attended Auburn University, which averages $117 million in annual revenue from its football program. He understands the appeal of college football strictly from a fan perspective, but as a financial planner he says it’s also hard to miss just how big of a business college sports can be.

“Some schools are making an insane amount of money on their sports teams,” he says. “But not everyone. There’s a big disparity between the haves and the have nots.”

Lambert points to some of the evidence that college sports – at least at the top level – are as much a financial undertaking as they are a school-spirit booster:

Enviable profit margins. Forbes recently released its annual list of the 25 most valuable teams in college football, which combined bring in $1.5 billion in profits on revenues of $2.7 billion. Topping the list is Texas A&M, which had revenue of $147 million and a profit of $94 million. Others in the top five were Texas, Michigan, Alabama and Ohio State.

Wins equal cash. This is especially true for football teams. A Harvard Business School study showed that a single win during the football season could mean as much as a $3 million for some top schools. Even some college football programs that are not so well established saw a monetary increase as a result of invitations to postseason bowls, the study reported.

TV’s growing role. Television contracts have long been lucrative for college sports, but nothing like today when colleges and the NCAA don’t have to rely exclusively on the major networks. “Look at the top two teams on that Forbes list,” Lambert says. “The Texas Longhorns have their own TV network. Texas A&M is part of the SEC, which has it own TV network.”

Given these facts, Lambert says it shouldn’t be surprising that California wants to allow players to profit off their talents, or that others have pushed the idea that players should be paid by the universities that they churn profits for.

“Scholarships are valuable and great,” he says. “But something is going to have to change when you see the money that is coming in to these programs.”

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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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Medal of Honor: Army Pvt. Pedro Cano

BY SHANNON COLLINS

As an infantryman in World War II, Army Pvt. Pedro Cano used a shoulder-fired rocket launcher to take out more than 19 enemy soldiers and several machine guns terrorizing American troops in Schevenhutte, Germany, during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

For this action, he earned the Medal of Honor in 1944.

According to the official citation, while he was serving with 4th Infantry Division in December 1944, the infantrymen launched an attack against German gun emplacements, but were turned back by enemy machine gun fire.

"Armed with a rocket launcher, Cano crawled through a densely mined area under heavy enemy fire and successfully reached a point within 10 yards of the nearest emplacement," the citation said. "He quickly fired a rocket into the position, killing the two gunners and five supporting riflemen."

"Without hesitating, he fired into a second position, killing two more gunners, and proceeded to assault the position with hand grenades, killing several others and dispersing the rest," the citation said. "When an adjacent company encountered heavy fire, Cano crossed his company front, crept to within 15 yards of the nearest enemy emplacement and killed the two machine gunners with a rocket."

With another round, he killed two more gunners and destroyed a second gun.

The next day, his company renewed the attack and again encountered heavy machine gun fire. Cano, armed with his rocket launcher, again moved across the fire-swept terrain and destroyed three enemy machine guns in succession, killing the six gunners, the citation said.

Call to Service

Cano was born in La Morita, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, but moved to Edinburg, Texas, with his family when he was 2 months old. As a young adult, he worked as a farm laborer before volunteering to join the Army in World War II.

Cano served in battles in France and Germany. Sometime after the Hurtgen Forest battle, Cano was seriously injured and was brought back to the United States. He eventually returned home to his wife and daughter in Edinburg.

Cano became a U.S. citizen in May 1946 and went on to have two more children. He died in a car crash in 1952.

Cano didn't receive his Medal of Honor until decades after the war. His daughter, Dominga Perez, accepted it on her father's behalf from President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House on March 18, 2014. Several other service members from past generations were honored that day.

Cano received other accolades, including two Bronze Star medals, a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Service Cross. For his extraordinary war efforts, Edinburg named a street and a school after him.

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Put fall leaves to work in your landscape

By MELINDA MYERS

Raking fall leaves can seem like a chore and a never-ending one, at that. Reduce time and effort spent managing fall leaves by putting this valuable resource to work in your landscape.

Use your mower to recycle leaves right where they fall. As you mow the grass, you’ll shred the leaves into smaller pieces. If they are the size of a quarter or smaller, your lawn will be fine. As these leaf pieces decompose, they add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.

Another option is to attach a bagger to shred and collect the leaves with every pass of the mower. Only use grass clippings collected from lawns that have not been treated with a weed killer this fall. Or burn a few extra calories and rake the leaves into a pile. Shred with a leaf shredder or mower and spread them over the soil surface around perennials. Leaf mulch helps insulate plant roots, conserve moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil as it breaks down.

Bag shredded leaves you want to save for next season. Tuck them out of sight for winter under trees or around the foundation of your house for added insulation.

Dig extra shredded leaves into vacant annual flower and vegetable gardens or incorporate them into the soil as you prepare new planting beds. They will break down over winter, improving the drainage in heavy clay soils and the water-holding ability in fast-draining soils.

Create compost with shredded leaves and other landscape trimmings. Do not use meat, bones or dairy that can attract rodents. Avoid diseased, insect-infested trimmings and weeds that can survive in compost piles that don’t produce enough heat to kill these unwanted pests.

Start with a compost pile that’s at least three feet high and wide for efficient decomposition. Place a mixture of shredded fall leaves, grass clippings free of herbicides, vegetable scraps and other landscape trimmings in an 8- to 10-inch layer. Cover with compost and sprinkle with a low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer.

Repeat the layers until the pile is the desired height. Then moisten until it’s the consistency of a damp sponge. Turn the pile occasionally, moving the material in the center to the outer edge and the less decomposed trimmings to the hotter center. It’s a great workout and speeds decomposition. Or pile the materials in a heap and let nature do the work; it just takes longer.

Oak and large maple leaves both make great mulches and additions to the compost pile but are slow to break down. Shred them with your mower or leaf shredder first for better results. Avoid black walnut leaves that contain juglone, a compound which is toxic to many plants. Once the leaves are fully decomposed the compost is safe to use.

As you begin putting fall leaves to work in your landscape, you’ll start considering them a gift versus a curse from nature especially as you see the results of your efforts – a more beautiful landscape.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Understanding the Family Maximum

Dear Rusty: My husband passed away when our children were 3 and 5 years old. I received benefits for myself, our two children and my 14-year-old son from a previous relationship. When my 14-year-old son turned 18, the amount he received stopped and was added to ours, keeping the total family amount the same. Then in July of this year my youngest daughter turned 16 so I fell off with that amount now going to my kids. Again, the total family amount stayed the same - $625.00 each for my daughter and son. The very next month in August, my youngest son turned 18 so of course, he fell off. I called Social Security and the representative said that she couldn't guarantee that my son’s full amount will go to my daughter. It turns out that none did, decreasing the family amount by $625.00. My question is why was the family amount reduced when she still has 2 years before she turns 18? Signed: Confused Survivor

Dear Confused: I understand your confusion – let me clarify what happened in your situation: Social Security (SS) sets a “Family Maximum” amount, which is the most all eligible family members combined can receive from a worker’s (your husband’s) record. SS uses a rather complex formula to compute the Family Maximum amount, but it comes out to be somewhere between 150% and 180% of your husband’s “primary insurance amount” (or “PIA,” what he was entitled to when he passed). The family maximum is in effect whenever there are multiple beneficiaries on a worker’s record.

The benefits you were personally receiving were “child in care” benefits which entitled you, as a surviving spouse with a minor child, to collect 75% of the benefit your husband was receiving, or entitled to receive, at his death. Child in care benefits stop when the youngest child reaches 16 years of age. Each of your 3 minor children were also entitled to receive 75% of their deceased father’s (or stepfather’s) benefit amount. Minor children can receive 75% of the deceased parent’s benefit until they reach 18 years of age (or 19 if still in high school). However, all benefits are subject to the “family maximum.” The total of benefits paid to all survivors of the deceased is limited to that family maximum and, if that amount is reached, all eligible survivors share equally in that family maximum amount. Then as each survivor becomes ineligible due to their age, the remaining survivors each receive a proportional share of the family maximum amount, but that adjustment cannot result in an individual’s benefit being more than they are otherwise entitled to (their maximum individual benefit of 75% of your husband’s PIA).

When your oldest son turned 18 and became ineligible, the sum of benefits due all remaining survivors was still more than the family maximum, so the family maximum amount was equally divided among the remaining eligible survivors. Then, when your eligibility for child-in-care benefits ceased when your youngest turned 16, your two remaining minor children each received either a) their equal share of the family maximum, or b) 75% of their father’s PIA (their normal entitlement as a surviving minor child). When your youngest son turned 18 and became ineligible, your youngest daughter was then eligible to receive only her full benefit as a minor surviving child (75% of your husband’s benefit), which she can continue to receive until she is 18 (or 19 if still in high school). So, as you can see, the family maximum isn’t an amount which is fully available to any survivor, it is an amount that restricts the total amount which can be paid to all when there are multiple eligible survivors.

Please note that at age 60 you are once again eligible for a surviving spouse benefit, which will be based upon 100% of the benefit your husband was entitled to at his death, subject, of course, to normal reductions and earnings restrictions for claiming benefits before your full retirement age.

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From the files of the FBI

Hoboken man admits participating in voter bribery scheme

NEWARK, N.J. – A Hoboken, New Jersey, today man admitted his role in a conspiracy to promote a voter bribery scheme during a municipal election in Hoboken, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

William Rojas, 69, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in Newark federal court to an information charging him with conspiring with others to use the mail to promote a voter bribery scheme during the 2015 municipal election in Hoboken.

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

Under New Jersey law, registered voters are permitted to cast a ballot by mail rather than in person. To receive a mail-in ballot, voters must complete and submit to their county clerk’s office an Application for Vote By Mail Ballot (VBM Application). After the VBM Application is processed, voters receive a mail-in ballot.

From September 2015 through November 2015, Rojas worked for a candidate for the Hoboken City Council (Candidate 1). At Candidate 1’s direction, Rojas and a conspirator, Matthew Calicchio, agreed to pay certain Hoboken voters $50 each if those voters applied for and cast mail-in ballots for the November 2015 Hoboken municipal election. Rojas provided these voters with VBM applications and told them they would get paid $50 for casting mail-in ballots. After receiving the completed mail-in ballots from voters, Rojas and Calicchio reviewed them to ensure that voters had voted for Candidate 1. After the election, Rojas delivered $50 checks to the voters whose mail-in ballots he collected. Calicchio previously pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 7, 2019.

Rojas faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2020.

Fatal shoot-out with police ended crime spree

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Kansas City, Missouri, man was sentenced in federal court for his role in a three-months-long conspiracy that included more than 27 armed robberies, culminating in the armed robbery of a Walgreens in Blue Springs, Missouri, in which a suspect was fatally shot by law enforcement officers.

Shannon R. Thomas, 29, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Greg Kays to life in federal prison without parole, followed by a consecutive sentence of 72 years in federal prison without parole.

On May 9, 2019, Thomas was found guilty at trial of participating in the conspiracy as well as participating in 10 armed robberies. He was also found guilty of 10 counts of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The life sentence was imposed for Thomas’s conviction of brandishing a firearm during the Walgreens robbery that resulted in the death of Jermon Seals.

Thomas and co-conspirators robbed 27 businesses in Blue Springs, Independence, North Kansas City, Raytown, and Kansas City, Missouri, and in Kansas City, Kansas, at gunpoint from Jan. 2 to March 24, 2016. In addition to the armed robberies charged in the indictment, evidence was introduced during the trial of other, uncharged robberies that were committed in furtherance of the conspiracy. Victim businesses included convenience stores, pharmacies, and other businesses.

The robberies followed a similar pattern: Two or three conspirators entered the business armed with handguns, wearing gloves, hoodies, and/or masks. The hoodies were drawn tightly over their faces to obscure their features. The employees were forced at gunpoint to hand over money from the cash register and the safe. The thieves wore the same hoodies in nearly all the robberies; Thomas wore a blue Kansas City Royals hoodie for the majority of the robberies he committed.

The spree of robberies culminated on March 24, 2016. Thomas, along with co-defendant Deonte J. Collins-Abbott, 25, of Grandview, Missouri, and Jermon Seals of Shawnee, Kansas, robbed the Walgreens at 7 Highway and Duncan in Blue Springs. Thomas placed a Springfield Armory .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol to the back of an employee’s head and took money from the front register. Collins-Abbott and Seals went over the pharmacy counter and took prescription grade cough syrup at gunpoint from the pharmacist. They left the business but were confronted by law enforcement officers as they were walking back to the vehicle. They failed to comply with the officers’ commands; Seals turned towards the officers, pointing a gun in their direction. Officers returned fire and Seals was fatally struck in the exchange. Thomas and Collins-Abbott were apprehended by officers after a short foot chase.

Collins-Abbott pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison without parole. Collins-Abbott admitted that he committed eight armed robberies between Feb. 3, 2016, and March 24, 2016.

Parrise K. Black, also known as “Kilo,” 27, of Grandview, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison without parole. Demetrius Nelson, 26, of Kansas City, Missouri, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in federal prison without parole. Co-defendant Kevin T. Thompson-Randell, 24, of Kansas City, Missouri, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in federal prison without parole.

Oil & gas company officers charged with bank fraud

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Jeffrey Lyons, 58, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Karen Connelly, 65, of Manheim, Pennsylvania, and Judith Avilez, 58, of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania were all charged with bank fraud for their roles in defrauding Fulton Bank. Lyons and Connelly were charged by Information and Avilez was charged by Indictment.

The charging documents allege that between 2003 through May 15, 2018, Lyons, the former CEO of Worley & Obetz, and Worley & Obetz’s two controllers, Connelly and Avilez, defrauded Fulton Bank by fraudulently inflating Worley & Obetz’s revenue on its financial statements. Worley & Obetz was an oil and gas company in Manheim, Pennsylvania, that provided home heating oil, gas, and propane to its customers. As a result of these and other alleged financial improprieties, the company has shut down and all employees lost their jobs.

To perpetuate the fraud, Connelly and Avilez created fraudulent Worley and Obetz financial statements to make the company appear to the bank that it had more revenue and accounts receivable than it did. Connelly was the Worley & Obetz controller from 2000 until she retired in December 2015. After Connelly retired, she and Lyons continued the fraud for approximately six months until Lyons asked Connelly to teach the scheme to Worley & Obetz’s new controller, Avilez.

Avilez’s Indictment alleges that after Connelly taught her how to commit the fraud, she knowingly continued the fraud with Lyons, falsifying Worley & Obetz’s financial statements. Lyons is also alleged to have altered a customer contract and provided the altered contract to Fulton Bank to support Worley & Obetz’s requests for more loans. The charging documents allege that the bank fraud scheme continued for at least 15 years. Fulton Bank relied on the fraudulent Worley & Obetz customer contract and the fraudulent Worley & Obetz financial statements created by Lyons, Connelly, and Avilez when it lent Worley & Obetz over $60 million.

The Information also charges Lyons with tax evasion for not reporting over $650,000 in income he received from Worley & Obetz in 2013.

“The alleged fraud here is stunning in scope and duration,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “As alleged, the defendants obtained tens of millions of dollars from bank lenders to benefit their business, when their jobs as CEO and Controller required them to act with fiduciary integrity. My Office will continue to work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to protect innocent individuals and businesses from being victimized by financial fraud.”

If convicted, Karen Connelly and Judith Avilez face a maximum possible sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment and a $1,000,000 fine and Lyons faces a maximum sentence of 35 years’ imprisonment and a $1,250,000 fine.

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October is National Pet Wellness Month: Change of season encourages routine vet visit

The Humane Society of Missouri and its Animal Medical Center of Mid-America

urge pet owners to be proactive in caring for the well-being of their furry friends

As temperatures begin to drop and leaves change colors, the change of season serves as a good reminder for pet parents to pay a visit to the veterinarian for their annual check-up before the year comes to a close. October is National Pet Wellness Month, so set aside time now to evaluate your pet’s health.

The Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America (AMCMA) shares these preventative care and wellness tips:

1. Don’t wait until it’s too cold – sneak in your pet’s annual wellness appointment now

Set up time now before motivation is low when cold temperatures are upon us. We recommend taking your pet to the vet at least once a year. Regular wellness exams are critical to detect any problems, receive lifestyle recommendations and keep your pet up to date on all shots and medications.

2. Don’t let Halloween scare you – providing proper nutrition is easy

Your pet’s diet is one of the most important factors for general well-being. Quality nutrition plays a vital role for your pet’s health and longevity. It is important to make smart choices when it comes to your pet’s food in order to maintain good health and prevent diseases. Provide a diet high in protein while incorporating natural sources of vitamins and minerals. Avoid treating your pet to table scraps and “people food.”

3. Fall into a routine – remember to exercise regularly

With its mild temperatures, October is the perfect time of the year to get outside and start exercising daily with your furry friend. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors while keeping your pet physically active. Check with your vet on the appropriate amount of exercise for your pet.

4. Holidays are right around the corner – don’t forget about dental hygiene

Family pictures are not the same with stinky breath and yellow chompers. Brush your pet’s teeth at home to avoid tartar buildup and maintain optimal dental health. If you’re concerned about your pet’s teeth, schedule an appointment for a professional teeth cleaning, as dental health can make a huge impact on your pet’s overall wellness.

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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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When your hot, you're hot

The Akron, Ohio Alliance Fellowship Church hardly had an occasion to use its brand new $3,500 air conditioning unit when it was stole. The police were called in to find the perpetrators but Pastor Gus Brown may be hoping that the thieves will repent and return it and he posted a notice on the church bulletin board in front of the church. It reads in large letters, "Whoever stole our AC Unit: Keep it. It’s hot where you’re going."

The family fortune was hanging in the kitchen

An elderly woman in a town near Paris hit the jackpot when she decided to have what she thought was an old religious icon hanging in her kitchen appraised. It turned out that the painting, which had been in the family for some time, was in fact an exceptionally valuable painting, known as The Mocking of Christ, by the 13th century Florentine artist Cenni di Pepo who is considered by experts to be “the father of Western painting.” It’ll be put up for auction soon and it’s expected to fetch as much as $6 million.

The toilet is still missing

The police are still looking for the robbers who stole the toilet in Britain’s Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born, are still on the loose. It was a particularly rich haul for the thieves; the working commode, which was installed in the palace as part of an exhibition, was made of solid 18-carat gold and was worth some $5 million.

Vaping & health

Vaping-related deaths and lung injuries are on the rise. While electronic cigarette companies claim that their products can help adults quit smoking, they have failed to prove this claim and offer products in a range of appealing-sounding flavors, making them more enticing to young people. “These are people who have gotten the message that cigarettes are gross,” said pulmonologist Frank Leone of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “They don’t want to smoke. But they don’t think of this as smoking.” E-cigarette makers’ marketing practices and the health risks associated with their products are now attracting intense scrutiny.

Brains & machines

Technology that provides a direct communication link between a brain and a computer is no longer limited to science fiction. Brain-machine interfaces represent a “beautiful step forward for medicine,” said neuroscientist Kondad Kording of the University of Pennsylvania, but he adds that ethical considerations and safeguards need to be addressed. “You need to think of the risks before you start implementing because we would get more enmeshed with electronic systems and they can have more influence on us.”

Around the world

The first-ever circumnavigation of the globe, 500 years ago by an expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan, was driven by political and economic pressures, not for scientific enterprises or discovery. “There is no doubt that his experience allowed people to think about geography, about global trade, and about human diversity in ways that were impossible before," said historian Antonio Feros of the University of Pennsylvania, "but one has the feeling that the commemorations this year around Magellan’s voyage go beyond the celebration of the man and his real accomplishments.” He said Magellan’s historic voyage helped shape the modern world. “There is no doubt that his experience allowed people to think about geography, about global trade and about human diversity in ways that were impossible before."

Consumer finance reforms

Some of the consumer finance reforms put in place after the recession have been effective during the past 10 years, and others have not, according to new research by Natasha Sarin of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. If left unchecked, banks will exploit the behavior of consumers, like customers' inattention to checking account contracts that detail the significant costs of over-drafting, allowing banks to charge high fees, she said. “As such, policymakers must bring discipline to these markets by restricting shrouded pricing,” she said, adding that “low-income consumers tend to pay higher prices than their high-income counterparts” for banking products, and regulators ought to pursue reforms that reduce such inequality."

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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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Who’s responsible for your company’s culture? Look in the mirror, leaders

Extensive research has shown that a positive work culture often results in productive employees who both value their work and feel valued themselves.

But company leadership, not the employees, usually creates that culture. Executives and managers have a significant responsibility to establish a positive culture that is conducive to company success.

“Culture can be thought of as the inner life of the organization,” says Cynthia Howard (www.eileadership.org), an executive coach, performance expert, and author of the book The Resilient Leader, Mindset Makeover: Uncover the Elephant in the Room.

“It is the self-sustaining mix of values, attitudes, and behavior that drives performance. Culture is the brand identity of the company, and it has the ability to attract and retain great talent or not. Thus, it’s incumbent on the leaders to be aware of their culture, what they can do to improve it, and honestly assess if it’s the kind of place where people want to be and want to grow.”

Another key reason that company leaders need to make work culture a high priority, Howard says, is because millennials — who comprise the largest segment of the workforce — rank culture as their top consideration when choosing where to work.

Howard offers five ways leaders can foster a positive work culture:

Model positive, respectful behavior. Howard says a positive work culture starts with the leader setting the tone, which can send the right message to leaders at other levels in the company. “Don’t play the blame game,” Howard says. “Encourage an environment where it’s OK to make mistakes and move forward. Frontline staff crave leaders who understand them and care about them, will mentor them, and will provide professional guidance to make fair and tough decisions.”

Show gratitude. “Show your gratitude and appreciation for accomplishments by acknowledging people during a meeting or with a note,” Howard says. “Celebrating wins lifts morale, and when people know they will be recognized for exceptional work, they’ll be more motivated.”

Communicate consistently and with clarity. “Keep employees in the loop with consistent updates,” Howard says. “Give them regular feedback, not just at review time. This keeps people connected, feeling part of the team, and removes the mystery — and inherent tension — of where they stand. Create clear goals, and make everyone feel that they are necessary components toward reaching those goals. That inspires an environment of inclusion, pride and commitment.”

Really listen. “This is the important other side of communication that some leaders fail to master,” Howard says. “For the leaders underneath you and the employees throughout a company to truly feel valued, they have to know they have a voice and that it will be heard. Be open and encouraging to others’ ideas and solutions.”

Promote collaboration. One of a company leader’s primary jobs is getting the most out of their team — mainly by defining the importance of team. “Maximizing the strengths of a team means knowing each person’s uniqueness and talents and using them in the best possible way,” Howard says. “It also means creating a culture where everyone respects each other’s talents and is enthusiastic about working together for the greater good.”

“Poor culture leads to lots of turnover,” Howard says. “When you as a leader instill and insist on a positive culture, you reap the benefits. Happy, engaged employees mean a thriving company.”

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How to keep good employees happy and reap the business benefits

While many business owners say that the first rule of a successful company is keeping customers happy, studies show that also keeping employees happy is critical to the whole process.

The better a business owner and upper management treat good employees, the more committed and engaged they will be to perform at a consistently high level and do their part to help make the business successful.

“The big key to business success is the productivity level of your employees and the culture in which they operate,” says Paul Trapp (www.eventprep.com), founding owner/CEO of EventPrep, Inc., a full-service meeting planning and management company, and co-author with Stephen Davis of Prep for Success: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Achieving Your Dreams.

“Employee happiness results directly in success and goes hand-in-hand with company culture. The primary focus of leadership in that culture should be making sure their employees are happy, safe, respected, and making a competitive wage.”

If you get it right with your employees, Trapp and Davis say, they’ll get it right with the customer.

“It’s simple, really,” says Davis, who is EventPrep’s founding owner/president/COO.

“The folks you bring on board are going to spend a significant amount of time with their work family, so why wouldn’t the people running the business want it to be a cool place to work, and why wouldn’t they want it to be the most productive place they could possible make it?”

Trapp and Davis explain the key factors that find the right employees and keep them happy and productive:

Recruiting. “You’ve got to get the right people first, the people with the qualities that make for a passionate, productive worker who contributes to a positive culture,” Davis says. “Recruiting is about connecting with people and connecting them with their passion, their purpose, and enabling them to reach their potential. Recruiting isn’t an event, but a process, and sometimes finding the right person for a particular job can take months or even years. You’re always looking, listening, assessing and asking questions — and really getting to know the person you may hire.”

Establishing a culture. “You want people to want to come to work, and to do that you want people to work in the culture you’re creating,” Trapp says. “Culture is created at the top and cascades downward. What values and ethics do you have as a business owner that can make employees passionately want to be a part of that culture?”

Investing in them. ”Investing in your people raises their performance and strengthens their commitment, but it means far more than giving them raises,” Davis says. “It’s about making them feel like a part of your family, including giving them compassion and understanding when they need it most. Employees in turn embrace that kind of culture and own it. That’s what you want — a self-perpetuating work culture where everyone feels cared for and important.”

Recognizing them. “Keeping people happy and encouraging them to want to stay isn’t magic,” Trapp says. “Just as important as recruiting the right talent, business owners and leaders need to make the culture attractive and sustainable in order to retain the right talent. Retaining is about recognizing and celebrating, showing gratitude and appreciation. Recognizing employees for exceptional work, and giving them a cash bonus or special trip, is a key element toward retaining them.”

“A happy employee who’s engaged and connected, who wants to be there every day, makes the workplace a better place and a stronger business,” Davis says.

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – What Will My Widow’s Benefit Be?

Dear Rusty: My husband just started receiving Social Security Disability in June. He is diagnosed with a terminal disease that likely he will rapidly succumb to. He will be 65 in Oct 2019. I turned 62 July 2019. I was his caregiver when he was at death’s door and was pulled back to 75% full life on immunotherapy. We see him starting to go downhill again; it creeps, then starts moving rapidly with the symptoms. I will be the caregiver again for round 2 that has no brakes to stop it this time - no do over. After he passes, when does the disability SS amount stop and what amount starts coming to me in my name as his widow, at my age? Signed: Survivor under age 65

Dear Survivor: Please know that you have my sympathy for what you and your husband are going through. Let me at least try to ease your anxiety by answering your Social Security questions.

Your husband's disability benefit will cease in the month he passes. Although, depending upon the date, he may receive a disability payment for the month he passes (it would be received the following month), that payment, if received, will need to be returned to Social Security (SS). Social Security will only pay up to the last full month your husband is alive. The funeral home is supposed to notify Social Security of your husband's passing, but you should verify that they will be doing that. Your benefit as your husband's survivor will be based upon the SS disability amount your husband was receiving at his death.

Although your survivor benefit will be based upon the amount your husband was receiving, if you take it before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) the survivor benefit will be reduced. Your full retirement age for the widow's benefit is 66 plus 2 months (versus your normal FRA of 66 1/2). You have a choice to take the reduced survivor benefit early (before your FRA), or wait until your FRA to claim the full amount your husband was collecting at his death. If you claim your widow’s benefit early, the reduction will be about 4.75% for each year earlier than your FRA that you claim it. Your survivor benefit reaches maximum at your widow's FRA. You must apply for your widow's benefit in person with Social Security and you should contact your local office by phone first to make an appointment. You can easily find your local SS office contact information at this link: www.ssa.gov/locator.

Taken at age 62, the survivor benefit will be reduced by about 20%. When to claim your survivor benefit might be influenced by whether you are eligible for Social Security benefits from your own lifetime work record. If you are eligible for your own benefit, you should look at what your own benefit will be at age 70. If it will be more than your survivor benefit, you should make sure to file a "restricted application" for survivor benefits to allow your own benefit to continue to grow. It will grow until you are 70, at which time you would switch from the lower survivor benefit to your own (you get whichever benefit is higher). Your decision on when to claim the survivor benefit might also be influenced by your plans for working. Since you have not yet reached your normal full retirement age (66 + 6 months), any Social Security benefit you claim before that (including your survivor benefit) will be subject to Social Security's earnings test. The "earnings limit" for 2019 is $17,640 (changes annually) and if you exceed that, Social Security will take back benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. The earnings limit will be in effect until you reach your normal full retirement age, at which point it goes away. Once again, you have my sympathy for the difficulties you are experiencing, but fortunately your Social Security widow’s benefit will be available to you when your husband passes.

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Protect your winter landscape from hungry wildlife

By Melinda Myers

There’s no doubt that managing critters in the landscape can be a challenge especially as food supplies start to dwindle or you change out your garden for the winter season. If you are battling with rabbits, deer, groundhogs or other wildlife, don't let down your guard as the growing season begins to wind down.

Be proactive. Start before they get into the habit of dining on your landscape. It is easier to keep them away than break the dining habit.

Fence them out. Fencing is the best defense against most wildlife. A four feet tall fence around a small garden will keep out rabbits. Secure the bottom tight to the ground or bury it several inches to prevent rabbits and voles from crawling underneath. Or fold the bottom of the fence outward, making sure it’s tight to the ground. Animals tend not to crawl under when the bottom skirt faces away from the garden.

Go deeper, at least 12 to 18 inches, if you are trying to discourage woodchucks. And make sure the gate is secure. Many hungry animals have found their way into the garden through openings around and under the gate.

A five-foot fence around small garden areas can help safeguard your plantings against hungry deer. Some gardeners report success surrounding their garden with fishing line mounted on posts at one- and three-foot heights.

Break out the repellents. Homemade and commercial repellents can be used. Apply before the animals start feeding and reapply as directed. Consider using a natural repellent that’s safe for people and wildlife.

Scare ‘em away. Blow up owls, clanging pans, rubber snakes, slivers of deodorant soap, handfuls of human hair and noise makers are scare tactics that have been used by gardeners for years. Consider your environment when selecting a tactic. Urban animals are used to the sound and smell of people. Alternate scare tactics for more effective control. The animals won't be afraid of a snake that hasn't moved in weeks.

Combine tactics. Use a mix of fencing, scare tactics and repellents. Keep monitoring for damage. If there are enough animals and they are hungry, they will eat just about anything.

Don’t forget about nature. Welcome hawks and fox into your landscape. Using less pesticides and tolerating some critters, their food source, will encourage them to visit your yard. These natural pest controllers help keep the garden-munching critters under control.

And most importantly, don't give up. A bit of persistence, variety and adaptability is the key to success. Investing some time now will not only deter existing critters from dining in your landscape, but will also reduce the risk of animals moving in next season.

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Your business has 99 problems and communication is all of them

Businesses face a multitude of vexing situations every day.

Sometimes these are quickly remedied, such as a missed phone call that must be rescheduled, or an unhappy customer who needs to be soothed.

At other times, there’s a total breakdown and turmoil erupts, as in the recent GM strike where 50,000 auto workers walked out, venting their anger over a number of decisions by the company.

But, small or large, of minor importance or potentially ruinous, every cause for concern that a business encounters originates from the same place.

“All problems are communication problems,” says Bill Higgs (culturecodechampionspodcast.com), an authority on corporate culture and author of the upcoming book Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed in Your Business.

“How well you communicate is tied to your organization’s culture, which raises the question: What is your current culture costing you?”

Higgs says it’s common in the business world to be in a situation where someone asks or tells you to do something, you think you understand what they want, but when it’s done, it’s not right.

“When you both review what happened, you realize there was a communication breakdown at the outset,” he says.

Higgs recommends a few ways businesses can improve communications – and in the process avoid everything from minor mishaps to major disputes:

Seek and value input from everyone. A lot of rework could be avoided if leaders in an organization would empower their people to speak up if they see a problem, Higgs says. “Often, people remain silent even when they see something that does not seem right,” he says. “Why is that? I believe these problems happen because a person might notice something seems wrong, but he or she isn’t comfortable challenging someone who they see as more expert on the subject than them or who has more authority.” That’s why it’s important to foster an organization-wide culture where people feel comfortable challenging things, no matter who they are or who they are challenging. That way you increase the odds that things will be done right the first time.

Cross-train people so they better understand what others do. When employees have no idea about their co-workers’ areas of expertise, work slows down, as though everyone on the team is speaking a different language. “You want to get your people to broaden their knowledge and expand the scope of what they normally do in their own jobs,” Higgs says. As people learn more, they become more efficient and, for example, could handle questions from a vendor without bringing in other members of the team, saving everyone’s time. Higgs says cross-training often can take place when people have downtime, but if that’s not possible, it may be necessary to schedule time to make it happen.

Bust silos. Many organizations group people together by function. Marketing people work in the marketing department, finance people in the finance department, and so forth. Departments also are often separated physically. “This can create a number of problems and inefficiencies,” Higgs says. “For example, it can lead to lots of rework because silos are not conducive to communication.” Other problems silos cause include competition rather than collaboration among teams, and finger-pointing and blame-shifting when things go awry. He suggests that, instead of separating people by their functions, group them together in teams that are working on the same projects.

“Don’t let your people shut themselves off in their offices or workspaces, and don’t create such a hierarchy that people can communicate only through pre-approved channels,” Higgs says. “Effective teamwork requires good communication – and lots of it.”

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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.”

Farm grown furniture

Need a new set of chairs or a table or even a lamp. Don’t buy them. Don’t build them. Grow them in your back yard. That’s what Gavin and Alice Munro of Derbyshire, England do; they harvest “shape as they grow” pieces of furniture for a living. Gavin tells the Reuters News Agency that they are currently nurturing a crop of 250 chairs, 100 lamps and 50 tables.

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No good deed goes unrewarded

It started out as a joke, but it ended up as a gesture of kindness when 24-year-old Carson King managed to get his poster on TV during an Iowa State football game. It asked viewers to use their Venmo digital payment apps to send him beer money and they did just that. It wasn’t long before the “unexpected” happened and he found that $400 had been deposited into his account. The sum quickly grew to $20,000. In the meantime, King said he had a change of heart. Instead of beer he would donate his newfound wealth to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. His request for beer money went viral and days later, the New York Post reported that the amount of King’s contribution had risen to over a million dollars and counting -- a worthy donation for the children’s hospital. The Busch Brewery took care of King for his generosity; they’re providing him with a year’s worth of beer.

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‘Dirty Birds’

Illinois state representative Jaime Andrade of Chicago was on a crusade. It was him against the pigeons that have been taking over what commuters have nicknamed the “pigeon poop” elevated train station. He was interviewed recently by a reporter from a local TV news station. His appeal for government funds to deal with the dirty birds was rudely interrupted when one of them did a fly over, dropping its droppings on his head. Andrade excused himself so that he could clean up, commenting: "That's what happens to my constituents. They get [expletive deleted] on all time."

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Improving democracy

The majority of Americans today say they believe living in a democracy is crucial but also think democracy in the United States is currently weak. A report from the Center for High Impact Philosophy (CHIP) at the University of Pennsylvania suggests two ways for people to help: One, increase civic engagement, which includes anything from donating to a charity to running for office. The second is to reinvigorate local media, not only larger newspapers and television stations that cover the area but also hyperlocal websites and other communication outlets that tell a community’s stories. “Our goal,” said Katherina M. Rosqueta, CHIP’s executive director, “is to help people turn their concern, good intentions, and charitable dollars into positive social change.”

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Guaranteed income

The mayor’s office in Stockton, Calif., launched a pilot program that gives $500 debit cards, funded by grants, to 125 randomly selected citizens as part of research on “guaranteed income” spending. The research is being conducted by two professors of social work, Amy Castro Baker of the University of Pennsylvania and Stacia Martin-West of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “The idea behind guaranteed income is really based on the thought that people are experts of their own lives and they know best where they can leverage that money to help smooth income volatility and help their family achieve upward mobility,” Castro Baker said. “The idea is, ‘What would happen if we gave people cash and let them match that benefit to their needs, which change and flux over the course of the year? What potential would be unleashed in families and communities if they had a modest cushion to rely on instead of having to take on additional jobs or shifts that are detrimental to their health?’”

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Gun violence

Gun violence has taken a particularly hard toll on black boys. A sociological study centered on an all-boys high school in a high-poverty area of Philadelphia, where multiple students had been lost to gun violence, revealed that the school’s students and staff were ill-equipped to manage the emotional toll. The work, conducted by Nora Gross, a doctoral student in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, highlights the ways in which the misunderstanding of black boys’ pain can play out, oftentimes leading to interventions that may not be helpful.

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Americans & the Constitution

The American public knows more about the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers than in the recent past, according to the 2019 Constitution Day Civics Survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. The survey found that 39% of American adults correctly named the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. That is the highest in five years; last year 32% could do the same. “While this marks an improvement, the overall results remain dismal,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the APPC. “A quarter of U.S. adults can name only one of the three branches of government and more than a fifth can’t name any. The resilience of our system of government is best protected by an informed citizenry. And civics education and attention to news increase that likelihood.”

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Med school & minorities

Black, Hispanic and American Indian students remain underrepresented in medical schools despite decade-long efforts to increase physician diversity. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine found that, while absolute numbers of historically-underrepresented medical students have increased, the rate of increase is slower than their age-matched counterparts. “In light of the evidence that physicians from underrepresented backgrounds are more likely to serve populations with significant health disparities and that a diverse physician workforce improves health care for all, the need for representation is an evidence-based imperative,” said researcher Lanair Amaad Lett.

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Hiring the wrong people? Maybe you’re asking them the wrong questions

A company’s intention in a job interview is to find the person who best fits a particular position. But recent research has shown that quite often, the candidate who was hired failed, and usually their exit was related to attitude issues that weren’t revealed in the interview.

That raises the question: Are interviewers asking the wrong questions — and consequently hiring the wrong people? Alex Zlatin, CEO of Maxim Software Systems (alexzlatin.com), says some traditional styles of interviewing are outdated, thus wasting time and resources while letting better candidates slip away.

“It still astounds me to meet HR professionals who lack the basic skills of interviewing,” says Zlatin, author of the book Responsible Dental Ownership. “In 2019, ‘tell me about yourself’ is still a way to start an interview, and that’s absurd. The only thing you get is people who describe the outline of their resume, which you already know.

“You want to get to know the candidate’s personality in the interview. In a normal setting, you would have about one hour to do this. But some traditional interview practices waste this precious time, and you can miss out on great talent and instead hire a mediocre one.”

Zlatin offers the following interview approaches to help HR leaders, recruiters and executives find the right candidate:

Make it a two-way conversation. Zlatin says traditional interviewing focuses too much on the candidate’s skills and experience rather than on their motivation, problem-solving ability, and willingness to collaborate. Thus, he suggests configuring the interview in a non-traditional, informal way to gain insight into the candidate’s personality. “Rather than make most of the interview a rigid, constant question-and-answer format that can be limiting to both sides, have a two-way conversation and invite them to ask plenty of questions,” Zlatin says.

Flip their resume upside down. “Surprise them by going outside the box and asking them something about themselves that isn’t on their resume or in their cover letter,” Zlatin says. “See how creatively they think and whether they stay calm. You want to see how a candidate thinks on their feet — a trait all companies value.”

Ask open-ended questions. Can this candidate make a difference in your company? Zlatin says answering that question should be a big aim of the interview. “Ask questions that allude to how they made a difference in certain situations at their past company,” Zlatin says. “Then present a hypothetical situation and ask how they would respond.”

Don’t ask cliched questions. Zlatin says some traditional interview questions only lead to candidates telling interviewers what the candidate thinks the company wants to hear. “Interviewers should stop asking pointless questions like, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ “ Zlatin says. Or, ‘Why do you want to work for this company?’ Candidates rehearse these answers, and many of them are similar, so that doesn’t allow them to stand apart.”

Learn from the candidate’s questions. The questions candidates ask can indicate how deeply they’ve studied the company and how interested they really are. “A good candidate uses questions to learn about the role, the company, and the boss to assess whether it’s the right job for them,” Zlatin says.

Don’t take copious notes. Zlatin says the tendency by interviewers to write down the candidate’s answers and other observations is “a huge obstacle to building a solid two-way conversation because it removes the crucial element of eye contact.”

“An effectively done interview allows the employer to get both an in-depth and big-picture look at a candidate,” Zlatin says. “Judging whether they might fit starts with giving them more room to express in the interview.”

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Is your ‘inner critic’ undermining your career? 5 ways to boost your confidence

The workplace, like the playing field in sports, is packed with competition — often against oneself. It demands being at your best, reaching and exceeding goals, working hard to master all aspects of a position, and proving you’re capable of taking on more.

Someone might have all the requisite skills to succeed, but they also might become their own biggest obstacle when self-criticism gets in the way, corporate observers say. Confidence becomes a problem when difficult experiences at work, such as making mistakes or being passed over for an opportunity, cause us to question ourselves and create negative thoughts.

To produce positive thoughts and smooth the path toward success, one needs to create a mindset based on processes that are purposeful, says Grant Parr (www.gameperformance.com), a mental sports performance coach and author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown.

“The mind can get lonely and focus on negative things,” says Parr. “We risk giving our attention to thoughts that can eat away at us, destroy our confidence, and take us out of our rhythm.

“We begin to listen to a cartoon version of the devil who sits on one shoulder and whispers in our ear. So we need to develop ways to listen to that other voice within us, that angel on the opposite shoulder, to quiet the inner critic.”

Parr suggests a five-step process to develop a more positive mindset and boost your confidence in the workplace:

Focus on winning in the present. Dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about what comes next can create self-doubt. Staying present is key and requires resiliency, which leans on past training and the skills that led to achievements. Parr likens a resilient worker with athletes such as a placekicker, who shakes off a missed field goal and comes back to make the game-winner. “The workplace setting doesn’t wait for you to get over things,” Parr says. “And rather than fearing making more mistakes, you must ask yourself, ‘What’s important now?’ To be the best you can be in the current moment, you have to focus all of your energy on the present and embrace it.”

Breathe to relax and refocus. “Refocusing always starts with your breath,” Parr says. “It casts out distractions and allows you to be yourself. Focusing on your breathing reminds you that this is something you can control, and in turn you can control your thoughts. Ultimately, you’re training your subconscious mind how to use breath to settle you.”

Meditate. “Meditation builds off your controlled, sustained breathing,” Parr says, “and it becomes a practice to develop clarity and create a calm space in the mind. Meditation brings control and harnesses much of the untapped power of the mind. It aligns your mind, body, and spirit.”

Visualize. To reach peak performance, Parr says, people must be able to see themselves performing well. “The more precisely you can see yourself in action, the more you are able to adjust and control that image, change its details, and guide its outcome,” Parr says. “Visualization also entails tapping into an emotion, feeling the confidence of the moment that you see yourself making happen.”

Engage in self-talk. “Learn to become your own best motivator,” Parr says. “You can do this through the power of positive language directed at the self. We want to develop a language that creates purposeful optimism. Find specific language that can give voice to your feelings and enhance your internal drive.”

“Training the mind to generate confidence, qualm fear and spark joy empowers someone to be better than their negative side thought they could be,” Parr says.

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Medal of Honor: Army Tech. 5th Grade Harold A. Garman

By SHANNON COLLINS

As a combat medic in World War II, Army Technician 5th Grade Harold A. Garman dove into the Seine River in France to pull a boat of wounded soldiers to safety amid enemy machine-gun fire.

Garman joined the Army in Albion, Illinois, in 1942. By Aug. 25, 1944, he was a private serving as a medic in Company B, 5th Medical Battalion, 5th Infantry Division in Montereau, France. For his actions that day, he received the Medal of Honor on March 29, 1945.

According to Garman's Medal of Honor citation, the enemy opened fire with a machine gun on a boatload of wounded soldiers just as the boat reached the middle of the Seine. The men in the boat jumped into the water — except for one, who was too badly wounded.

Two of those in the water couldn't swim because of their wounds, so they clung to the sides of the boat. When Garman saw the wounded soldiers were in extreme danger, he jumped into the river and towed the boat to safety as the Germans continued to fire.

"This soldier's heroism not only saved the lives of the three patients, but so inspired his comrades that additional boats were immediately procured and the evacuation of the wounded resumed," the citation continued.

Garman died at age 74 on Aug, 13, 1992, and is buried in Albion.

Did You Know?

Combat medics were the first to answer the call for aid during the war. Their main objective was to help the wounded as quickly as possible and move the wounded away from the front lines. Medics would often come under fire as they evaluated the patient, applied a tourniquet, administered morphine for pain, and cleaned wounds. When that happened, the medics would drag the patient to safety.

It's estimated that 830,000 medic cards were distributed to personnel throughout World War II. Physicians, dentists, nurses and combat medics, such as Garman, cared for about 14 million patients during that time.

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Are you a visionary? 6 traits every strong vision shares

There’s a reason many of the most successful businesses in America – Apple, Amazon and others – had a visionary leader behind them, propelling them to achieve their goals at the highest level.

“A vision pushes people not just to do more, but to do more than they think they are capable of,” says Oleg Konovalov (www.olegkonovalov.com), a global thought leader and consultant who has worked with Fortune 500 companies and is author of the new book Leaderology.

Yet, even though everyone does a lot of talking about the importance of vision, he says, it’s not easy to fully grasp just what it is.

“I’ve discussed vision with CEOs of big companies, serial entrepreneurs, creators of unique software, and many others,” Konovalov says. “Every single person with whom I have spoken viewed vision differently. But in the course of all these discussions I discovered that there were some properties of a strong vision that remained constant.”

Vision reflects the highest purpose of leadership. A leader’s vision should include actual benefits for those affected by the vision, such as employees, customers, the leaders themselves, employees’ families and society at large. “A main stimulus of vision is people and the care of their needs,” he says. “If a vision is not formed around people and their needs, then it is not vision but personal ambition.”

Vision doesn’t lead to dead ends. A vision is always scalable and should show multiple potentials for expansion, Konovalov says. “But to be able to scale the vision you should maintain an appropriate cognitive distance from it,” he says. “This allows you to see the broader picture while keeping the important details in sight. Stand too close and you see the details, but lose the whole picture. Stand too far away and you lose the important details from which the vision is created.”

Vision reveals a path to success. As you pursue your vision, watch for the signs and clues that will help lead you to success. “They will be easy to follow if the vision is strong,” Konovalov says. “Those signs are always around in different forms – words of encouragement, expressions of real need from strangers, and answers to critical questions coming from unexpected perspectives.” Paying attention to such signs helps people spot opportunities while crafting the most effective path to success, he says.

Vision means taking on responsibility. If you’re the person with a vision, you are taking on a responsibility that will have an impact on people’s lives. “And the greater the vision is, the greater the responsibility,” Konovalov says. “But this huge responsibility also comes with incredible opportunities, the kind of opportunities available only to pioneers. It may be intimidating to take on all that responsibility, but it will reward you in return.”

Vision should be easy to understand. “Vision involves elegant thinking about complicated things,” Konovalov says. But that doesn’t mean the vision itself should be so complex that everyone is left puzzling over what you’re saying. Just the opposite. “Great vision is genuinely easy to understand,” he says. “The simpler the vision is in its core meaning, the easier it can be shared with employees, customers, and partners.”

Vision generates excitement. A person with a vision isn’t nonchalant about it. Strong vision is always accompanied by excitement. “Actually, vision is a strong emotion itself,” Konovalov says. “If someone tells you about his great vision and he sounds ho-hum about it, then most likely he is lying to himself and others. Such a person might have a goal, but they don’t have a vision.”

Vision is a great leadership ability and success instrument, Konovalov says.

“Vision defines and explains why and where effort should be focused,” he says. “And while vision is normally created by a single person, it quickly becomes the property of many, and that’s important.

“No one can accomplish something great on his or her own. Vision is what attracts the people needed to take what you want to accomplish and turn it into a reality.”

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Social Security Matters

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor

Association of Mature American Citizens

Ask Rusty – Working at 65, So What About Medicare?

Dear Rusty: My husband turns 65 in December of this year, but he is employed and will be on his employer's health insurance at least through this school year (May 2020). How should we inform Medicare of this situation and must we let Medicare know that he is presently insured by BCBS? When must we let Medicare know about these details? I know there is a certain window when no health questions are asked but what is that time frame? If my husband quits teaching in May, when does he let Medicare know he wants to start Part A and B in June 2020 ? Is there only open enrollment in the 3-month window of his birthday? Signed: Confused by Medicare

Dear Confused: If your husband has creditable healthcare coverage from his employer, he need not enroll in Medicare when he turns 65. His creditable employer coverage will exempt him from a late enrollment penalty when he enrolls in Medicare Part B (or D) later (“creditable” coverage is a group plan with at least 20 participants). When his employer coverage ends he will enter a Special Enrollment Period (SEP) which will last for 8 months from the date his employer coverage ends. As long as he enrolls in Medicare Part B before his SEP expires, your husband will not incur a late enrollment penalty. To sign up for Part B shortly before his employer coverage ends or during the 8 months after his employer ends, he should complete and submit an Application for Enrollment in Part B (CMS-40B) and a Request for Employment Information (CMS-L564), both of which can be found at this website: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/CMS-Forms/CMS-Forms/CMS-Forms-List.html.

Your husband may want to enroll in Part B prior to his employment coverage ending in order to avoid a lapse in healthcare coverage (it usually takes a couple months for Medicare Part B to become effective). Note that unless your husband is contributing to a Health Savings Account (HSA), he may wish to enroll in Medicare Part A at age 65. Medicare Part A (hospitalization coverage) is free if your husband is also eligible for Social Security, and he will need to be enrolled in Part A in order to enroll in Part B (doctors and outpatient services) and Part D (prescription drug coverage), both of which have a premium associated with them. He will also need to be enrolled in Part A to collect Social Security after age 65.

If your husband is already collecting Social Security when he turns 65, he will be automatically enrolled in both Part A and Part B, but he can, if desired, decline Part B until his employer coverage ends. Please also note that if your husband wishes Part D prescription drug coverage (provided by private insurance carriers) he must enroll in a plan within 63 days of his existing employer drug coverage ending to avoid a Part D late enrollment penalty. After age 65, one cannot go more than 63 days without creditable prescription drug coverage without incurring a late enrollment penalty for enrolling in a Part D plan later.

For your awareness, if your husband does not enroll in Medicare before his SEP expires, he will not be able to enroll again until the General Enrollment Period (GEP) the following year (the GEP runs from January through March of each year, for coverage to start on July 1 of that year). I suggest your husband enrolls in Medicare a couple months before his employment ends (to avoid a lapse in coverage), but in any case he should not miss enrolling during the special enrollment period, because the late enrollment penalties are significant and are recurring (he’ll pay the premium penalty for the rest of his life).

Finally, there is no “window” for qualifying medical questions to be asked when enrolling in Medicare; everyone who is eligible by virtue of paying FICA payroll taxes, or via a spouse who did so, is covered regardless of their current health.

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Pansies Add Color and Interest to Every Occasion

By MELINDA MYERS

Pick a few pansy flowers and add a smile to any occasion. No matter where you live, pansies provide color, and in some cases, fragrance to the garden and containers during the cooler months of the year.

Pick a few flowers and freeze them in ice cube trays to serve in your favorite beverage. Or float them on top of your favorite seasonal punch. They will brighten any occasion, especially when snow is in the forecast.

Set a few flowers on a bed of greens for unique flavor and added color. Or garnish your entrée. Just be sure to tell your guests the flowers are edible. Otherwise you will end up with a pile of pansies at the edge of each plate.

Decorate cookies and cakes to make any dessert extra special. The cheerful flowers will generate happy thoughts and for some of us, a way to enjoy the last of this season’s garden.

Make crystallized sugar pansies. Beat an egg white until it is foaming. Add water as needed to make the glaze easier to spread. Paint each blossom then sprinkle with sugar.

Only use pansies and other edible flowers that have not been treated with pesticides. Removing the reproductive parts in the center of the flower helps eliminate some of the bitter flavor.

Complete the setting with a pumpkin planter. Cut a hole in the top of the planter just large enough for the pot of pansies to fit through. Punch a couple drainage holes in the bottom and set your pansy plant inside. Place your pumpkin planter on a decorative plate to protect your tabletop.

Purchase a few extra pansies and create a special planter to show your appreciation to the teachers in your life.

You’ll need 2 yardsticks, a 4” x 4” wooden planter box, a potted pansy and saucer that will fit inside the planter box. Gather your glue gun and glue sticks, sandpaper and a hobby knife to create your gift.

Cut the yardsticks into 4” lengths and sand the cut edges smooth. Glue the yardstick pieces vertically and next to each other onto all four sides of the planter. Set the saucer in the bottom of the planter box and place the potted pansy on top of it.

Your project is complete and sure to make the teacher’s day while creating a fun memory with the youngsters in your life.

Pansies can add a fun twist to any celebration, appreciation gift or meal. So, get creative and make your next occasion stand out with the pansy flower.

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. DEP