May 31, 2017

The Portland Dilemma: How Would I React?

A few days ago two men were stabbed to death and another barely escaped the same fate on a light rail train in Portland. Their crime? Trying to stop a man from verbally harassing two young women with his anti-Muslim ravings. 

The deaths of the two men and the injuries suffered by the third are horrific reminders of the rage and anger that is both too visible and commonplace. Was this racist hate and religious stereotyping always there? Sure. But, now, it seems there is real danger that can instantly erupt with fatal consequences seemingly anywhere. 

For several days after the attacks I struggled with the question: What would I have done? Would I have stepped in or waited for someone else? Would I have dialed 911 or hit the emergency stop button to attract official attention? Would I have assumed that his hate would stay verbal and not escalate into physical danger for the young women? Would I have risked my life?

These questions prompted me to think about personal risk and public involvement. Betty and I occasionally take the light rail train from near our home to downtown Phoenix, so the circumstances were quite relatable. What flashes through one's mind in the few seconds you have to make a decision? Does the instinct to protect kick into gear? Does self preservation dominate?

I can only try to answer for me, but I think family concerns would be among my first thoughts. The effect of my serious injury or death upon my family members would be devastating. My loss in such a random and sudden way would be hard to comprehend by all those I love. Would they respond with hate against the person and the situation that triggered this outcome? Would they fall back on their faith and forgive? Would my split second decision make their future more unsure and unhappy?

Most bullies will bluster and verbally try to intimidate, but usually back down from someone else's presence. A punch to the face, maybe a few kicks, certainly words that try to provoke would occur before that person slinked off to a corner. However, as Portland proves, that is not always true. If the bully has a backstory that includes hate group involvement, criminal behavior, drug use, or mental struggles, the confrontation can quickly spin out of control. Of course, all that would be unknown before confronting the hater.

Would instinct simply kick in..the instinct that human beings seem to have to protect others? The response of strangers after a natural disaster, the stories of those who risked everything to protect others during wars, the rush of bystanders to help someone who has fallen or may be trapped in a car after a crash....all speak to something ingrained in us. Would I try to help because I believe in God, because my religious beliefs encourage such actions? That sounds good, but I am not sure such thoughts would be part of my final decision.

Ultimately, I think my involvement would be a gut reaction to seeing something so wrong and wanting it to stop. All the careful weighing of consequences and outcomes, personal costs and pain, and the effect on family, would not be considered. There is no way of knowing what the three men in Portland were thinking when they stepped up to help. But, I'd like to believe they simply saw evil and were compelled to help.

I'd like to think I would have the strength to do the same, but none of us will really know unless we are faced with such a serious choice. And that is what has made the Portland murders so hard to put behind me.

May 29, 2017

The 5 Skills Grandparents Need: Part Two

A week or so ago, 5 Skills Every Grandparent Needs listed two of the most important qualities you need if you are blessed with grandkids.  I made the point that how we raised our own kids is not always the best model for dealing with our child's child. A different skill set is often needed. 

Here is part two of that post, with the three additional attributes I suggest you have at your disposal. As always, I know this list isn't complete. If you are raising a grandchild, the five skills noted in this and the earlier post need to be expanded one hundred fold. You are a parent who also must bring some of the unconditional love of a grandparent to the child's life.  Or, you may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, making each visit that much more precious. 

I know from my own experiences that these five traits are vital. As always. you are encouraged to add something you have found to be very important in the life of a child.

1) Create Memories.   In a world of video games, smartphones, texting, and TV streaming, grandparents have to take the lead in breaking through the electronic chatter to create powerful, lasting memories. I believe a child hungers for authentic experiences that involve sight, smell, and touch, things sometimes lacking in their day-to-day life. 

Something as simple as time spent in a park, pushing him on a swing, helping her down a slide, shooting baskets while spelling H-O-R-S-E, sharing a simple lunch, describing cloud formations as animals and people, all build a child's imagination. Looking at old photographs together provides a sense of how a family is connected to its past. Vividly demonstrating your willingness to invest time and attention demonstrates love and caring. 

2) Listen and provide emotional support. Raising children is a constant process of events: showing love, corrections, teaching, discipline, denying, allowing, and applying limits. Being a parent means not always pleasing your child in the moment. The choices you make are essential to his or her well being, though that doesn't make them easy.

A grandparent can play a different role. As the Part One blog post noted, a grandparent  cannot undermine a parent's authority. If you disagree with something, it is never appropriate to bring it up with the child present. But, that leaves you free to be the attentive listener that we all crave. You are able to focus all of your attention on the questions or concerns your grandchild expresses. You provide a non-judgemental environment that allows him or her to get an adult's attention and reaction. 

3) Expose the grandchild to something that brings you joy. You have found things that make you happy. You have a hobby, an interest, a passion...a thing that excites and pleases you. It could be photography, cooking, woodworking, knitting, card games, doesn't really matter what it is.

What you can do is show your grandchild something that he or she has likely not experienced yet: the sense of real joy that comes from doing something you like. The goal is not to convince him that your passion should be his. She might not particularly like what you show her. What is important is your display of involvement with something. You have the ability to demonstrate what commitment looks like. You are showing the power of finding satisfaction in an activity that you engage in simply for the fun of doing so. 

Being the granddad to three inquisitive, precious young lives has been continuing source of satisfaction. I will be eternally grateful that I live so close and can be so much a part of their lives. 

May 26, 2017

Retirement and Insurance: Do We Need It?

When I retire do I need insurance is a question that I am asked with some regularity.  Well, that should be simple. You have retired. Your need for anything other than Medicare, auto, home or other health insurance is over, right?

Not so fast. 

There are at least five different insurance products that may be important to your retirement financial planning. Let's take a look at each one:

Medicare Supplemental Insurance

Medicare is a tremendous health insurance program for those 65 and older.  It is a blessing after years of dealing with the complicated mess that is the American health insurance system. Even so, you must be aware that Medicare does not cover some important expenses. The Original version usually covers only 80% of your expenses. While that seems quite generous, an expensive hospital stay or operation could means you are responsible for thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars in costs. Medicare does not pay for most drugs. It doesn't cover long term care. 

To help with these issues you need to add supplemental insurance to the monthly package of Part A and Part B. A supplemental policy can cover the 20% that Medicare does not. It can provide extra services that are not part of Medicare. Another type of coverage, Part D, helps with prescription drug expenses. 

Medicare Explained is a post from a few years ago that will give a quick overview. 

Life Insurance

This category of insurance seems simple to answer. If you are retired, any children are raised and gone, and you have investments, a pension, IRA, Social Security, or other form of income, what possible need would you have for insurance if you die unexpectedly? 

For many of us, the answer is none. However, there are situations when owning a life insurance policy after retirement is prudent. Caring for a disabled child, protecting your family while you are still working, as part of an estate, or funding a charitable legacy after your death are a few of the reasons why maintaining life insurance after retirement may be wise. 

CNBC has an overview of these possibilities at this web address: When it makes sense for retirees to have life insurance 

Long term Care Insurance

This is the type of insurance that generates the most email questions to this blog. It is also the hardest to give a satisfactory answer to. An insurance product that provides a fixed, monthly sum to help cover the rapidly rising cost of long term care seems as if it should be part of of our financial planning. Standard Medicare and supplemental insurance policies provide only limited help. With expenses as high as $10,000 a month, it would be easy to have a healthy nest egg wiped out rather quickly. 

Unfortunately, the companies that provide this type of coverage have discovered the problem: costs are so high and surging so quickly that these policies quickly become serious cash drains. Several companies that once sold LTC policies no longer offer them. Customers who have paid premiums for years suddenly are left with no coverage and all that premium money gone. Or, if the insurance company doesn't pull the plug, it may raise the premiums to the point of unaffordability. A customer who stops paying is without coverage and loses all the money spent up to that point. 

The final decision is a very personal one, based on your financial resources and other options or concerns. For a good review of the pros and cons of LTC insurance read this article: LTC insurance: is it worth it?

Pre-need (funeral) Insurance

To protect family members from the costs associated with your passing, a specialized type of insurance is available that pays for funeral and burial expenses, the cost of a plot, and a service. Social Security does provide a small amount of money upon your death, but not even enough to cover a simple cremation.

Often sold by an individual funeral home, these policies come with their own supporters and detractors. Like any insurance product, the delivery of what you have paid for depends on the viability of the company that sold it to you. With the average funeral costing between $7,000 and $10,000 (and easily double that for a top of the line casket plus the cost of the actual burial plot), is this type of insurance worth the cost? 

For a clear-eyed overview of this type of insurance click here: Do I need Pre-Need Insurance?

Travel Insurance

This is a type of insurance most of us probably don't consider. Maybe trip cancellation coverage makes sense when booking an expensive cruise or European jaunt. After all, we can't predict an illness or change in circumstances that make taking that trip a real hardship. Not surprisingly, though, even these straightforward policies have a fair number of exclusions and small print.

But, once you leave for the trip of a lifetime, you are focused on the memories and fun ahead, not the problems. But, what if you become ill overseas, find yourself needing a medical evacuation, face 2 weeks without your is not a risk-free adventure.

Someone will be happy to sell you an insurance policy that covers most of those travel-based disasters. But, should you?  Read Do I need senior travel insurance?  to help you decide before that cruise down the Danube River if such a policy is worth it to you.

Insurance is not the most pleasant subject to consider at any age. After all, it's purpose is to help you make your life right again after a major catastrophe. After retirement, it can take on greater importance. Without income to help you rebuild your financial house, having the proper insurance can become the difference between the continuation of a satisfying retirement and financial devastation. 

May 22, 2017

5 Skills Every Grandparent Needs: Part One

There are an estimated 70 million Americans who claim the title of "grandparent." For those of us lucky enough to have our lives blessed with grandkids, skills that are needed may seem rather obvious. After all, we raised at least one child to have a grandchild (basic biology). So, what skills might we have missed in the Grandparents Handbook?

It is not so much that certain skills are missing, but how they are used. The way we raised our own kids is not always the best model for dealing with our child's child. I have picked five that have the ability to make this experience a joy instead of a trial. Of course, there are probably another dozen (or more) skills that could be added to the list, but I had to draw the line somewhere!

This is part one of the "skills" post. To keep things from getting too long-winded, here are the first two skills. I believe these to be the most important. In a week I'll round out the project with the final three skills.  

1) You aren't the parent. This is first because it is the most important. Too many times I get emails from grandparents complaining about something they don't like about how a grandchild is being raised. It could be as insignificant as pickiness in food choices, or a preference for a light left on while he or she falls asleep. Maybe the "flaw" is judged to be more important, like the inability to share toys, or a tendency to prefer video games over reading.

Certainly, there should be rules within a grandparent's home. This is one way a child learns to compromise and that the world is more a more complex place. Behavior that damages property or risks injury must be prevented. 

But, it is very important that grandparents don't weaken the parents' authority. If you question some aspect of how the child is being raised, the issue should be discussed with the parent, but not in front of the child. Be prepared for your suggestion to be rejected. If that occurs, you have done your job: mentioned something you think is important or worth nothing.

At that point, your responsibility is complete. Accept what the parent decides and drop it. Forcing the issue any further runs the risk of alienating you from your adult child and the grandkids. 

2. Boundaries work both ways. Being available to help your grown children with their kids is one of the best parts of your new role. It might be babysitting while mom and dad have a night out or attend a meeting of some sort. There may be a time now and then where you can pitch in with some the constant shuttling of kids from one commitment to another.

Boundaries are important to keep one side of the equation from feeling taken advantage of. If there is  single parent situation you may have more requests for help. Even so, unless you are comfortable with taking on a bigger part of the load, it may be too easy for the parent to take advantage of your generosity. Too many requests for help or too many days spent babysitting may be too many. You have a life to lead that doesn't always involve a grandchild. Saying no becomes vital to your health and happiness.

Likewise, your daughter or son may not be overjoyed that you drop over, unannounced, time and time again, to offer help or advice. Even worse, if you have a key to their house and simply let yourself in, you are crossing a boundary that can cause real tensions and discord.

Agree or disagree with these first two points? I'd love your thoughts. 

May 19, 2017

A Late Night Knock

"The knocking on the heavy, gray, wooden door was insistent even though it was well after hours, long after anyone should expect an answer at this address. Except for one rather forlorn street light a block away and a dim bulb by the outside entrance, this corner of the city was growing dark and deserted. Deserted, with the exception of whoever was knocking.

In a small room, with blaring music and soundproof glass, the resolute pounding would never be heard. The outside world didn’t exit. Here was equipment, small, scratched, vinyl records in organized stacks, a dangling microphone, walls covered with faded photos and posters of musicians, some important, some not. Every few minutes a switch was thrown and a voice spoke a few words heard by hundreds or maybe thousands of invisible ears. Only the non-stop blinking buttons on the battered, black, desk phone and the glow of various lights and switches assured the voice that what he was saying was not going unnoticed.

Eventually, the person in that isolated room was required to leave the private space and wander down a short hall to look at a few meters and dials. The people who owned all the equipment and the government bureaucrats who held the power of continued operation required such a trip. The transmitting equipment was temperamental and needed to be checked every hour. A few scans of the various measurements, a hastily scribbled signature on an official looking form, and it was time to stride quickly back to the private space before silence replaced the blare of the latest pop hit.

But,  just at that moment, during those few seconds of the journey back down the corridor when the front entrance was only a few yards away and within hearing, the knocking began anew. The person stopped, judged how much longer the song on the turntable had to play, and headed toward the sound. Not thinking about any potential danger, the fact that he was totally alone in the building, or who might be asking for attention, he unlocked and swung open the door.

Before him stood a twelve year or thirteen year old girl, all alone, wearing shorts, a blouse, and an expectant expression. She glanced quickly at the person who answered the door, and asked ‘Is Bobby Sherman here? Can I see him?” Wanting to laugh, but realizing the young girl was serious, the person gave her the response she probably expected. “I’m sorry but he’s busy on the air. Can I give him a message for you?” Muttering her first name and a song request for a piece of music that was played every 60 minutes anyway, she was assured “Bobby” would be told of her desire. She smiled, walked away satisfied, and the front door again locked out reality.

It was at that moment I began to truly understand the power of radio, the power of the voice behind the microphone and the ability of the medium to communicate and motivate. For you see, the person who answered the door was  Bob Sherman, my on-air name at a top 40 station in Syracuse New York in 1969.

The Bobby Sherman the young listener wanted to meet was not me. He was the man who had released several hit records and was the star of his own television show, “Here Comes The Bride.” The fact that the same person was not likely to be the night DJ at a radio station in upstate New York never entered the youngster’s mind. Through the incredible power of radio to stimulate her imagination, it was completely logical and possible that her fantasy was inside that building.

As I closed the door and went back to the studio just in time to start the latest two minute hit single by the Grassroots, or Tommy Roe, it really hit me: I have the power to create a world for my listeners completely separate from reality. Any thought of ever changing career paths or finding a more stable industry was gone." 

Regular readers know I was a radio DJ for part of my career.  Staring at age 15 on weekends, I "played the hits" until my late 20's in several different towns. While no longer a job choice that inspires much reaction, being a disc jockey on rock and roll radio stations in the 1960's and 70's was a fairly big deal. 

Your picture was on the weekly list of top 40 hits. You were asked to introduce Aerosmith or Rod Stewart or Jethro Tull in front of thousands at a concert. Supermarkets wanted you to cut the ribbon that marked the opening of a new store. People wanted your picture or autograph. Everyone wanted to know if you knew Casey Kasem of American Top 40 fame.

At some point you change and realize playing records isn't a long term career choice. Being hounded by 15 year old girls is no longer fun. Aging DJ's are not in high demand. But, for a time..........

The Late Night Knock is a glimpse into a world that no longer exists, but was tremendously exciting and fulfilling for a young man just finding his stride in life. Some 45 years later my satisfying retirement is in large part based on that night and what it taught me about the power of imagination and words. The men and women who I met and worked alongside (Hi, Ron Wray!) will be part of me forever.

Tell me a story about something in your life that was a spark to something different or better (or worse!). What happened that opened a door to your future? We all have a story.

May 12, 2017

A Force That Powers the World

Most of us are junkies for this. We thrive on at least one fix a day to stay happy. We have had this need since we were toddlers. We are junkies for it. We like being told good things about who we are. We need the strokes. 

We need to be told someone else cares, or noticed us. This force is the power of affirmation. Receiving it from others feels good. It validates much of what we do. The word, affirmation, means to state that something is true. In this context it means to praise someone for something. It tells you someone else noticed something positive they want to bring to your attention. 

Affirmation fulfills our basic need to feel relevant, useful, and needed. So, if this is a deep seated need we all have then why is it too rare in most of our lives, most of the time? Good question. I've given this topic some extra thought since my small group from our church had a lively discussion on the subject. All of us admitted we are quick to receive compliments, but much slower to hand them out.

A while ago I was prompted by something I read that made a real impact. Frankly, I can't remember what I read or even what it said specifically. All I remember is something struck a chord. The gist of the piece was that during a normal day we all deal with dozens of people who come quickly in and out of our lives. 

The article was not referring to coworkers or family members. It was taking about the "invisible people" we interact with every day. In this case "invisible" isn't a value judgment. Rather, it is how we typically see (or don't see) these folks.

The clerk who rings you up at the hardware store or fast food restaurant, the delivery person who drops off a FedEx package, each is nameless and faceless to us. The waitress at dinner tells us her name but we forget it before she's even taken our order. The fellow who hands you a prescription at Walgreens doesn't really register (pardon the pun).

See where I'm heading? Every single day we have the opportunity to affirm something about these people and their existence yet we don't, even though each one of them is just as much an affirmation junkie as you or I.

I started a very social experiment over the course of just a few weeks. I forced myself to step outside my comfort zone. I tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these folks. The result was immediate. Suddenly an unhappy person smiled. A clerk laughed while handing over my purchase. A delivery person thanked me for my business.

The invisible person in front me became instantly real. He had been affirmed. And, he or she usually affirmed me in return. We interacted like two human beings who were willing to give a tiny piece of themselves to someone else.

Personally, I am very sorry I didn't learn this lesson while I was working. I know I treated these invisible people like interruptions or not worthy of my giving them what they craved. I hope it wasn't because I was purposely hurtful, I was just selfish and oblivious. I'm still that way more often than I'd wish, especially with faceless people on the phone.

Retirement allows us the little bit of extra time we need to practice affirmation with others. You probably have dozens of chances each day. Even remembering to affirm just one person will be worth the effort. My one week experiment has become a regular habit (when I remember, which isn't everytime, I admit).

I should add, that personal affirmation is a powerful tool for making us feel and function better, too. We all struggle with times of self-doubt. If you'd like to review some tools that can strengthen how you feel about yourself, click here. While I don't agree with all of the ideas, reading the list was empowering. And, the truth is the more secure we feel about ourselves the more likely we are to notice the good in others.

May 9, 2017

5 Things We Can Stop Worrying About

Have you ever seen the movie, The Curious Case  of Benjamin Button? The lead character, played by Brad Pitt, gets physically younger while the rest of the world ages. Eventually, it does not turn out well for him. He dies as an infant but with old age dementia. 

In real life, there are actually some advantages to getting physically older, which is good since we don't have much choice. Here are five that came to mind:

1). We don't care nearly as much about how we look in a bathing suit (or birthday suit). When we were younger, the effort expended to drop some weight before summer began was a common occurrence. Time spent jogging or at the gym become a fixed part of our schedule. Looking younger than our years was important. Face creams and lotions are a multi-billion dollar business. 

While the health aspects of staying in shape remain important until we shuffle off our mortal coils, the reason changes. We are more concerned with our interior health than our exterior appearance.

2. We have stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses. By now, we have learned that the consumer merry-go-round is a circle, meaning there is no end, no finish line. No matter how much we buy, collect, obtain, or control, someone else will have more, and most of it does not make us happy, just tired. 

As we age, our priorities change. We surround ourselves with what makes us happy, not what makes us maintain a certain look.

3. We no longer worry as much about how the kids will turn out. By now, that part of our job is done. Unless you have taken on the admirable job of raising grandchildren, your own kids have learned what they need from you. Now, it is up to them to figure it out. Should you provide help and counsel if one of them gets in trouble? Sure. But, the heavy lifting of raising another human being is over.

As a parent I know my daughters will be in my mind everyday until I die. But, my worries are different then they were when they were much younger. 

4. We no longer worry about how our careers will turn out That ship has sailed. Whatever choices we made to support ourselves and a family are past history. Office intrigue and in-fighting, a constant battle for more and more business, hours wasted in a daily commute, the effects of technological change on your chosen profession, even the power and prestige that came with your success - are over. As we move through the journey of retirement, we have new things to focus on. 

5. We no longer care as much about the small stuff in life. We have come to accept that life is short, our mortality is assured, and the world will spin on without us just fine, thank you very much. That means we spend less time sweating the small stuff (read this little book if you haven't!).  

Growing older is not often easy, but some of the struggles that occupied us in the past, are gone. And, frankly, the alternative to growing older is not one I'd choose. Bring it on!

May 5, 2017

A Financial Safety Net for Retirement

Having a Satisfying Retirement without a budget is pretty much like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. You may survive but I wouldn't recommend it. I believe quite strongly that a budget is absolutely essential to a financially secure retirement lifestyle.

Whether you are already fully retired, working part time, or still a few years away from leaving your job, it is never too early to build a retirement budget. You may hate the idea of keeping track of what you spend. You may think you know what you income and outgo are. But until you put in on paper (or in a software program) you are playing with fire.

So, what goes into a budget? How different is a retirement budget? Are there categories that were important when you worked full time that can be dropped when you are retired? How do you plan for retirement?

To give you some idea what might belong in your post-work budget, I will use mine as a sample. Since your situation is likely to be different please just use this as a starting point.

Mortgage payments (I own my home but you may have monthly payments)
Real Estate Taxes and HOA fees
Home Owners Insurance
Utilities: electric, gas, water,  sewer/trash pickup
Home maintenance and repairs, pest control

Food and household supplies
Internet, cable or satellite TV
Decorations & furnishings
Yard service
house cleaning service

Clothing purchases
Dry Cleaning/Laundry
Dining Out
Auto: payments, gas, repairs, insurance, registration
Health insurance: premiums, uncovered expenses, co-pays
Health supplies: over-the-counter vitamins & medicines
Dental care: checkups, fillings, crowns, dentures, etc
Eyeglasses & hearing aids
haircuts & beauty salon

Computer purchase, repair, software
Subscriptions, postage stamps
Charity donations
Tax prep and accountant costs
Life insurance 

You may be surprised at all the categories I maintain. A budget after retirement isn't much different from one you used while working full time. It is quite easy to forget that a majority of expenses don't go away. The amount you decide to spend in each may change, but the actual number of categories is pretty much the same, retired or not. And, don't forget to plan for inflation in virtually every category.

Which categories did I overlook? Which ones would you delete or add?