Thursday, January 26, 2023

Retirement: Are You a Squirrel or a Cat?

While looking out into my back yard yesterday at birds eating seed at my bird feeder, I also saw a squirrel enjoying a little seed himself. When watching a squirrel move about I get the impression that they are on methamphetamines or something because they are so twitchy and nervous. They move about in quick jerky motions and are very busy animals going to-and-fro across the yard and up and down the trees. One minute they are sitting quietly enjoying the bird seed and the next minute they dart across the yard to bury an acorn in the ground. A few days ago I spotted a squirrel darting along my fence top with a giant piece of white cushion stuffing he had found some where. Who knows what he was going to do with it. I figure he was going to pad his nest a little against the cold winter wind.

Watching the squirrel made me think of people in retirement. Some people are very busy in retirement doing this and that and going through their day getting things done. And then some are more like a cat and take retirement super relaxed and enjoy sitting in the recliner watching TV, reading a book, knitting, etc.  

I see myself with the characteristics of both of these animals. On a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 60's or 70's  I can fill a day with busy activities. I can be a squirrel on those days and wash the car, clean the garage, do some yardwork, touch up paint, replace or fix minor broken items, etc. By the end of that day, I just want to be a cat and take a break and sit somewhere quiet and read a book. On a cold winter day, I can be a lazy cat all day long drinking coffee, reading, blogging and other low energy activities. 

In the summer, the squirrel in me gets the lawn mowed and trimmed and flower beds cleaned up. Then, the cat in me gets on the pool float and does nothing for an hour or two other than listening to the water falls tumble into the pool and some reggae or smooth jazz playing on the speaker at the pool side. 

In retirement I think you need a good balance of being busy and being at rest. If you stay in squirrel mode you will burn yourself out with constant activities, volunteering and part time work and find that you have no time to enjoy the retirement you have worked for. On the flip side, you can not stay in cat mode for any length of time without becoming a hermit in your own home. You must get out and have interaction and exercise to keep the mind and body strong and able. I envision that most retirees become more cat as they age and squirrel activities become too much work. Health would also dictate your activity level. Obviously any major health issue or disability would slow your activity level to some extent.

Are you more squirrel than cat or more cat than squirrel? If you have been retired for many years, did you start off in squirrel mode and slowly transition to cat mode? Are you like me and flip between busy and not so busy depending on the day?  What other animal might you equate your retirement to? 

On Tuesday, as I write this, we have snow moving into the area with 4"-8" expected. Today, I'm not sure I have the energy to be a cat. Today,  I may go into sloth mode!

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Splinter!

I take my 3 year old granddaughter to school and then pick her up again every afternoon. She usually greets me in the afternoon with a huge smile and is excited to be going to Nana and Pawpaw's house. I pull up in line to pick her up and then jump out of my truck to help her get into her car seat and get buckled in the right rear passenger seat. One day last week, she met me with a smile and happy attitude as I began to put help her into my truck when she started wailing and crying. I didn't have a clue as to what just happened and then she started yelling she had a splinter in her hand as she put one hand on top of the one that contained the splinter. I struggled to calm her down and get her into her car seat and then she would not unclasp her hands so I could buckle her in. I pulled the truck up into a parking space so the next parent could pick up their child. I went back around to her side and was able to get her to allow me to look at the splinter. She had huge tears running down her face and I expected a huge splinter deep into her finger. She removed the hand covering the splinter and I saw a tiny half inch piece of wood that was barely embedded in her finger. (The photo above is not the splinter in her hand)  I quickly removed it and she instantly got better since she could no longer see the splinter in her finger. A smile and laugh quickly came back as I buckled her into her seat. 

This splinter could not have caused any pain, it had barely pricked her skin and was barely hanging on. I'm surprised she didn't shake her hand enough for it to just fall off. But, in her eyes, she saw a huge and painful problem with this splinter and just the idea of a splinter in her finger set her emotions into high gear. Her tears and screaming were more about what she thought was a terrible situation rather than what the actual situation was.

How many times throughout our lives do we react much the same way to situations that we find ourselves facing? I know, from personal experience, that I have made a mountain out of a mole hill on numerous occasions. I've walked to my car in the Walmart parking lot and noticed a spot on my car where someone has hit it with their own car door. My blood pressure rises, my stress level rises and I began to get mad and then as I rub my finger over the horrible spot on the car, the paint rubs off and you can't tell that anything happened! I had reacted the same as my granddaughter did to her "splinter". The same thing has probably happened to every one of you. You have overreacted to an event or a comment by someone that really was no event at all.

Other situations in our lives may deserve some reaction from us but not an overreaction. Many small events in my life have caused me great stress and sleepless nights. Those same events in retrospect were nothing to really lose sleep over. I have experienced several real splinters over the years. I have had painful splinters under my fingernails, in my finger and a few in my feet. Some were easy to remove. Some were hard and painful to remove. A few drew blood and were very painful. Life throws us many rough situations over the years and much like a splinter, some are easy to get through and some are a little tougher to get through.

The important lesson is to clearly assess the situation at hand and make sure we don't overreact to a situation that has been created in our own minds. Sometimes we see the splinter on the surface of our hand or the spot on the car before we assess things such as Is it real? Does it hurt me or others? Is it really important in the big scheme of things? Some friends of ours have a funny saying when they describe a silly fall. They will tell the story of stumbling and falling for some reason and then say "And then I assessed myself", meaning that they assessed the situation to determine if they were hurt and able to get up off the ground. But, what a great thing to to in any situation, "assess yourself" then carry on.

Our minds can work against us in making the situation much worse than it actually is. To me, it is much like the placebo effect that people often get when taking medicines. If you think you are taking a medicine that will help an ailment, often you feel better just simply because your mind believes that the medicine is working even if you are taking a placebo. Only, in this situation, our mind sees the splinter on the surface and automatically associates it with a painful and nasty experience. 

I believe I have gotten better at reacting to situations as I have gotten older and as I have adjusted to retirement. After years of overreacting to things, that turned out to be nothing, I feel that I am a little slower at reacting negatively to things. Since leaving the work force for retirement, I think I have a lot fewer problems and issues that come up on a daily basis. I'm sure I will still overreact to the next door ding on the car or other things that really are more irritating than they are a serious problem. I have to continue to remind my self that the small problems are not worth losing sleep over as they will pass into the past very quickly. 

Have you had a similar "splinter" moment recently when you thought something was going terribly wrong, when in fact nothing bad was happening at all? Have you ever experienced a placebo effect from taking a supplement or placebo medicine? What do you do to properly access a new situation to prevent overreaction? Have you become better at not making a mountain out of a molehill in retirement?

Monday, January 16, 2023

Making The World A Better Place!

Back in my working days I had two sayings that I uttered on most mornings to my wife and kids. One was "I'm off to make the world a better place!" and the other was "I'm going to work to make money for cookies!". In my last post I talked about my interesting career in law enforcement. When uttering the "I'm off to make the world a better place", I headed into the office to help stop some crime, bring justice for the victims and possibly bring restitution to those victims. Just my little part in making the world a better place. In all of our careers, and then in retirement, we can make the world a better place. Even if it is a very small improvement in our own small environment or a large improvement to the world in general.   

When I think now about making the world a better place, I think I am doing so every time I put something in the recycle bin or I plant a flower or tree. These are very tiny things but things that do, in fact, improve the world a tiny bit. We all can make the world a better place with physical acts such as these or even greater acts involving helping others, righting wrongs, volunteering, etc. In my own environment, I make our local world a better place by repairing something in the house, painting a part of the house that needs a touch up, getting rid of unused things and also any cleaning of the home or yard. I believe we make the world a better place with a simple smile or compliment given to someone. I believe we make the world a better place by raising responsible children and grandchildren. 

Sometimes I will voice "I'm making the world a better place" after I wash and clean my car or I take out the trash. These are probably not great examples of making the world a better place. I feel I don't have the talent, skill and money to make large scale improvements to the world. When I think of great improvements in the world, I think of the Gates Foundation that has saved countless lives through immunizations and health care in the poorest parts of our world. I think of the non-profits that drill water wells and provide drinking straws that filter water to those that don't have clean drinking water. I think of preachers spreading the gospel in secluded and dangerous areas. And, I think of those organizations that feed millions of the hungry around the world.

I have not made major inroads to making the world a better place. I have not started a non-profit to help those in need in some way. I have not invented or discovered anything that will change the world. I just march along through life making small contributions to this world of ours. 

Do I make the world a better place by putting bird seed out for the birds in my back yard? Do I make the world a better place by helping my family with a variety of chores and tasks? I think the world is a tiny bit better when I do those things.

Have you done anything major in your life to make the world a better place? What do you do on a regular basis that you would consider making the world a little better? What large and small efforts do you think about when you think about making the world a better place?

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Daddy Went To Prison Today!

 "Daddy went to prison today!" This was a statement that my son made to his teacher of his kindergarten class many years ago. The teacher approached my wife when she picked him up from school that day and asked if anything was going on at home that she should know about. My wife responded that everything was good, "Why?". The teacher explained that our son had told her that his daddy went to prison today. My wife laughed and explained that I was a law enforcement officer and had indeed gone to prison that day to interview a prisoner. They all had a good laugh and now we have a funny memory!  

  retirement, I have looked back at my career and admit I had a very interesting and fulfilling career. I began my government service as a city mail carrier and did that for about 5 years before becoming a Postal Inspector. During my mail carrier time I suffered hot days, freezing days, crazy customers and a dog bite. I then began my law enforcement career as an Inspector investigating federal cases involving mail theft, mail fraud, robbery, burglary, internal worker's comp fraud and much more. I interviewed numerous prisoners and soon to be prisoners during my career and had many interesting cases and crazy stories. 

I began college thinking I would be a CPA, but after my first accounting class I decided I couldn't do that for the rest of my life. You have to remember that this was in 1984 and accounting was basically done by hand with a pencil and numerous accounting ledgers! I could probably handle it much better today with a computer. I switched to a finance major and graduated with a Bachelor of Business degree. After being persuaded to take the postal test in 1985 by my postmaster father, I was hired on as a city mail carrier and finished up my degree at night. During my carrier time, I found out about the Postal Service having jobs of Postal Inspector and the rest is history. 

During my career as a Postal Inspector and then as a Special Agent I was involved in car chases, foot chases, search warrants, etc. There was never a dull moment. One car chase made a TV series called The Real Stories of the Highway Patrol because the chase had been terminated by a trooper doing a pit maneuver that went perfectly. I also ran across numerous characters on both sides of the law. I once interviewed prisoner David Hammer at the McAlester State Prison in Oklahoma for his role in  corresponding to women through the mail and scamming them out of their money. Hammer later rose to fame in the OKC Bombing case in which he claimed McVeigh had confided in him many facts about the case. 

I was able to work on many interesting cases over the years. I was part of a task force that took an independent look at the Waco, TX fiasco at the Branch Davidian Compound. Our group was asked to cull through evidence to determine if a certain caliber bullet was fired during the siege. We sifted through many barrels of evidence of ammo casings in the search for truth. I also experienced the OKC Bombing first hand with my office being across the street. I was there at the time of the bombing and was involved in recovery operations for the post office we were located in. I also experienced the anthrax attacks of 2001 which resulted in deaths, including postal employees, from anthrax mailed through the postal service. The months after the initial attack resulted in non-stop calls from customers and postal employees regarding white powder found in mailboxes and postal facilities. All Postal Inspectors at the time were responding night and day in response to this scare across the country.

On my side of the law, I was exposed to humorous characters throughout my career. One rural county deputy comes to mind as I will always remember a saying of his during an interview of a suspect. He and I were interviewing a young guy for knocking down mailboxes in his county. The suspect wasn't too cooperative until the deputy told him if he didn't start being truthful "the only thing that is going to beat your ass to jail are the headlights on the bus". I almost laughed during that interview. Another rural county deputy was being briefed on our plan to conduct a controlled operation in which the suspect would pick up a package of drugs at the post office while we watched and then stopped him. In reply to a question of "What if he takes off?" from a member of our task force, this particular deputy advised "I will shoot his tires out". The problem was that he was serious about it. After advising him we weren't going to be shooting out tires, the operation was successful with no shots fired. Another local character always teased us when we arrived to coordinate an operation by stating "Why are the stamp police here, did someone forget to lick a stamp?. He thought he was funny!

There are many interesting careers out there in this world. We all see the glamorous careers that are depicted on a thousand TV shows that include police, fire, law and medical. There are certainly many more interesting careers that don't have their own TV show. I would imagine the person who fixes cell phone towers has stories to tell. The garbage truck driver has stories to tell. The cable repairman has stories to tell. I'm sure most every career has it's share of experiences and humorous stories. 

Did you have an interesting career that you can share? Do you have any funny anecdotes to tell us about? I remember reading Reader's Digest magazines in the past and reading anecdotes from the military in one regular monthly section. In retirement, do you look back at your career with a smile on your face and think "That was a fun ride!"? 

And...for those out there contemplating a new life of crime, remember "The only thing that is going to beat your ass to jail are the headlights on the bus!".

Friday, January 6, 2023

New Year's Financial Tune Up Tips

Usually around the first of the year I take a serious look at our finances to fine tune a variety of things. I haven't completed this yet this year, but will within the next week or so. Here are a few tips on what I look at every year. Most, you may have read about before, but it can't hurt to be reminded to get yourself in gear sometimes. 

I start my financial tune up with accessing and saving my credit report with all three major credit reporting companies. This can be done for free at  I do a quick review to make sure there are no unauthorized accounts or any old accounts that have popped up. Years ago I discovered an old hospital bill that had gone to collections for about $100. I contacted the collection company and found out that the hospital had an address on my account that was very old, and numerous moves ago, so this particular bill had slipped through the cracks. I settled the small debt to have it drop off the reports. I review the report for any credit cards I may need to close. I often open up a new credit card to get free miles or points and then never use it again. This is my opportunity to be reminded to close an account or two.

Next, review your bank accounts you may have and check interest rates on your various options. The bank is not going to call you on your .5% savings account to let you know you can get 2% by switching to another account. I recently checked on our savings account options at the bank. By moving it to another type of savings I went from getting $8 a month in interest to getting about $80 per month. That is a huge difference for just inquiring about what options are out there. Savings rates have jumped a lot since the Fed started raising interest rates. This change took me less than 30 minutes at the bank.

I've mentioned this one before in a post, remember to check your online streaming accounts. There may be an account or two you no longer use and can close. The streaming services are all month to month and can be cancelled and restarted anytime. So, If you have watched all your favorite shows on a service and the next season doesn't come out until next Fall, cancel it. Then, restart next season. 

Review your health insurance plan and make sure you are using all the benefits. Our health insurance is Blue Cross and they have a benefit in which they pay you $50 to take an online health questionnaire and pay you $40 for online coaching and tracking sessions. The online tracking is super easy and covers things like Eat Better, Get More Exercise and Have Less Stress. You just check in online and check a box for being on track, a little off track, etc. Once you meet their set criteria, such as 12 days of exercise out of 30 days, you complete the task and get $40. Blue Cross will allow you to complete 3 of these session resulting in you being paid $120. The amounts are put on a Debit card that can be used for health expenses including co-pays and prescriptions. Not a bad way to get a free $170 per person. Our health insurance also has a program where you can get a free blood pressure cuff and a free blood sugar testing device if your health situation would require monitoring in those areas. 

Review your home and auto insurance. Some people purchase the coverage and then never review it. My wife's parents have had the same insurance for 50 years or more. I guarantee you that if they had shopped for insurance every year or two they would have saved thousands of dollars. If you compare every year or so, you can save hundreds of dollars each year. 

I have never shopped around for better health insurance. I have been happy with Blue Cross and feel like it is well worth what I pay. I know some people who shopped their health insurance and then were surprised about the difference in co-pays, in network doctors, etc. I am content knowing my insurance is good and don't want to mess around with it. I did make one change to my health insurance. My son will be 26 this year and would be off my insurance and he just got a new job that pays 100% for his health insurance. So, during open season, I changed our plan from family to self plus one. This saved about $50 per month and we still have our very same coverage. So, if you children have aged out and are off your insurance, make sure you see if you plan has a self plus one option that is cheaper than the family option.

Review all of you financial and investment accounts and make any adjustments as needed. This would be a good time to change asset allocations or change your withdrawal rates on you retirement funds. This is also a good time to review your important documents and make sure they are up to date and secured in a place where you and your spouse know about. In your review, check passport expiration dates, life insurance expiration dates and make any changes to your will and other legal documents. 

I hope you can benefit from at least one suggestion I've listed here. If nothing else, I have reminded you to get busy!

Do you have any other financial tune up tips to share? Does your health insurance offer similar benefits to what I discussed? Take a few minutes to tune up your finances and then sit back and enjoy 2023!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

It All Has To Do With Our Perspective

Perspective has one definition of "a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view".  The word is most often used in a similar fashion as the word "standpoint". Standpoint is defined as a position from which objects or principles are viewed and according to which they are compared and judged. 

I have visited San Antonio, TX numerous times over the years and have taken the riverboat tour several times. There is one point where the narrator has you look up at a building as you round a corner. Upon first glance, and from that particular perspective the building looks like a single wall reaching into the sky. As the boat moves along, your perspective changes, and you see the whole building and the fact it is a full building built with a very sharp angle at the corners. 

Our perspective changes with our environment. I posted before regarding our different environments that we live in. Perspective is similar in that each of us has a unique perspective of everything around us.  That perspective shapes our thoughts and attitudes and the way we act and respond daily. I have often heard that those people who lived through the Great Depression were frugal their whole lives. Due to the crash of the financial system, they no longer had faith in the system and would only keep cash at home and would often bury it or hide it rather than put it in a bank. From their perspective, banks could never be trusted again. For those of us that have not lived through such a time, we trust that our money is safe in a bank or other financial institution and don't think twice about it.

Due to our prosperous environment in the U.S., most of us have a perspective of being pretty secure and pretty safe in this country. Other than the random gun violence that has run crazy, I feel pretty safe when I am out and about in this world of mine. After watching a recent WW I movie recently, I thought of how great we have it in this day and age in the U.S. The hardships of the soldiers and the citizens involved in that war, as in any war, was horrendous. I can't imagine being in constant fear of a bomb dropping from the sky or fear of an invading force coming into my city. I can't imagine having to forage for food and water in those conditions or trying to protect my family in those conditions.  Forcing ourselves to think about that type of perspective makes you appreciate what you have. 

When you think about the hardships others are in, you appreciate the water that comes out of the tap at the turn of the handle. You appreciate the lights and the heat coming on at the flip of a switch. You appreciate the abundance of food available at the local grocery market. Our perspective sometimes leads us to be accustomed to our situation and not fully appreciate what we have. 

I think I have a bad day if the battery goes out in my car, or the electricity goes out for a couple of hours, or I break something I drop on the floor. Really Mitch! Those are such minor issues compared to "bad days" that others are experiencing around the world. My wife and I have talked about how our perspective about cancer and cancer treatment has changed over the past two years. We both had the perspective that cancer was bad and the treatments were pretty awful. After she went through the cancer treatment herself and I saw firsthand how tough it really is, our perspective has changed dramatically and we realized it is a much worse experience than we had in mind. It's all in the perspective.

I mentioned WWI, but there are some pretty bad situations in this world currently. The people in Ukraine worry about the bombs and invasion and staying warm this winter. People are starving in parts of the world with about 9 million dying last year because they didn't have food to eat. Can you imagine having their perspective of the world! A Google search says there are 15 wars or armed conflicts going on in the world. Another terrible perspective. 

Our perspective doesn't just involve what we can see or touch, it also involves our opinions on things from religion to politics. We must all remind ourselves that our perspective is not always the right perspective and is certainly not the only perspective out there. We must keep open minds to everyone else's perspective. Giving other people's perspective some respect is similar to the quote "Before you judge me, walk a mile in my shoes".

As I sit here writing this blog in a warm house with a full pantry and all the basics I need in life, I must continue to broaden my perspective to acknowledge those that are suffering and be very thankful for what I have. As we all start a new year, we must be thankful for what we have as it can all change in a heartbeat. In this new year, I hope to be more content and more appreciative than I have been in past years. 

In my retirement, I believe my perspective in life has changed. I see life more as something to slow down and enjoy rather than the hustle and bustle of work to earn a dollar. I look more for things that bring me joy such as family and new experiences. I enjoy the relaxing aspect of retirement with no real set schedule. My current perspective is of a pretty awesome world despite it's many flaws and of huge potential for the future.

Have you read about or viewed a situation that makes you thankful for your current perspective? Did your general perspective change with retirement? Are you more open to other's political and religious views than you used to be? Do you have a way to be more thankful in your daily activities?

May you all have a great year in 2023 and savor and enjoy every moment!