July 29, 2023

No, We Are Not Melting

 


No, not all of us in Phoenix are exploding from our headline-making heatwave. 

For the past several weeks, newspapers, Internet sources, social media sites, and TV news reports have been sounding the alarm that the Valley of The Sun is melting into the desert sand. If you believe the stories,  five million of us are huddled in our homes with cool sheets draped over the windows and the oven unplugged until fall. 

With 26 days of temperatures above 110 so far (and six in a row of 115+), I will certainly admit this has been a hotter-than-average summer. But not to the point where most of us are either unprepared or heading for the cooler hills of Minnesota or Juneau.

After 37 years here, I can assure you that until the thermometer passes 105, most of us semi-natives just go about our business. We run errands earlier in the day, avoid outdoor chores to the extent possible, and don't spend much time on the back patio. But, amazingly, it really is a dry heat and not a super-human feat to endure.

Twice a year, we have a qualified service technician check the AC unit from top to bottom and fix anything that looks suspect. Many of us have a plan if either the air conditioning unit fails or there is a power outage in our area. 

Getting into an air-conditioned car, driving to a relative's house that has power, going to the movies, or as a last resort, checking into a functioning hotel are all part of our backup plan. 

It is no joke that an unairconditioned home or apartment can put someone in a serious situation quite quickly. Over 400 folks died in the Phoenix area last year due to heat-related issues, and that was not a particularly blistering summer.

Half of those deaths took homeless folks. While there are many cooling centers and shelters run by local governments, not everyone living on the streets can make it to one of these life-saving places. A few weeks ago, the city of Phoenix started using city buses as emergency cooling locations.

Dying while homeless is a horrible fate, and it happens in all parts of the country during any season. The best estimates are that close to 8,000 of our fellow citizens die each year while unhoused.

So, nothing I am writing here is meant to diminish the real risks of excessive heat to both the homeless and anyone who finds it impossible to afford the life-saving effect of A/C.  With climate change a reality, whether this is the "new normal," no one knows. In another decade, maybe we will look back at the Phoenix summer of 2023 as the last "cool" one.

Add in the Southwest's decade-long drought, and this part of the country will be the testing ground for what our future may hold. Either there will be technology and changes in behavior that make living in this climate doable. Or, cities like Phoenix will see their glory days behind them as the population heads somewhere else.

For now,  know that for most of us, things are not nearly as dire as the press wants you to believe. I would suggest now is not the best time to visit, but those of us acclimated to this climate are doing just fine, although an early fall would be nice.


July 25, 2023

Your Finances and Retirement

This is not your future!

Over ten years ago I wrote a series of posts on three rather important topics for retirees: finances, relationships, and time management. Since the readership for any blog is constantly losing and gaining people, I am comfortable in assuming that majority of you here today never saw this decade-old series.

Not surprising, those either new to the retirement world, or seeing it looming in front of them, have interest in these same topics. Personally, I have friends who have recently walked away from work and have asked me to shed some light on what they may face.

Since these words were written in 2013, they may appear to be sort of a history lesson about what happened back then. Just thinking of all we have experienced as a nation, a people, and as individuals is exhausting!

However, I am confident that the underlying message, the guidance provided, and the way to approach our financial future remains quite relevant.

If you are new to retirement I trust my experiences will give you some comfort and encouragement. If you have been on the other side of a paycheck for a time, your thoughts and comments will help all of us, newbies, and grizzled old veterans (!) of this stage of life. 

So, I am setting the flashback machine to 2013.........


Blogging about retirement may give the mistaken impression that I had it all figured out from day one, that retirement has simply fallen perfectly into place and there have been very few problems along the way.


That is not true. Like everyone else, I had to learn as I went. In 2001 there were very few books or Internet resources that seemed relevant to me. 

The slow decline of my radio consulting business pretty much forced me to decide retirement was the best option for my family. I stumbled along for several years until I found a path that worked.

This post will be the first in a series that deal with the key areas that confront anyone who retires. Over the next few weeks, I will look back at the initial effect of my retirement on relationships, and time use and management. I am beginning with the topic that most concerns those thinking of retirement or those who have recently left the work world: Finances.

I started saving for retirement when I was 27, the year I got married. I wasn't making much money as a DJ in Morgantown, WV, but I knew it was essential to start early. 

Over the years, as my career and income grew, I was able to set aside anywhere from 20-30% of my income each year, split between a retirement and a savings account.

When we stopped working in June 2001, I was 52, and Betty was 47. Though I had played with the financial projections over and over, I remained seriously concerned that we were making a terrible mistake. 

Even with a decent IRA and a savings account that was designed to carry us until I was ready to start withdrawing from the retirement account, I just couldn't accept that we'd be OK. 

Every month I'd re-run all the projections and take another look at our budget. I was nervous and worried. I hadn't projected the continuing escalation of health care costs, which were eating up over 25% of our monthly budget.

Panic means going back to work


Within one year of closing my business, I got so worried about money that Betty went to work at a local department store. She disliked the job intensely but bravely put up with bad bosses and mindless work. 

I sat at home, feeling guilty about the arrangement. After nearly a year of that silliness, we decided that the stress on us both wasn't worth the money, and she retired for good.

Two years after that experience, I took a part-time job as a tour guide that lasted almost five years. My role was to accompany business people who were in Phoenix and Scottsdale for conventions or seminars to dinners, golf outings, or trail rides. 

Actually, the task was quite simple: tell people where the bathrooms were and make sure all the folks got back on the bus to the hotel. It was not very satisfying, but it earned us an extra $3,500 a year. It did allow me to interact with other people, something I was missing.

In the fourth year of retirement, I finally accepted the fact that our planning, budgeting, and sacrifices were enough to allow us to enjoy our retirement without constantly worrying about money. Sure, a disaster of some type could mess things up, but we shouldn't live constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The 'Great Recession' knocks at our door


Of course, that "shoe" did drop in 2008. Our IRA lost 30% of its value in about 8 months. Our house value sank 50% in one year. My investments looked perilous, and interest rates plunged toward zero. The so-called "Great Recession" hit us hard.

Frankly, I had every reason to panic. I was too old to get any type of job, and Betty had enough physical limitations that she wasn't very employable either. My net worth had taken a hit of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. I could see no reasonable path to replace that money.

But this is where the story gets interesting: I discovered I was less worried at that point than I had been when I first retired. Over those first six or seven years, Betty and I had traveled twice to Europe and extensively throughout the U.S. We were living what we thought was a typical retired lifestyle.

With the financial meltdown, we slashed our expenses to match what appeared to be our new income level. Surprise! We discovered we were quite content with a much simpler, pared-down lifestyle. We were happiest being homebodies, spending time with family, and enjoying activities closer to home. 

We didn't need to eat so many meals at restaurants, buy new clothes as often, get a new car every three or four years, or spend $200 a month on cable TV...for hundreds of channels we never watched! 

Grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner every once in a while tasted just fine to us. Compared to my last few years of work, we were quite happy living on about 50% less.

I began reading every book on simplicity and simple living I could get my hands on from the library (no more big packages from Amazon every month). I delighted in finding free or inexpensive things to do in the area. I started using discount coupons as a way to do special things.

So where are we now?


Over the last four years, the retirement account has recovered fully, the house value is now down only 25% from its peak in 2007, and we felt confident enough in the future to buy an RV last fall. Our income has stabilized, and I have begun to receive Social Security checks as an excellent addition to our monthly planning.

Even so, the lifestyle we adopted five years ago remains. We are content and happy to live more simply. Finding milk on sale for $1.79 a gallon instead of $2.79 is reason for a fist bump. Waiting for a book I want at the library is well worth the money saved that I used to spend to buy a copy.

Because we are committed to leaving a decent nest egg for our two daughters, the leaner lifestyle has a definite purpose. But, as important, we just don't worry about money the way we did back in 2001. We have found a pacing and a satisfaction level that I never could have predicted.

So, what you read on Satisfying Retirement today is where I am after several missteps, financial panics, and a reevaluation of what makes us happy. Retirement for me has been a journey that hasn't always been smooth but certainly instructive. It has been about adjusting, recalculating, and believing in how we had prepared.
_______________________

OK, back to the present.

What's your story?



July 21, 2023

Now, What About Our Stuff?

 


A month or so ago, I had a post about our move to a retirement community sometime in the next few years. The questions raised were about the mental adjustments we would face. 

This time around, my thoughts are much more practical: figuring out what moves with us and what must find a new home at Goodwill, our daughters' homes, or the dumpster. A downsize from 2,000 square feet, a three-car garage, an attic, and a backyard storage shed to a 900 sq ft dwelling means substantial reductions.

47 years of marriage, multiple moves, two children and three grandchildren leave a lot of stuff. Big stuff, small stuff, worthless stuff, we all have lots of stuff. As George Carlin once noted, a house is just a place to store our stuff. Even if you believe in living a more minimalist lifestyle, you have stuff.

There can be rather intense feelings about some of our possessions. There might be pieces of furniture or a painting or photograph that holds special meaning to someone else in your family. 

Betty has inherited a few pieces of furniture and several boxes of family knickknacks, photos, birth certificates, and the like. They trace her family's history and life; they are important to her. 

What if a grown child of yours wants something before you downsize? Is that a possibility? Can you offload your stuff and add it to theirs?

We spend money to buy something. If the purchase adds to our life and makes us feel good, it becomes more than a collection of parts, it becomes emotionally satisfying. 

It may remind us of something that our parents owned or our grandparents had in their homes. It may stimulate memories of a difficult or joyous time in our life. It may just be nice or beautiful to look at.

Even so, at the end of the day, it is still just stuff. At some point, we, or family members, will have to get rid of much of it. Does decluttering now help your satisfying lifestyle? With less stuff to store, display, clean, insure, or move will you feel more free? Or, ill the lack of things around that comfort you leave you unhappy?

Of course, not having a yard and garden to care for means no lawnmower or rakes. Having someone else take care of maintenance means no need for more than a screwdriver and hammer. The water softener is going nowhere. Most of the patio furniture would never fit.

Still, there is the need for someplace to sit, sleep, and continue our creative pursuits. That raises the question of what furniture moves with you. 

We have had a coffee table, end tables, sofa, and swivel chair for 35 years. They continue to look surprisingly good and serve their purpose, even if our daughters joke about our 80s look. Another large sofa, love seat, and overstuffed chair were bought less than 7 years ago but probably won't fit in the new floor plan.

Is this a good time to leave all the old furniture behind and make a clean break with a new color scheme and look? Or will at least a few of the old pieces make the transition less jarring? We are really up in the air on this one. 

One consideration is trying to guess the number of years we will be in an independent living situation. At some point, a move to assisted living is likely. That will involve another downsizing. Not all the new furniture will fit. 

So, we really have no idea whether a new sofa, coffee table and other items will be part of our life for just a few years or much longer. And, even so, should we not even think about that problem but decide to make the next space inviting and fresh, damn the consequences?

Moving to a retirement community is not like any other of the dozen moves we have endured. More thought, planning, and a grasp of what the future might bring are required.

Wish us luck....and add your thoughts, please!

July 17, 2023

How On Target Was I?

 




Ten years ago, I was asked to contribute an essay to the book pictured above. Interestingly, 10 years ago, I was not 70, but a "young" 64. Because I had been part of their earlier books in this series, the editor asked for my thoughts.

Just last week I remembered that I had written this piece, meant to look into my future. So, what did I say six years before I would be the age I wrote about? More importantly, was I on target?

First, here is the original post from September, 2013. Then I will see whether my prognostication skills were on target.


You are right, I am not 70. In fact, I am six years away from that milestone. Even so, the publishers of "Things To Do When You Turn 70" asked me to contribute an essay. 
This is the same company that included me as be part of the "65 Things To Do When You Turn 65" series, one of which the Wall Street Journal picked as one of the top retirement books of 2012.

This book has just been published. In fact I received my copy just a few days ago. The description on Amazon.com provides as excellent summary of this latest in the series of books made up of essays from a wide range of folks:

The contributors include a wide diversity of people 70+ who have taken on exciting challenges and have found fun, intriguing, and surprising ways to make their lives rewarding. 70 Things to Do When You Turn 70 features such luminaries as world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni, American Book Award-winning author Gary Zukav, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Elaine Madsen, and the acclaimed writer Daniel Klein.  All royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to cancer research and prevention.

Like the first two books in this series, I am honored and happy to be included. If you are in the market for an excellent overview of what your 70's may look like I ask that you consider a purchase. Again, all the writers contributed their writing for free, and all profits go to cancer research.

There is a nice nod to my essay in the introduction. You will find the full article starting on page 69. Thank you, Sellers Publishing, and thanks to you, my blog readers, for all your support over the years.

____________________________


OK...fast forward to 2023. How do my words stand up ten years on? Actually, quite well. My overall premise was my life would look somewhat different as I turned seventy. 

Core values and what was really important to me would remain: marriage, family, faith.. But, as my 60s had proven to that point, I would likely have discovered different parts of myself. 

Things that had been interesting and important earlier in my retirement had given way to a few new pursuits. My volunteer work with prison ministry and lay counseling gave way to a major commitment to working with the library system's Friends organization. 

For a time, I enjoyed helping to revitalize a retiree committee of the local United Way. I discovered the fun and satisfaction of painting. 

As the essay noted, "...with each passing year, I seem to find something new to explore or try on for size. That uncertainty is what keeps me so excited about the future. There really are no limits."

Those words very much reflect my life and approach today. 



If you are interested, the other books in this series that contain my thoughts, as well as all sorts of other folks, are :














And, in another case of looking into what is still ahead (when I was 68!)






July 13, 2023

Time For An Hawaiian Sunset Break


 As a break from some of the weightier subjects I have written about recently, here is a collection of Hawaiian sunset photos taken by Betty over the years.  

The world is crazy enough right now, so enjoy and relax. Reality will return soon enough.














































Feel Better?

Me, too.


July 9, 2023

Social Media and You

 


When you read the phrase "social network" what do you think of - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok? Is your first thought that it is past time to post some fresh pictures or read what your friends are doing and thinking?

The dictionary definition of the social network agrees: a dedicated website or other application that enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. 

Importantly, that is the second definition listed for the phrase, social network. The preferred explanation is the one that seems to be lost to many of us today: a network of social interactions and personal relationships.

For many in America (the only country I can speak of with any confidence) the first definition has been lost in the chatter and bustle of a permanently connected electronic leash between us and others. We are all familiar with the reality of the 24 hour a day nature of news and information. The gap between something happening and everyone being made aware of it is measured in seconds or minutes. 

What brought this to mind was an out-of-town visit with a dear friend. She walked away from virtually all social media a few years ago and hasn't missed the clutter and the pressure to post at all. She has a very active circle of local friends and acquaintances that keeps her busy and connected on a personal level; no need for the electronic lease most of us depend upon.

Betty and I just completed a 30-hour Amtrak trip to the Pacific Northwest. One of the real joys was dining with others at a four-person table. Frankly, I was a little hesitant. By nature, Betty and I tend to be most comfortable with our own company. But, sharing several meals with fellow travelers was quite delightful. We swapped travel stories, family tidbits, and why we choose the train instead of a 3-hour flight.

I am sure you are aware of a growing business: electronic detox. Attendees of these conferences are banned from cell phone, laptop, and tablet use for the weekend. The goal is twofold: to dramatically demonstrate how addicted many of us are to these devices and to teach someone to physically talk with and respond to another human being face-to-face.

Not surprisingly, the article mentioned the rather high dropout rate of attendees. After just a few hours, the desire to check for messages or text someone was too strong to deny. You can certainly appreciate the irony of texting someone that you are at a weekend retreat to break the hold electronics have on you. 

Regular readers know I removed myself from Twitter a few years ago. Considering the mayhem of the last year under a new owner, thank goodness. I will visit Pinterest to get painting ideas but am not a poster. While I maintain a presence on Facebook to exchange family photos and help promote Satisfying Retirement, my participation in the regular flow of messages and videos is minimal.

Within the last week a new player has entered the stage: Threads. Owned by Meta, the folks behind Facebook, Pinterest, Whatsapp and Instagram, this challanger to Twitter is off to an amazing start. As of a few days before this post, I am seeing totals of over 50 million. By the time you read this, experts say 80 million or more are likely. Frankly, I think it is too early to declare Threads a Twitter-killer, but Mr. Zuckerberg has to be part of Elon Musk's nightmares.

Occasionally I get requests to join someone's LinkedIn network but I politely decline. Short videos ruled by so-called influencers keep me far away from TikTok.

So, if social media isn't your thing, how does one build and maintain a meaningful social network of real people. I will be the first to admit I am a loner by nature. In fact, check out the post from a few months ago about a friendship weakness of mineWhen you consider my radio career that may seem a little odd. Consider, though the environment: locked in a studio with some records and a microphone  while operating completely alone. 

Blogging has been good for me in this regard. I have met at least a dozen "real" people who are either fellow bloggers or readers. I find those exchanges to be quite satisfying. I look forward to spending time with those folks. We share common experiences and common problems and have an easy time relating. Those friendships have blossomed into something much more than just blogging issues. 

I think as we get older,, friendship becomes more difficult at precisely the time they are needed the most. Work relationships fall away. Those we have known for many years move away, get sick, or die. Adult kids have their own lives and families so interaction time tends to diminish. Now, in their teens, our grandkids have their own friends and activities that have drastically reduced the time they spend with Gran and Grandad.

There are solutions, like joining clubs, volunteering, and making friends at church or in your retirement community.. However, if your personality type leans toward being a loner, then those simple ideas don't hold much appeal or seem to work well. 

Many of my posts urge you to live your life your way. The retirement journey is personal and unpredictable. Part of the reason it is so much fun is that change is a constant. Yes, there may be periods of boredom or staleness, as I well know. But, overall the experience for most of us is quite positive.

So, my question to you is this: social networks and interaction can be positive. It can open the door to your past, present, and future.  The benefits of being with others is well documented.  Are you active on one or more sites? Have you figured out how to avoid the negativity and hate that seems to be everywhere? 

Are there are a handful of people you enjoy spending time with, but you are just as happy with a book, the back porch, and sunshine. 

Your thoughts and experiences are encouraged. And, if you have already jumped on the Threads bandwagon, let us know.


July 5, 2023

A Long-Delayed Trip

 


A year ago we had plans to visit friends in Portland. A key part of the trip was to be a dream of ours: to take Amtrak from Los Angeles up the coast to Portland. Flying is usually an unpleasant necessity; this time, we wanted to enjoy 30 hours of restful time to look out the window at the passing ocean and countryside, enjoy good food in the refurbished dining cars, and simply be with each other without rushing or crowds.

Unfortunately, a national worker's strike started a week before the trip was to take place. Amtrak canceled our departure, reminding us yet again that the best-laid plans...are never a sure thing (think Covid!)

With a strong dose of patience and fortitude, we managed to reschedule the trip. Credits from the previous attempt were used for the airline flights and Amtrak. Our dear friend in Portland would be in town and available. Our travel-agent daughter put all the pieces together, and this time it happened.

Whenever I mention long-distance train travel I get one of two responses: "Aren't you bored silly on something that takes so long", or, "I would love to do that." Well, get ready for some answers that might change your mind or get you on a choo-choo.

We flew to LA a day before the trip left Amtrak's Union Station. Less than 30 minutes late (considered on time by regular train travelers), we began our 850-mile journey, arriving in Portland the next afternoon. 

We booked a sleeper room for a few reasons: the credit on Amtrak would cover the cost, plus we both preferred the in-room toilet and shower instead of sharing a communal bathroom down the hall. 

Roughly twice the size of the smaller roomette, this accommodation came with both a sofa and an easy chair. A fold-down table between had plenty of room for games, a laptop, or the snacks we brought along. At night the sofa converted into a bed while an upper bunk dropped from the ceiling. 

My first surprise was with the quality of food offered in the dining car. All meals are included in the cost of the sleeper room, even allowing for a free glass of wine or beer at lunch and dinner.  Breakfast and lunch each come with four or five options, while the evening meal includes a choice of appetizer, entrĂ©e, and dessert.

The food was excellent. I had heard horror stories of microwaved, cardboard-like options; nothing could be farther from the truth. None of the four meals we enjoyed disappointed us in the least. And, yes, we accepted their offer of wine with dinner! 

Seating is at a table for four. Every couple or single who joined us was a friendly, energetic conversationalist. After a few years of Grubhub and eating at home, frankly, I looked forward to who we would meet at each meal.

The next pleasant surprises were both the roominess of our sleeping compartment and how quickly the time passed. We never felt hemmed in, or the need to pull out the games we packed. The countryside passing by our window kept us engaged. Reading, simple contemplation or conversations made the time seem to fly. When the sun set we listened to downloaded Spotify music or read until bedtime.

The train did include an Observation car that we used a few times, but it was crowded most of the time. With a full capacity of nearly 200 passengers, we weren't the only ones wanting to look out large picture windows while seated in a comfy chair.

Three times our train was forced to pull onto a siding while a freight train roared by. Since Amtrak doesn't own the tracks it runs on, freight traffic always has the right-of-way. At one point, someone reported that a bridge we were to cross looked too rusty. 

Railroad policy is to take any such report seriously. We stopped for nearly an hour while a safety engineer was summoned. After a five-minute check, he waved us through. Nothing was ever mentioned, but I am guessing someone wanted to prove to friends they could stop a train with a phone call. It worked.

In a very nice gesture, when our room attendant learned we were celebrating our 47th wedding anniversary, she returned with a very thoughtful flower arrangement. 

With no vase readily available, she grabbed a water bottle and gently place the bouquet inside.

For the rest of the trip, her gift found a home in our room.


Negatives?  Much too often, we passed tents or worse that served as a last stop for homeless folks. Looking more like garbage dumps, it was heartbreaking to see our fellow citizens existing like that.

View from Sleeping Car corridor

Called the Coast Starlight, this route actually spends 90% of its time away from the actual coast. 

After passing Santa Barbara, the tracks veer inland, meaning most of what can be seen are trees, distant mountains, farmland, or scrubland. While still holding its own attractions, maybe calling it the Semi-Coast Starlight would be more accurate.

Because of the deteriorating condition of the tracks, there were times we were traveling no more than 30 miles per hour, with tremendous screeching of the wheels and rocking of the train. Occasionally, we would zip along at 60 mph, but that was the exception. Promised infrastructure improvements can't come soon enough.

Even so, the positives of this experience far outweighed any drawbacks. Would I travel long-distance by train again? Absolutely, especially if Amtrak follows through with its plans to reestablish service through Phoenix. After bypassing the sixth biggest city in the country in 1996, the rail service has touted a return within the next year or so. About time!

Mount Hood




Once in Portland, we spent precious days with a dear friend. She is undergoing some potentially serious health challenges. Being able to hug her, spend time together, assure her of our love and support, and share meals was the topping to this adventure.

Side trips to a cold and windy Cannon Beach, up the Columbia River Gorge, and a very pleasant afternoon in Vancouver, Washington, before flying home, made this trip away so very special.

With fingers crossed and our thoughts firmly set on our friend's well-being, Betty and I are so happy we could finally take the trip that alluded us for so long.

Sometimes, a delayed dream fulfillment is even sweeter.


July 1, 2023

My Banned Book Project: Update #4

 


My year-long project to read many of the books listed in the American Library Association's Read These Banned Books continues. The ALA reports 2022-23 have been "banner" (pun intended) years in the movement to restrict all sorts of books.  it is rather obvious that book banning and restrictions are not a passing fad but a tidal wave with little standing in its way.

A month or so ago, a single parent managed to get the Bible removed from elementary and middle school libraries in suburban Salt Lake for being vulgar, pornographic, and dealing with incest. Often it takes just one parent to present their case before a school or library board to have books they find offensive removed.

What follows are the books I have read since the update in April, along with my reaction to the reasons each made the list.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

A black and white graphic novel about a young female slave trying to escape a miserable life. There are parallels shown between Christianity and Islam beliefs, how we are part of the natural world and escaping the fate one seems destined to live.

My Thoughts: I found this book offensive, full of gratuitous nudity and sex scenes, the rape of a 12-year-old girl, and slave auctions depicted with frontal reality. This is the first book on the ALA list that I completely agree is unsuitable for anyone under 18. Frankly, I had a difficult time finishing it.

And Tango Makes Three by Richardson and Parnell

This book couldn't be more different from Habibi. It is a children's book that takes maybe 20 minutes to read and enjoy the pictures. A story of inclusion rather than exclusion, this is the true-life story of a pair of male penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York. Their desire to be like the other penguins and have a family was finally realized when a zoo keeper gave them an abandoned egg to hatch and care for.

And Tango Makes Three is  about adoption, love, family, and fulfilling a dream regardless of what is "normal."  It is not about homosexuality or alternate lifestyles. 

My Thoughts: objections to this children's book are so wrong on so many levels. Children will receive all the right messages from this charming book. Trying to ban it because it "promotes the homosexual agenda"  and is "anti-family" instead of the message of love and saving a life is simply idiotic. 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

A powerful look into a life I had a hard time relating to but need to. We are all strongly molded by where and how we are raised. It took me a while to get used to the slang, speaking patterns, and expressions. They were neither good nor bad, just different.

Starr Carter lives in two very different worlds: one filled with drugs, gangs, ghetto slang, and learning how not to be shot by the police or criminals. In the other world, she goes to a mostly white, upper-class prep school. To fit in, she must avoid slang, keep her moods and behavior in check, and deny the world she goes home to every day.

The story revolves around a police shooting of a friend of hers and her internal debate on whether to report what she saw. To complicate matters, her uncle is a policeman who pressures her to not trigger community unrest over the actions of one bad cop. Starr wrestles with her decision in a way that is powerful and reflects the fact that much of life is not cut and dried. Sometimes balance is required.

My Thoughts: The message and presentation are powerful and could provoke an important discussion with a teenager who is struggling in this world. I don't think this book is appropriate for younger children but would seem an important read for those 16+.

Something Happened in Our Town  by  Marianne Celano, et al

A 40-page book targeted toward younger children It is the simple story of two families, one white and one black, discussing the shooting of a black man by a white policeman. This book includes important discussion points, questions about the verbiage that is used, the unique aspects of living in this society for African Americans, and the encouragement of an open discussion among family members.

My Thoughts: I believe accusations of this book being ant-police are unfounded. It is a fact that blacks are shot by the police way out of proportion to their actual percentage of the population. But, Something Happened encourages an examination of why this is occurring and a closer look at the factors involved.

This is the perfect book to stimulate a family discussion about racism, economic opportunities, and authority. In an experiment loaded with potential to teach and explore, I had a thought: after reading this book, turn the plot around with a white man being shot by a black policeman. How would the situation change? What might be the various outcomes?  Why do black and white change the narrative so much?

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

This is very much a story from today's headlines. It involves the police targeting blacks after simple traffic stops. The story builds around mistaken identities or racial hatred that flares into violence.

Virtually no one in this story sees themselves as racist, but in any situation, prejudice or making assumptions based on someone's looks reveals a racial interpretation. The white boy who witnesses his black friend's beating is faced with his own moral struggle in deciding how to respond. Matters are complicated because the policeman involved has acted as the white boy's big brother. 

There is the reality that law enforcement personnel have a very difficult job that often demands split-second decision-making. But, when those actions are based on preconceived notions, the real damage can be done to people and the community.

My Thoughts: Like several of the books I read this time, the problems of stereotyping by (and of) police officers and the damage that this causes is the central theme of All American Boys. Importantly, there is the ethical dilemma that the witness must face in deciding how to react. 

I can see no reason why this book should be on anyone's banned book list. It deals with important issues that don't always have clear-cut answers but always have consequences.

Beyond Magenta  by Susan Kuklin

A profile of six transgender teens, both male and female, including photographs and the young people's own words that make this headline issue real and personal, with faces and feelings on raw display. 

These teens struggle with being authentic to who they believe themselves to be. There is also confusion, living as an outcast, and feeling like a nobody during their transformation. 

The transgender label is brought to life, with a strong sense of the motivations and struggles these people must go through. 

My Thoughts: Complaints about the sexuality in the text are valid. Parts of this book are too frank for those under 13 or 14. But, for teens going through the transgender struggle, or knowing someone who is, this book would be a tremendous resource to help them feel less alone and "odd." 

Nasreen's Secret School  by Jeanette Winter\

This is the true story of a young Afghan girl living through a miserable time of oppression under Taliban rule. As a female, her life and worth as a human are counted as almost useless by the men in charge.

This is a picture book with minimal words per page, presented for children in an easy-to-understand way. It would be a 30-minute read for most. There is no sex, no description of violence, no rage. There is nothing but a traumatized young girl learning to open up and trust herself.

My Thoughts: For the life of me, I cannot understand any objections to this book. I find it completely appropriate for children 8+. 


Next on the pile is Perks of Being a Wallflower. My reactions to it and others lie a few months in the future.

As always, your reactions and thoughts are welcome.