Facebook Increases My Blood Pressure

February 24, 2017

The way I see it, there are three types of people who frequent Facebook. This may also be true of the other social media networks, but I am only familiar with Facebook. If the other networks affected me in a similar fashion, I would’ve had a stroke a long time ago.

The first of the three types of people on Facebook are those who stay away from politics and post nothing but nice friendly pictures, poems, videos, jokes, etc. I love those people. More often than not, they cheer me up and make my day. There is still hope for humanity.

The second type are those who post political items without doing the slightest bit of research to verify the truth behind the claims. These people represent the extreme sides of both major political parties. Prior to the election, they painted Hillary as a saint and Trump as the Devil, or vice-versa. Since the election, Trump is painted as Satan (his own self), or the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Both sides irritate the hell out of the other.

The third bracket belongs to people like me. Throughout this process I have tried repeatedly to demonstrate that no politician can be trusted and, for that reason, Trump might actually be beneficial – although I have no high regards for the man beyond the fact that he has not made a career out of living off the taxpayers as a member of some government.

Obviously, it is the second type that drives me up a wall. Not only will they defend their posts while refusing to acknowledge that the posts may be out-and-out lies, they will attack my posts and insist I prove my statements.

One such statement had something to do with, “The election is over and it is time to stop the protests and rioting. Give the man a chance. If he screws up royally, impeach him. If he screws up enough to cost him his re-election, vote him out.”

One person too lazy to do any research at all challenged me on the word ‘rioting’. I suggested they might consider the University of California at Berkley who stopped a gay Libertarian from speaking on the campus because the protesters considered him to be too Conservative.

The response from the challenger was “That’s one. You used a plural term.”

Too many people on the left (and yes, it is the Liberals)  are more than glad to exercise their freedom of speech to stop anyone they disagree with from exercising his or her right to free speech. Yes, that upsets me greatly. If you refuse to even listen to the other side, how can you ever hope for compromise.

And yes, it is the left – the side that preaches tolerance – as long as you agree with them. When is the last time a group of Conservative students stopped a Liberal from speaking on a campus?

I made another statement that caused consternation from the left. “I would love to see Trump make America great again simply to see how his detractors react.”

I was informed by people barely old enough to vote that American has never been as great as it is now. How do I argue with someone who is being indoctrinated by Liberal college professors?

I would begin by taking a closer look at the unemployment rate. Obama is very proud that the number is under 5%. On the surface, that is a wonderful accomplishment. However, if one does the slightest bit of research, there are a number of factors that bring that number into question.

Let’s begin with some basic numbers. I’ve seen government numbers (which calls them into question immediately) that an average of 250,000 people enter the labor force every month. I assume that is high school dropouts and graduates, college dropouts and graduates, and legal immigrants. (They might also be counting the illegal immigrants, but I don’t know that for sure.)

Every month the government releases the latest figures of people who got jobs last month. I have yet to see that number top 250,000. So, based on that alone, the unemployment numbers should be going up.

Unless something drastic has happened and I missed it, the population of the United States has also increased every month. I know there are many deaths each month, but the newborns more than make up for that. PLUS, we still have immigrants coming in on a regular basis.

Somewhere along the way I’ve seen numbers representing the ‘under’ employed. Those are the folks who had decent jobs that were outsourced or sent overseas. Instead of making $100,000 per year as middle-management types, they are now working for much less money – but they are working and not part of the unemployment numbers.

But the numbers are still questionable. The big question concerns the number of people in the labor force – a number that has dropped significantly over the last ten years. How can that be?

Let’s begin with the fact that unemployment benefits eventually run out. How does our government handle that? To begin with, there is welfare and food stamps- the recipients of both has dramatically increased over the last ten years. So, these folks are no longer counted as unemployed. They are simply living off the kindness of the taxpayers. (To be honest, if I had a choice in the matter, I wouldn’t be so kind. I don’t mind helping someone get back on their feet, but I resent helping someone stay in the chair.)

I have friends and relatives who insist I am a Republican because I believe and say things like this. I then ask them “How many Republicans have no problem with gay marriage?” I also point out that while I don’t like abortion, I hate the alternatives, so I accept it as a necessary evil. There are a few other items that would label me as a Liberal, but that is only a small part of the bigger point.

I could be wrong, but my guess is that the people on the far left and far right of the political spectrum are the vast minority of our citizens. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. But, thanks to the politicians and the news media, they have us at loggerheads.

As for the media, I am convinced they have moved into the business of ‘making’ the news rather than simply reporting it. If they didn’t bother to cover the protest marches, would the protester even bother? And if they didn’t stress certain facts, would people get royally ticked off and go on rampaging riots?

I heard a talking head question the Trump administration by asking “If they are doing such good and worthwhile things, why do they have minor things dominating the headlines?” Simple answer: So people will get upset and do more things for the reporters to cover. They are going out of their way to get juicy stories.

So, the statement I continue to make on Facebook is “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

In the meantime, I will stay off Facebook for a while and get my blood pressure back down to a reasonable level.

 


Ending the Violence

June 16, 2016

Every time there’s a mass shooting, our government leaders renew the debate over gun control… ignoring the fact that in most cases, additional control of the legal sale of firearms would not have changed the outcome one iota.

The Sandy Hook killings were done using the weapons of a family member. The guns were purchased legally. The Orlando murders were committed by a person who should not have been allowed to buy guns, but was. The existing gun laws were not to blame – the FBI’s process was.

If the government can place a person on the “No Fly List” without due process, they should have been able to do the same when it came to buying guns. If nothing else, there should have been a ‘flag’ to let the FBI know the man had purchased weapons. Had a simple system like that been in place, they could have increased their surveillance and, hopefully, stopped him before he killed even one person.

The debate will go on while the more serious issues continue to be ignored.

Why is there a murder every two hours in the city of Chicago? Why do our government officials ignore that fact. Do those thousands of lives lost every year count less that the 49 killed in one night in Orlando? For that matter, was anyone else murdered in Orlando that night? Did that person’s life not mean anything because he or she died alone?

The way I see it, murder is the result of a number of factors. The simplest one is rage – in all too many cases, rage directed at a family member or a close friend.

Then we have the ‘gang’ related; in many cases caused by ‘turf wars’ in the dealing of illegal drugs. These are the cases where one, two, or three people are killed at a time.

My solution for the gang related mayhem is to legalize drugs. Let government sanctioned outlets sell them so that the purity of the product can be more closely controlled and the tax revenues can be used to treat the addicts. Taking the drug dealers off the streets and out of the prison system will save lots of money and lives.

As for family members killing each other, take away the guns and they’ll use knives or baseball bats. It has happened where a couple closing in on divorce settled the issue when one or the other was accidentally pushed off a cliff or assisted in drowning. In other words, rage is difficult to prevent, although if the rage is a result of mental illness, there is hope.

My first job after college was at a mental hospital for children. It was part of a network in Western Pennsylvania. Within a twenty-five mile radius, there were at least two asylums for adults to go along with the one I worked at. Many of our ‘inmates’ graduated to the adult facilities.

And then came along two factors that totally changed everything. One was President Reagan and his cut-backs. Federal funding for mental institutions dried up at the same time the A.C.L.U. convinced a judge that mentally incompetent people should not be held against their will. Brilliant! Very few crazy people readily admit they need help. One of the biggest problems with mentally ill patients is to have them continue to take the medication to control their behavior.

Thus, we have people who were once safely cared for in mental hospitals (and forget the Hollywood nonsense that says those hospitals were all horror stories) now walking the streets forgetting to take their medicine. Since our government sees no danger, they are permitted to buy fire arms and, when the voice in their heads tell them to go into a movie theater and shoot those enemies of Bat Man, we have another mass murder that could have been prevented. How many times did a psychiatrist think there might be such a possibility, but said nothing due to another Federal law called HIPAA.

So, there are my solutions to two of the root causes of murder; legalize drugs, and get mentally ill people the treatment and care they so desperately need.

And that brings us to the biggest problem we face today – terrorism. We have huge segments of the world population who hate us… thanks to the propaganda distributed by many of the people we (our government) consider to be our friends. These same people, in many cases, are the ones we give millions, if not billions of dollars in foreign aid every year.

We do everything we can in this country to encourage freedom of religion, but some religions use that freedom against us.

In fairness, Christian ministers encouraged people to join the crusades a thousand or so years ago. So, I can’t blame religious leaders in the Middle East for returning the favor (they carry grudges for thousands of years in that part of the world.) What gripes me is the leaders in churches in the U.S. encouraging young folks to either go to the Middle East to help the effort there, or simply buy guns and bomb making materials and do as much damage as possible here at home.

Sadly, there is no easy solution for this problem… any more than there was an easy solution for dealing with Hitler and the Nazis. The free world must come together to stop the terrorist groups. We need to be a part of that effort.

There is a very old adage that says “Those who ignore the past are destined to repeat it.” Our current leaders decided that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were over and our troops needed to be brought home. Those leaders ignored the fact that we still have troops in Germany and Japan. Lasting peace doesn’t happen overnight. It took decades for the peoples of Germany and Japan to realize we were there only to keep the peace – nothing more, nothing less. Any remnants of the groups that did not like losing World War II eventually were won over to the improvements brought about through peace.

We cannot force any nation to become a democratic republic such as ours, but we can help them peacefully establish governments that work for them.

 

 

 


Another Book

July 14, 2015

Beliz Pyramid

I recently uploaded a new book for both Kindle and Nook readers. It is called “If the Sky Should Fall” and is my first step into the world of science fiction. The following is the blurb I wrote to encourage people to read it:

Semir (Sam) Osmanagic is a Bosnian American archaeologist. He has spent years studying the pyramids of Latin America and believes that certain mountains in Bosnia are, in fact, also pyramids. Of course, the ‘experts’ have scoffed at the idea… just as the ‘experts’ scoffed at the idea that dinosaurs were birds rather than reptiles. One of Osmanagic’s findings showed that electromagnetic pulses were emanating from the top of the Bosnian pyramids. What if that is true? What purpose would such signals serve?
After visiting ancient ruins in Mexico, Belize, and Peru, the author of “If the Sky Should Fall” has his own thoughts and theories about ancient aliens, UFOs, and pyramids. If you’re a fan of television shows such as Ancient Aliens, History Unearthed, Hanger One, The Unexplained Files, and Ancient Discoveries, or books such as “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Däniken, you will find “If the Sky Should Fall” a compelling read. While it may well be a book of science fiction, the author raises a number of questions to make you stop and ask yourself, what if it were true? Life on our planet and throughout our solar system may, in fact, depend on the actions of aliens. They may be living among us and keeping us alive. Why would they be doing that? That’s a topic for another discussion.

Obviously I am a fan of all those TV shows I mentioned as well as a reader of books similar to “The Chariots of the Gods.” But watching those shows and reading those books, combined with traveling to ancient ruins and seeing the amazing constructions done by ‘primitive’ people, leads me to ask even more questions. And I can’t help wondering why mainstream scientists are so quick to laugh off the possibilities. Those are the folks who believed that uranium was a worthless metal prior to the 1940’s.

It’s difficult to watch these programs and not ask how the ancient Egyptians, Mayan, Incas, and others could build such structures. More importantly, I kept asking myself WHY? Did these folks have nothing better to do? Then I found myself wondering if there might not be pyramids right in my own backyard? The ones that have been discovered in Central America, for the  most part, had been hidden from view for centuroes by dense vegetation. How many mountains in the United States are also covered in dense vegetation?

IMG_0955This mountain in North Georgia sure looks like it could be covering up a pyramid. And there are many more like it.

Sam Osmanagic really got me thinking when he discovered electromagnetic pulses emanating from the tops of the ‘mountains’ in Bosnia. What if they really were signals to aliens? What if that mountain was serving as a light house for space craft navigation? The more I thought about such things, the more “If the Sky Should Fall” wrote itself!

I am in a comfortable point in my life where I am retired and, although living on a fixed income, my lifestyle does not require lots of money. My bride and I own a lot at a camping resort and a small trailer. We love taking our grandchildren camping for a week or so at a time. Otherwise, we are basic home bodies who take one or two trips a year.

We are extremely active in our church and community. Currently we are deeply involved in a program called Family Promise, which aims to help homeless children and their families. That is why I am dedicating 50% of any royalties to that charity.

If you are at all interested in the ancient aliens theories I think you’ll like my book. More importantly, if you’d like to support a program that helps homeless children, I ask that you buy the book for their sake.

Cover for bookLet me know what you think of it and how many questions it raises in your mind.

 


Market Place Blinders

January 5, 2015

IMG_1258

My bride and I are basically retired and living off a combination of income streams. We both have small pensions and collect social security. Since we have no major debts, we could probably make do on that.

However, we both saved in company sponsored 401K programs while we were working and did some other investing as well. The dividends of those savings are adding to our retirement income and providing the money we need to continue to live more comfortably. We can buy gifts for our children and grandchildren and we can travel. We’re far from living in the lap of luxury, but we have enough. (More people should learn to be happy with ‘enough’!)

Our investment plan has been fairly simple. We bought stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that all pay quarterly dividends. Until we fully retired, we let the money grow through dividend re-investment programs. From a psychological standpoint, it made following the market rather interesting. It’s always comforting to see the value of your investments going up. But, come quarterly dividend time, it’s fun to see the value go down – that means your re-investment will result in a greater number of new shares. Thus, your next dividend payment will be that much larger!

We continued to let things grow until we no longer had regular paychecks. Then we quit the re-investment programs and now have the dividends automatically deposited in our bank account. So far, it is working great! And that bothered me.

It bothered me because none of the experts I follow, nor the publications I read, recommend doing such a thing. In fact, while they are saying that bonds are not a good investment at this time, people our age should be moving more of our assets into bonds. Go figure! They have all sorts of fancy formulas, but none of them make sense. Why should I put 50 to 60% of our retirement nest egg into something that the experts are saying to avoid?

I read an article this morning in Money Magazine. It was talking about the problems of going after high-yield (translate that into dividend paying) stocks. Their take was that as the price of the stock went up, the yield (translate that as the amount of the dividend payment as a percentage of the price of the stock) went down – unless the company increased the amount of the dividend.

For example, let’s say you buy 100 shares of Jim’s Journeys for $100 per share and I pay you $5.00 per share per year in dividends. The yield is 5%. Now, if everyone wants a piece of the action and the price of my stock doubles to $200 per share and I continue to pay the measly $5.00 dividend, the yield is now a mere 2.5%. On the other hand, if the market dives (through no fault of my blog) and my share price dips to $50 per share, your yield is now a whopping 10%.

Thus, looking through the “Market Place Blinders” unless you buy the shares at $50, it may not be a good deal. But the financial planners and experts fail to see it any other way. They only see values at the time of the transaction. If you are not currently buying or selling, they are not paying much attention. Yields, to them, are nothing more than the percentage of the selling price.

In truth, I can’t tell you how much we paid for individual shares along the way. I really don’t care. The only thing that concerns me is the size of the quarterly checks.

So, if I was your financial adviser, I’d tell you to do what I did. Spend a month examining every company that pays dividends. The questions I asked were: How much do they pay per share? Has that amount increased over the years? What sort of business are they in? (I avoided any company that did not manufacture something. Mortgage companies, banks, and holding companies all pay handsome dividends, but they’re the companies that had to be bailed out and were saved only because they were “too big to fail”.)

As to our dividend income payments, my only regret is not taking advantage of this methodology sooner in my life. I watched our nest egg grow for about ten years before we began to reap the benefits. Had I begun the process much earlier, the nest egg would have grown more substantial and we would now be living in the lap of luxury. But then again, we’re more than happy with enough.

Hopefully the time it took me to write this article will pay dividends for the person who takes the time to read it.


Am I Welcome Here?

August 26, 2014

Last Sunday Pastor Allen’s sermon centered around the question Jesus posed to his apostles: “Who do you say I am?” The answer, from Simon Peter, was “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” Pastor then went on to ask how many of us would be willing to make that claim. Would we unhesitantly stand by that assertion if asked by a friend, neighbor, or family member? What would our answer be if asked by a total stranger?

Naturally, my mind wandered on to other (hopefully related) thoughts. Would I not only say the words… but would I openly demonstrate my belief? If so, how?

I decided that I should do something my good friend, Ed Terry, did whenever he facilitated Bible study sessions. He would always leave an empty chair reserved for Jesus. Ed wanted everyone to know his Lord and Savior was always welcome. In my case, I thought we should always set an extra place at our dining room table – complete with dinner plate, drinking glass, silverware, and napkin.

I then remembered my bride and I had invited about 25 people to join us for dinner on Sunday. We’d be lucky to have enough room for those folks without reserving a space for another invited guest who may or may not show up.

On the drive home I shared my thoughts with my bride. Before I give her response, let me add another thought.

I have always loved “Fiddler on the Roof”. I have been deeply touched by a number of the songs and have felt the joy and agony of raising a number of children who have made me extremely proud most of the time, and a few times left me extremely disappointed. Being bearded and a bit overweight, I also identified with Tevye as a man who strived to do the best for his family.

But the one thing that has always stuck in my mind was the closeness between Tevye and God. Was it the prayer belt that reminded him that God was always present? Or was it simply his firm belief in the Supreme Being?

Whatever the case, I always admired a man who could maintain a constant dialogue with God. As often as I have tried to constantly remind myself of God’s presence in my life, I fall short. I forget He is there until I find myself in a hopeless situation and need to quickly ask for His guidance and help.

So, when I suggested to my bride that we should do something to let God know He (or She) is always welcome to join us for dinner or any other occasion, she reminded me that we already do. We have Nativity sets throughout the house; we have religious paintings, crosses, and Bibles in almost every room; and our bookshelves are full of books dealing with religious topics and spiritualism. Guests do not have to sneak a peek anywhere to recognize that we are Christians.

So, I guess our answer to “Am I welcome here?” is a resounding “YES!” But now that I have put it in writing, there should be no doubt. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.


When Will They Ever Learn?

June 17, 2013

The song that has been running through my mind the last few days was written by Pete Seeger as a protest against war – all war. On Facebook, I posted the Kingston Trio’s version of the song. Here I’ll include Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version.

Today my problem has to do with teenagers more than war. This is not to say we should ignore the evils of war. It simply says that, of late, I’ve been more concerned with the mistakes made by youngsters who are at the age where they think they know everything, but haven’t a clue.

This past Saturday I had an opportunity to talk with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. This is what I told her.

When a child is born, the parents, grandparents, other family members, and friends are initially concerned about the health of the child. They count the toes and fingers and are relieved when the doctors and nurses reassure them that the child can see and hear. It is at this time that all concerned are informed of any potential problems – either physical or mental. It is at this time, also, that some parents must steel themselves to the challenges that lie ahead.  Fortunately, most parents are assured that everything will be just fine.

That’s when everyone begins to concentrate on the potential for that child. Many people see their child as a future athlete, musician, writer, doctor, lawyer, scientist, or even a President of the United States! While most parents are careful not to push the child in a particular direction to meet the dreams of the parents, most parents do what they can to see that the child gets a good education and is given the proper support, nurturing, and encouragement.

What parents want most for their child is for that child to grow up and become an independent adult. This can also be said for the parents of the “less than perfect” children – those whose physical or mental handicaps will always hold them back to some extent. But, if the child can get a job and live in a group home and enjoy relative independence, the parents have done their job well and they can take great pride and joy in their offspring.

The next thing that comes into the life of the child – in the ideal setting – is for that child to meet his or her soul mate. They date for a while and come to the conclusion that they want to spend the rest of their life with each other. They get married and, once again, the family and friends share in the joy.

If all goes well, the happy couple is soon blessed with a pregnancy. For all too many parents, that moment never arrives, but, like most of us, they sincerely want a child to call their own, and will go to great lengths to make it happen. Some couples will spend thousands of dollars attempting to get pregnant before joining the long line of parents hoping to adopt.

When the couple finally comes home with a baby, there is even more joy in the family.

At this point I explained to my granddaughter how all that happiness and joy can be shattered by youngsters who have no idea of what it takes to raise a child.

When I was a teenager, girls in our high school classes sometimes went missing. We had nothing to go on but the rumors, which were always the same. The girl got pregnant and was sent to a convent to have the baby. The baby would immediately be put up for adoption. The young mother usually did not return to the same school because of the shame involved. (Notice that there was nothing said about the boy who helped create the problem. In those days, the boy usually didn’t brag about his “accomplishments” in that arena.)

Nowadays it seems that girls intentionally get pregnant and take pride in their accomplishment. The ignorance on the part of these girls absolutely astounds me. They honestly believe they are emotionally and physically prepared to take care of a baby.

I think part of this problem stems from the fact that the “shame” has been removed. Schools now have day-care centers to help teenaged moms stay in school and all their friends get all excited seeing the baby.

The bigger part of the problem, as I see it, is that parents, grandparents, family, and friends, do all they can to help the young mother. That means the young mother does not have to deal with the reality of a baby.

I once had a case worker explain to me that young girls see a baby as someone who will love them unconditionally. Babies are so cute; they smile and do funny things. Going blindly into motherhood, they are shocked when they find a human being that is totally unequipped to love anyone or anything. The infant is helpless. The infant needs fed – when he or she is hungry; he or she needs diapers changed on a regular basis; he or she needs bathed, and changed into clean clothes numerous times a day. And all of this is on demand. A screaming baby needs attention – NOW! Quite often, the baby cries even though the diaper has been changed and he or she has been fed. It may be colic or some other problem, but it is a major problem. A parent can spend hours holding and rocking an infant while the baby continues to scream and cry. That’s about the time young girls wake up to the fact that they want nothing to do with the baby.

The case worker told me this when we were trying to adopt a girl. To be honest, I was shocked when I realized we were not adopting an orphan. In truth, there are very few orphans available for adoption.

Most adoptable children fall into one of two categories. Infants, born to unwed mothers, are the primary source of babies. The waiting list to adopt those children is extremely long and many people wait years for their infant child.

Older children, some with special needs, form the other group of adoptable children. These are the children of young parents who believe they are capable of rearing a child and refuse to consider adoption until the child is older. In many cases, the child has already bounced around several homes and foster families and is distrustful of any adults.

Because we already had three sons, we decided not to wait for an infant. We gladly accepted an older (almost three when we got her) child. Our daughter had been born to a young girl who was convinced she could do a better job of raising her baby than her mother had done with her. After a couple of weeks, she left the baby with a neighbor saying she was going to the store and would be right back. A week later, the neighbor called Family and Children Services and had them pick up the baby. No one knew where the baby’s mother had gone.

For more than two years our daughter’s birth mother refused to give up her parental rights and allow the baby to be adopted. Yet she did nothing to straighten out her own life so the baby could be returned to her. Finally, she signed the papers and released her daughter.

Perhaps that girl’s parents (our daughter’s grandparents) did what I think all parents should do – force the young girl to take care of her own baby. Make the child realize that taking care of a baby is not all fun and games. Make the young mother pay the bills for the baby: diapers, formula, baby food, doctor’s visits, clothing, shoes, and everything else. If the youngster has to drop out of school and get a job, so be it! As one family friend recently stated, “Don’t hand the girl her baby on a silver platter.”

Sad to say, our adopted daughter repeated the actions of her biological mother. Although she did not intentionally get pregnant, as a result of statutory rape a baby came into our lives. We were not ready to become grandparents, and failed to realize we would actually become proxy parents because we tried to make it easy for our daughter.

We wanted her to finish high school, so we did all we could to take the burden of the baby away from her. At one point, my daughter and her son came to live with me (my wife and I were divorced by then). I was unemployed at the time, so I stayed home with the baby and sent my daughter off to school.

The sad reality of that arrangement is I became the momma. When the baby would cry in the middle of the night, nothing my daughter could do would quiet the baby. Only when I held him would he settle down. He saw me as his primary care giver.

When I got a new job and went back to work, I tried to get my daughter to take more responsibility for the baby. She was too young and immature to perform the duties. Eventually she came to realize it was more than she could handle and, when the child was about 17 months old, she did what she should have done in the beginning; she gave him up for adoption. We all agree that, although it took too long to happen, it was beyond a doubt the best action for all concerned.

So, why am I bringing up such a sad story? Because one of my granddaughters (not the one I had the talk with) has proudly announced that, at fifteen, she is pregnant and has no intention of giving the baby up for adoption. She knows she can do a better job than her mother and doesn’t need to listen to any adult who is simply being negative and refusing to see the joy in her announcement.

Please pray for our family and, if you have any advice that might help us get through to the child, I will be more than glad to listen. I am not ready to become a great-grandpa, and I’m sure my daughter and her husband aren’t real thrilled about becoming grandparents.

Also, if you have a teenaged daughter and think this story might keep them from making a similar mistake, feel free to share it.


Preparing for Another of Life’s Milestones

May 14, 2013

In a few months, my bride will retire from her job and I will change my status from “semi-retired” to “fully retired.” In the past I’ve written about “Rites of Passage” and this is one for which we’ve been preparing for many years, but it’s a bit more frightening than all the previous stages of my life.

In the first place, there are the retirement savings accounts. My oldest account was started more than thirty years ago. It saw me though a long period of unemployment when I had to borrow from it to pay my bills. I’ve managed to repay those loans and add to it. But in a few months, I will stop adding to it and, (GASP!) begin withdrawing from it.

At the same time, we will transfer my bride’s 401K to a dividend paying mutual fund and virtually end the growth of that account. Hopefully, the dividends we collect from our retirement accounts will supplement our Social Security payments so we won’t have to move in with our kids… for at least a little while.

Many people who retire, do little more than sit in front of the TV and wait for the final curtain. I doubt if my bride could ever do such a thing, which means she won’t let me do it either. That’s one of the reasons we bought our new toys.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new travel trailer.

Our new tow vehicle

Our new tow vehicle

Some retirees go out and buy a two seater sports car and drive off into the sunset – stopping at fancy hotels along the way. Lu and I prefer to travel more frugally, and also hope to be able to take a few grandkids along with us to some of our as-yet-to-be-planned destinations.

To give those grandkids and their parents something to think about… our potential destinations include Tybee Island, Georgia, various parts of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Yellowstone National Park, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, Texas, and a number of Canadian provinces.

In 1984, I dragged my first wife and our four children on a cross-country camping trip. That was done with a pop-up camping trailer and an 8-passenger van. We saved a lot of money by staying at camp grounds, but strained a lot of relationships by having to deal with a daily allotment of chores, dirt, flat tires, dead batteries, lost pieces of the trailer, and spartan meals. I think I’m the only one who absolutely loved the adventure, but, then again, it was my idea. I had to love it!

That 1984 trip was carefully planned almost down to the number of miles to be driven each day.

Now, we’re looking at a trip that has no definite destination and no detailed advanced planning. However, technology has advanced significantly over the last 29 years. We now have cell phones, GPS navigators, Wi-Fi computers, and 29 years of experience in the art of living. We also have a better financial picture and hope to keep that improved picture by keeping our travel expenses as low as possible.

Some of my readers may take that last statement to mean “We’re coming to visit you and expect you to house and feed us for some period of time.” I promise you that we won’t stay long. So don’t worry.

In 1984, I had to estimate how many bills would be delivered in our absence, and how much we would owe. I paid most of the bills in advance and wound up with credit balances on most of them. Today I can review my bills on line and pay most of them by simply making a few keystrokes on the computer. Hopefully, our bank account will not run out on us.

Needless to say, even with all the advancements in technology, our additional knowledge and wisdom that comes with age, and all the other assets in our possession, our future remains a vast unknown and leaving home is a somewhat scary proposition.

Fortunately, we have family, friends, and neighbors who we can count on to drive by the homestead from time to time to let us know that things are OK, but I’d hate to be in Timbuktu when we learn that a tree has fallen on the house. Perhaps that is why many RVers sell their homes and take to the road on a permanent basis.

Perhaps that will be our next significant rite of passage.


Who You Gonna Call?

December 7, 2012

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This is the house in Northfield, New Jersey my grandmother lived in until her death in 1943. As of two days ago, it is still standing and appears to be in good shape. It appears to be unscathed by Hurricane Sandy.

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This home was not as lucky. It is no more than twenty miles from my grandmother’s house. That’s the way hurricanes do their thing. Some places appear virtually untouched while others look like a fleet of bombers came through.

The news media had a field day with Hurricane Katrina and the victims in New Orleans. They ignored the victims in southern Mississippi (especially Waveland) where the people took the brunt of Katrina – because people stranded on bridges and stuck in an overly crowded superdome were far more newsworthy. Beside, they could quickly illustrate that FEMA and the President were failing to do their jobs.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the President and FEMA are once again falling short.

We recently took a trailer load of food and other supplies to King of Kings Community Church in Manahawkin, New Jersey. There we learned that a group of Amish men from Lancaster, Pennsylvania were volunteering to travel to New Jersey to help in the rebuilding process. The men wanted to build their own temporary housing to maintain their religious beliefs, but the local government insisted they needed a building permit that would require weeks to go through the bureaucratic process. When the state was asked to intervene to speed up the process, they declined… as did FEMA.

The Red Cross? They had already left the area.

I did not stop at Grandma’s house to inquire about the damages. But I did learn from people living nearby that many homes that look like they made it through the storm without damage had considerable damage caused by the wind and rain.

Many homes had flooded basements. In some cases, the flood waters reached the first floor. The fact that it was salt water added to the problem. While a home may look good from the outside, the wallboard had to be ripped out and replaced. In addition, many homes had to be treated for mold. (Many are still waiting for those steps to be taken.)

Another problem was caused by the sand blowing underneath homes that did not have basements.

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A home such as this had the heating ducts and, in some cases, electrical and plumbing lines destroyed. In order to repair the damage, the sand must be removed. This is not an easy task.

Yet, because the home is still in reasonable condition, the owners are moving back in. There are not a lot of shelters and the people feel more comfortable in their own homes. However, without light and heat, they are at risk from the elements as the temperature drops. A propane area heater (and carbon monoxide) can be deadly… more so than freezing temperatures.

Our church out-reach committee sent a number of labor parties to the Gulf states to help in the rebuilding effort following Katrina. We hope to do the same for the victims of Sandy.

The recovery work in New Jersey has already begun.

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People are emptying their homes and businesses of the useless furniture and building materials destroyed by the hurricane. That is Step One. The next step is to see what the insurance companies, FEMA, and other groups can provide in the way of money to repair or rebuild the structure.

In the not too distant future, these communities will welcome volunteer laborers to help restore and rebuild what was lost. In the meantime, they need help in the way of food and shelter. Cash donations are more than welcome. When people learn they cannot count on FEMA or the insurance companies to finance their rebuilding efforts, they will desperately need the help of generous fellow Americans. (One would think our government that sends billions of dollars to foreign countries to be used to purchase military weapons could stop those payments long enough to help out American taxpayers in need, but perhaps that is expecting too much.)

I recently heard one person say he was more than willing to help the poor, but the millionaires who own the ocean-front properties should fend for themselves. On the surface, that is a reasonable statement. However, a closer examination should shed new light on that thought.

Let’s assume that the million dollar home on the shore is jointly owned by two or three families who combined their resources to buy it. They share the rent it brings in to supplement their social security payments. They are now looking at a need of thousands of dollars to repair it so it can be rented out again. They may not have that money.

In the meantime, there is that “rich guy” who owns the restaurant a block away from the beach. His business was badly damaged by the storm and he needs thousands of dollars to repair the structure before he can reopen. Of course, when he does reopen, if the million dollar beach houses are not available to rent, he will have very few customers. So, he needs the tourist trade to remain in business.

Finally, we have the working class citizens who live several blocks away from the beach or on the mainland. Without the beach front rental properties and the tourist eateries and gift shops, there is no employment.

In plain words, South Jersey relies heavily on tourists. All areas of the coast must be rebuilt or the entire economy of the state is toast.

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I included this picture because it seemed so ironic. Our church annually has an Angel Tree and we encourage our members to buy Christmas gifts for underprivileged children. This year we asked for a number of bicycles. Here are at least three bicycles that will never be ridden by children again.

The two groups we encountered in New Jersey that are making a difference and honestly providing for those who truly need the help are: King of Kings Community church in Manahawkin and the Ocean City, New Jersey C.A.R.E. project.

I encourage you to make a monetary donation to either one of these groups, or send your donation to Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia and we’ll see that it goes to the people who are in the most need.

Let me warn you that the scam artists are already at work in the area. One family was taken for $2,000.00 by a guy who claimed he could remove the water under their home by setting up two fans to blow the water out. Obviously, he was a blowhard who stole their money!


Take the Time

June 17, 2012

Sixteen family members vacationing in Hilton Head, South Carolina

My bride and I have been to many places over the last decade, but our most enjoyable vacations have been the ones we’ve shared with family and friends. Unfortunately, I had come to take those “shared times” for granted. Then, a woman I worked with at IBM sent me the following:

A young man learns what’s most important in life from the guy next door. 

Over the phone, his mother told him, “Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday.” Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days. 

“Jack, did you hear me?” 

“Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It’s been so long since I thought of him. I’m sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago,” Jack said… 

“Well, he didn’t forget you. Every time I saw him he’d ask how you were doing. He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over ‘his side of the fence’ as he put it,” Mom told him. 

“I loved that old house he lived in,” Jack said. 

“You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life,” she said. 

“He’s the one who taught me carpentry,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important. Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral,” Jack said. 

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away. 

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time. 

Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture. Jack stopped suddenly… 

“What’s wrong, Jack?” his Mom asked. 

“The box is gone,” he said 

“What box?” Mom asked. 

“There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he’d ever tell me was ‘the thing I value most,'” Jack said. 

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it. 

“Now I’ll never know what was so valuable to him,” Jack said. “I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom.” 

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. “Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days,” the note read. Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. “Mr. Harold Belser” it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside. 

“Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It’s the thing I valued most in my life.” A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch. 

Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved: 

“Jack, Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser.” 

“The thing he valued most was… my time” 

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. “Why?” Janet, his assistant asked. 

“I need some time to spend with my son,” he said. 

“Oh, by the way, Janet, thanks for your time!” 

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Sadly, I have no idea who wrote those words. Likewise I have no idea if it’s a true story or not. What I do know is that they are words of wisdom. We all need to devote more time to those we love, and to recognize and appreciate the time they spend with us.

A smaller, but just as important, group at Edisto Beach.

The other day I had lunch with a man who is planning his fiftieth wedding anniversary. He has already told his children that he and his wife do not want a big fancy dinner or any other “surprise” party their children might think of planning. What he and his bride want is to repeat a vacation they took several years ago. Their entire family rented a large house near the beach and spent a week together. They took turns preparing meals and cleaning up and thoroughly enjoyed their time together.

I think he and his wife have already recognized and appreciate the value of time spent with loved ones.

New Jersey 2006. A great time with great nieces and nephews!

Whoever came up with the “quality time” phrase needs to spend “quantity” time with loved ones. They are much more important than the job or anything else.

So, get started in planning that big family vacation. You’ll be glad you did!


E-Publishing

March 20, 2012

Aspiring authors know how difficult it is to get something from an idea to the pages of a hard back book. Some might say it’s impossible. I, like many others, have never put forth the effort it takes. One of the main reasons is the frustration created by the roadblocks put up by the industry.

Most legitimate publishers will not accept submissions directly from unpublished authors. Such submissions must come from an agent.

Since most agents will not accept new clients unless they’ve been previously published, it’s almost impossible to find an agent. Self-publishing through the “vanity” presses doesn’t count.

So, what does that aspiring author do? If he or she found a way to be a celebrity of some sort – professional athlete, well-known recording artist, or politician – he or she wouldn’t even have to possess writing skills. He or she could find a ghost writer (with the help of that agent who can’t be bothered with people who write well) and lead everyone to believe that the celebrity has multiple skills.

Fortunately for me, and many others like me, I never needed the money badly enough to grovel. After several futile attempts, I just let my work gather dust.

Then along came the e-readers and self-publishing was given a new meaning. No longer does an author need to pay a vanity press thousands of dollars to print a stack of books that will gather dust unless the author is really good at marketing his or her own work. The author can now simply go to one or more of several sites and upload the work for free. After that, it’s a matter of watching to see how many copies are sold.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this free process is determining what price tag to attach to each book. If a person has invested a year or two in creating his or her masterpiece, he or she might want to see people pay the kind of money they would pay for a Stephen King novel. But, how many books by an unknown author would people buy – especially if the price is high.

On the other hand, if a bargain basement price is attached, people might not think it’s worth anything.

So, you pick a number that sounds reasonable – reminding yourself that the reader isn’t even getting a hard copy of the work. Then, you sit back and hope it will continue to sell after all your friends and relatives have been shamed into buying a copy to help you out.

Short of buying an ad in USA Today, I’m hoping the people who read my work will provide glowing reviews to their friends and relatives and encourage others to read my work. Social networking and blogs supposedly have ways of causing things to go “viral” – a term with which I’m not totally enamored. So, for now, I’m going to avoid the USA Today ad and see what happens.

Before I end this post, I will include some information on each of the books I currently have available for sale. When you see the list of choices, you might think I have yet to find my niche or genre. That may be true, but I have my own thoughts on that.

Ian Fleming is famous for the James Bond novels he wrote. I know for a fact that Ian Fleming wrote in other genres – “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is one most people would not have guessed. At least Fleming continued to use his own name regardless of what he wrote. Many other authors used pseudonyms when writing something other than the genre for which they were known.

The truth is that all writers like to write about lots of things. Establishing a “voice” is more important than getting boxed into a specific genre. If you like the style of someone’s writing – it’s easy to read and makes you feel comfortable with the use of the language – it doesn’t matter what he or she is writing about.

So, that should explain the works I have published to this point.

The first to hit the stage was:

This work was born out of a dinner conversation in New Orleans. A friend of my bride was asking us about various trips we’ve taken and finally suggested I write a book about how to have a great trip at a reasonable price. This book is available for both Kindle and Nook readers.

Next came my murder mystery.

This book was written in 1996 shortly after I learned that my teenaged daughter had been raped and was pregnant. I was out of work and depressed and started thinking, “What could be worse?”

The ordeals experienced by the little girls and their parents in this book are far worse, and should be a warning signal to all parents and grandparents.

Every time I see a parent simply drop off a child and go off to do their own thing, I shudder to think what could happen. People need to wake up. “Stranger Danger” is a stark reality!

Currently, “Shattered Princesses” is only available on Kindle.

Next came this:

This is a collection of magazine articles and essays I’ve written over the years. It clearly demonstrates that we writers like to write about anything that strikes our fancy.

Like my travel tips book, this one is available for either Kindle or Nook readers.

So, there you have it. The three books I’ve published so far. There will be more.

The most expensive of the three is the murder mystery. It sells for $3.99.The other two sell for $2.99.

With all three, you can download the first several pages and see if you’d be interested. If you like my style or get caught up in the plot, you can go ahead and buy it.

Finally, if you buy it and like it, please encourage your friends and relatives to take a look. I’d appreciate all the support I can get.