The Correct Sleep Number Russ Leonard 7-14-17
Have you ever really stopped to think about sleep? Humans spend about a third of their lives asleep and how many people really know what their optimum amount of sleep is? I didn't until I retired.
I always have been an active person. When I was working I knew I was not getting enough sleep. I would push myself in the gym, run around like a nut for 10 hours in work and then deal with family concerns. Looking back, I don't know how I did it.
When I retired three years ago, I knew that I finally had the opportunity to optimize my sleep. I was not sure what the number would be so I experimented. In a proper experiment you only want to have one variable at a time so I made my bed time the constant and varied when I would get up. I figured the right amount of sleep would be between 6 -1/2 hours to 8 hours.
I tried 8 hours first for a couple of weeks. That did not work at all. I would get up stiff as a board and I did not feel energetic. I sleep very still and very sound. I use an alarm to wake up. I never needed one when I was working and sleeping less. Now I either wake up a minute or two before the alarm or the alarm wakes me up.
After a few months of trial and error I determined that 7 hours and 15 minutes is my optimum sleep number. I can stretch it to 7 and a half but that is it. This is all based on my active lifestyle. If I did less, I would am sure I would need less sleep. Less than 7 hours and I do not feel refreshed. I rarely got 7 hours of sleep when I was working.
Since I am an amateur astronomer there are nights that I am out very late. If I go to bed 3 hours later, I get up 3 hours later. It works okay but not as good as my regular schedule. I can not stay up late more than twice a week. It is rarely clear that many nights anyways.
There have been hundreds of studies on sleep. The last one I heard of had determined that 7 hours and 6 minutes was the perfect amount that an average person should get. I am not sure what an average person is and I know that I am certainly not one. It is always best to figure it out yourself through a disciplined effort. Sleep well!
"Zena" Our female Alaskan Malamute that we had from 1997 to 2010. One and a half years old in this photo, weighing 100 lbs. She was a big, beautiful, powerful girl. Also far more intelligent and loyal than most people.
The Right Pet for Your Retirement Russ Leonard 1-14-17
Millions of people own pets. Americans spend over 60 Billion dollars a year on their pets, mostly on dogs and cats. Both my wife and I are animal lovers. We currently do not have a pet. We have had two Alaskan Malamute dogs. We had a male for almost 11 years and then a female for almost 13 years. The male was a rescue, the female we purchased as a puppy. Some of the best memories of my life are the times spent with my dogs, especially Zena, our female Malamute. I don't know who liked play time better, me or the dog. Hundreds of miles of hiking and walking together, camping out in blizzards and just hanging out together, were all great fun.
The reason that I am writing this is because I am thinking about getting another dog sometime in the future. My wife and I dog sit my nephew's Doberman/Lab mix one day every week. Just watching my wife's interaction with the dog is telling me that she is probably ready for another though she claims she is not. Her reasons are emotional. The heartbreak of losing your pet after many years is very difficult. The day we had to put Zena down was the worst day of my life. I cried like a baby and felt physically sick for several days. That is from someone who never shed one tear at a funeral, not even my mother's or father's.
There are so many things to consider before getting a pet of any kind. A pet requires both a large financial and time commitment. I certainly have the time. I am waiting to see what is going to happen to my healthcare costs before I decide if we can afford a pet. The two Alaskan malamutes that we had required a large amount of exercise and play time. Both weighed in at 100 lbs. If you are not physically in good shape and have a laid back personality, most working dogs like Malamutes or Akita's would be a terrible choice for a pet. I would love to get another Malamute or perhaps a White Shepard but I can't. The reason, home owners insurance. My policy would be terminated if I was to get a dog from the forbidden list. That did not apply when we got Zena in 1997. In late 2009 when our independent insurance agent changed our insurance carrier we were notified that our policy was going to be terminated. The new insurance carrier sent someone to our home and photographed our dog in the backyard, holding a camera over the 6' fence. Zena was getting near the end at that time and I managed to talk them out of it. Two months later we had to put her down due to failing health. Checking with your insurance agent or company is a must before getting a pet. Cheating the system could be a big risk. In defense of the insurance companies, one third of all claims come from dog bites. When we are ready for our next dog I will see what breeds are acceptable.
So, if you have the desire, the money, the time, the physical ability and your choice of pet will not void your insurance, it might be time a for a new retirement companion. Give careful consideration of what you expect from your pet. Do you want a travel companion?, exercise partner?, lap dog, etc. Whatever your motives, one thing is almost certain. Your pet will be one of your best friends.
Older, Wiser or Just a Big Chicken? Russ Leonard 5-22-17
I just recently turned 60 years old. When I think back at some of the crazy things that I did in my youth, It is amazing that I am still here. My mother used to tell me that I was a crazy daredevil. In reality I was just a boy growing up in an era that predated computers, smart phones and all the things that keep kids busy today. We spent our time outdoors and were very creative in our forms of entertainment. There were some injuries along the way but all of my close friends and I survived.
It is perfectly normal to associate more risk and less reward as you age. When we were younger the risk part never was even a consideration. Case in point. My wife and I were just on vacation at Lake Winnepesaukee, New Hampshire. The last time I was there was 45 years ago in the dead of winter on a ski trip. One of my friends had a military parachute that had a spring loaded pilot chute. A severe cold front had just past and near hurricane force winds were sweeping in from the northwest. We of course seized the opportunity to do something stupid. We walked out about 1/2 mile on the frozen lake and secured the packed chute to the front of an 8' toboggan. Four of us got on the toboggan and wondered if the chute would deploy when we pulled the rip cord. Well, the wind caught the pilot chute which almost instantly deployed the main chute. Within a couple of seconds we were doing a good 50 MPH, half sliding, half flying. We were also heading towards some trees on shore. Had we considered how we were going to stop? Of course not. We all jumped off, skidded onto the rocks on shore and watched the toboggan get destroyed in the trees. At 15 years of age that is considered great fun. At 60 it would be called suicide. There are plenty of other examples that I do not need to mention. So what changed?
I want to live a healthy pain free existence. Enough bad things can happen without looking for trouble. I have become older and wiser. I am now a big chicken and happy that I am. I totally understand the relationship between risk and reward. My need for adrenaline rushes has been replaced with common sense. There are plenty of relatively safe things that an older healthy person can do to satisfy their need for excitement. Zip lining is fun. It is even more fun when you do it at an old quarry and zip line into a lake. Just make sure your shorts are on good and tight. A few years ago I jumped off the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas. It is really just a controlled vertical zip line. But doing a swan dive off the 108th floor satisfies the need for excitement. Very safe, great views but a little pricey. I like hiking and camping in extreme weather. With the right equipment it is very safe. Without the right equipment it could be life threatening.
The evolution from crazy to chicken is a long process. For me there was not a sudden change in attitude. All just part of the natural aging process. I still like to have fun. I just want to be able to have it more than one more time.
A scan of an old Polaroid photo from about 1985. Yes, that is me with all the hair and our first malamute, Ringo. He was a rescue that had been abused by an adult male. I was the only adult male that he ever felt comfortable with. All it took was a lot of love and affection, while at the same time letting him know that I was the Alpha-male of the pack. He was great with children and any female. He was also a natural photo-ham, always stopping and posing for the camera. We were very lucky to have both of these beautiful dogs.
Using Your Time Wisely Russ Leonard 3-28-17
What do the 1977 World Series, 1987 Super Bowl, 1999 Men's NCAA Basketball Championship and 2010 Masters have in common? Those are the last times that I sat down to watch Baseball, Football, Basketball or Golf on television. 2010 was the last year I watched any television. For many years prior to that I only watched a few hours of news a week. Okay, so maybe I am a little strange. I have been called worse. I know I travel on a different path than most. Does it make me a better person? NO. Does it make me much healthier than the average person? Yes.
Depending on your source of information the average American averages between 4 and 5 hours of TV per day! If we use the 4 hour figure that is 28 hours per week or 1456 hours per year! Since I have watched little or no TV most of my adult life, what have I done with those 58000 plus hours? Well, I have exercised thousands of hours, walked or hiked and biked many thousands of miles, traveled extensively, built several muscle cars, done all my own home improvements and repairs, enjoyed my various hobbies etc. I have stayed busy. So, maybe I missed a few good games, I don't care. It has been my choice of lifestyle. I have had and continue to have fun. I just went through a bad spell with a few injuries. I bounced back fast. I am sure that has a lot to do with my lifestyle. I have always preferred doing to watching.
I could not begin to tell you how many times friends have said to me," I just can't lose weight no matter how hard I try". My typical cold response is "that you are not trying so stop lying to me and more importantly stop lying to yourself". Just think if this person was watching 28 hours of TV per week and cut back to 21 and invested the other 7 hours in exercise of any type. I am sure in 6 months they would be a changed person. They would probably have lost weight, might have lower cholesterol, better blood sugar, improved Blood pressure, feel better and maybe even have better SEX. Maybe you don't care about your blood pressure but who doesn't want better sex?
Over the years, nothing would get under my skin and irritate me more than someone telling me how "Lucky " I was to be thin and fit. Luck had nothing to do with it. I made choices that few people make. I have had the discipline to stick with my choices. I am not here to preach, just offer a different perspective. You reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of your choices. I am an extreme example. The 6 pack a day, bucket of wings couch potato is the other extreme. Maybe something in the middle is good for most.
I have traveled enough to know that Americans are a fat society. Sitting in front of a TV for 28 hours per week doesn't help. I have done a lot of backcountry hiking in our National Parks. As you get farther from a main road the people you run into are thinner and more European. Of course there are some Americans, usually "West Coast Tree Huggers".
For me, investing in my health by enjoying a variety of outdoor activities has been a constant in my life. That combined with good eating has allowed me to do many enjoyable things over the years. As I near 60 years old, I can't imagine what I would be like if I chose the other path and squandered my valuable time. Actually, fat or dead comes to mind. Take a walk, feel better.
The Great Healthcare Debate
Why Everyone Needs to Pay Attention Russ Leonard 4-26-17
When reading this you must keep two things in mind. I have no political affiliation and I try to base all my opinions on data and logic. That does not mean that I am right or you will not disagree. That being said here is my take on the Great Healthcare Debate in the United States. I apologize in advance for it's length but even commenting about Healthcare is complicated.
No matter who you are or where you are from you need to both pay attention and try to understand what is happening with Healthcare in the U.S. Even if you do not live in the United States it would be wise to at least pay some attention. Why? Because how this issue is either resolved or not resolved and whatever the final product is, will say a lot about who we are as a nation.
First, whether you are currently participating in the ACA (Obamacare) or not, the entire healthcare industry is affected by it. It is all intertwined. The Medicaid expansion that some states chose to take advantage of and others did not further increases the complexity of both the economics and politics of Obamacare.
There are at least three distinct camps trying to push their agendas for a multitude of reasons. Many of the reasons are valid and can be supported by fact. Many are self serving and can not be supported by fact. Deciding what is fact and trying to predict future outcomes is extremely difficult for those of us that are impacted directly.
Let's look at the hard core political left first. The hard core Socialist leaning Democrat will tell you that healthcare is a right of everyone that lives in a modern industrialized society. They will also say that society has a moral obligation to provide health care services to all no matter what the socio-economic background is of those that receive these services. They believe that government should play a major role in the healthcare of it's citizens.
Now lets look at the hard core political right. The Ultra-conservative Republican will tell you that no-where in the U.S. Constitution does it say that healthcare is an inherent right to the citizens of our nation. Government intervention in the healthcare system should be kept to a minimum. They insist that healthcare should be operated like any other business in a free market system.
Those are about as diametrically opposed positions that could possibly exist. There is no obvious common ground in the above positions. They are simply black and white. When supporters of either of the above positions say that their beliefs are based on their fundamental core values, it exasperates the divide even more. Mix in a little morality and religion and we have one of the most socially explosive issues of our time.
There is hope. It lies in camp number three. Camp three probably represents more people than camps one and two but there is a major problem with camp number three. It relies on compromise. A word that is disdained by those on the extreme left and right. The ability to make some concessions so that all may at least partially benefit, sounds great in theory but is almost a lost art in today's world. Political power, Big Money, Greed and Corruption have taken a toll on compromise and cooperation. Currently there are moderates in both parties that at least say they are willing to compromise. Only time will tell if logic and common sense will prevail. There must be some areas where there is common ground and a point to build on. I am hoping that there are still a few people in positions of power that will step up and find the best solution.
Normally I do not offer my opinions or possible solutions on politically charged issues or socially explosive topics, but for healthcare I will make an exception. So if Russ Leonard was suddenly the "Health Care King", what would he do?
First we need to backtrack a little and recognize how we got to where we are. Healthcare reform was a hot button topic for 50 years leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare as it is most commonly referred to. The fact that some people do not know that they are one and the same shows a real disconnect that many people have with important issues that can affect their lives. Obamacare was passed by congress and signed into law in March 2010. That means it took the Democratic Party with control of all three legislative branches of the government over one year to pass their healthcare bill. It was passed strictly on a party line vote with no Republican support. A pretty pathetic way to run a government. The future of anything that does not have bi-partisan support will always be in doubt. They screwed up in 2010 and it looks like they are trying to screw up again. Only this time the shoe is on the other foot. Ramming through a partisan bill did not work then and it will not work now. Politicians love the use the word "mandate". No matter what party they are from they say the past election has given them a mandate to exercise their will on all Americans. In reality if only 60% of the eligible population votes and the winner gets about 50% of the vote, only about 1/3 of the voting population actively supported them. Actually it is even less because many people vote for the lesser of two evils. That is hardly a mandate. It also highlights the unused potential for true change that the electorate has.
Now it seems to me that the Republicans are feeling the need to rush almost anything through congress in order to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. They set this ridiculous target date of the first 100 days of Trump's presidency. Why? Why move so fast on such a complex issue? It is obvious that there are serious divisions within the party. That is probably the understatement of the year. They certainly did not do their homework during the past six years while they continued to bash Obamacare and vote only to repeal it. It reminds me of when I was in work and the Marketing department would set a date for a new product release before Engineering had even finalized the design. Just remember, "smart people" who continuously do stupid things are actually stupid people. They seem to be concentrated in the Washington D.C. area. But we chose them and sent them there!
So what would "Health Care King" Russ do? First I would invite all parties and sub groups within the parties to participate in a health care forum. No one leaves until true progress is made. I just hope they all get to see their families again and do not die in the room. I would sit the Bernie Sanders supporters with the Freedom Caucus. Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and both President Trump and Vice-President Pence could share a table. Get the appropriate committee chairs, cabinet officials and everyone else who has a stake in the game to participate. Nothing beats face to face communication. In an age of texting, tweeting and e-mails it is too easy to fire and forget a message and think you have accomplished something. Throughout history there have been more deals struck with compromise, face to face communication and a simple handshake than by any other means. It is time to go backwards so we can go forward. Maybe I am too optimistic? Congress is a very small exclusive club but there are many members who have never even talked to other members of the club. Maybe if they at least got to know each other it would provide a starting point for future progress.
I know this is a little long for something on this site and I hope I still have your attention because here are some specific ideas that I would try to include in health care reform.
First and foremost let's not get hung up on words or titles. Keep what is good about Obamacare and fix the real issues. Do not worry if it is called repeal and replace or repair. Obamacare provided health care to millions of previously uninsured but did so in budgetary ways that are unsustainable. Find something the tax payers can afford that works. One of the fundamental aspects of Obamacare was that the young and healthy would buy insurance and help subsidize the elderly and poor. Allowing children up to their 26th birthday to stay on their parents plans, undermines that premise. Why should others subsidize a healthy 25 year old?
I personally did not like the mandate clause of Obamacare. Call it what it really was, a health care tax. The small penalties for not signing up were a joke. Let people buy what they want. Keep the current Obamacare plan with required essential benefits but also allow basic catastrophic plans. High end plans drive up costs. Maybe every legal citizen should have access to at least a catastrophic plan though tax credits and or subsidies and have the ability to opt out at their own peril. Able bodied individuals who do not have children at home should have some work requirements to earn their subsidies. I voluntarily retired at 57 years old. I left a job that included health care benefits. I am able bodied. I receive subsidies based on my low retirement income. I do not deserve them. I also do not deserve to be gouged by an insurance company either. Benefits for someone like myself should be means tested. I should pay more. Of course I am not stupid and I will play by the rules and gladly accept my subsidies. At least I put into the system for many years.
Allow people with pre-existing conditions to purchase health care at a reasonable cost but do not allow people to sign up only after they get sick. Where can you buy a new car, choose not to insure it, wreck it, then send in a check to an insurance company and demand a new car. Not logical.
Insurance companies are entitled to make a profit. They are not entitled to cherry pick who they insure. If they had it their way only healthy people would get coverage. Profits will always take president over lives in the corporate world. That being said, smokers, obese people, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions should pay more. Finding a fair balance is the hard part. Under Obamacare insurers can not charge elderly participants more than 3x the rate of a younger participant. The true costs are 600%. Split the difference and use a combination of age and income based tax credits or subsidies. Under Obamacare there is a community rating clause that does not allow an insurer to charge more for a policy based on pre-existing conditions. This is important, otherwise insurers could still say that someone is eligible for insurance but charge anything they want. Even a million dollars! Maybe a 25% surcharge for pre-existing conditions would be appropriate. Where would the money come from? Block grants to states?, Federal high risk pool?, who knows?. There better be people smarter than me to figure stuff like that out or we are in big trouble. Lifetime caps on benefits should be reinstated. Why should a sick 60 year old be able to take a couple of million dollars of benefits out of the system to stay alive for a few more years? That money should be spent on the young. I watched both parents die slow painful deaths. Modern science keeps people alive that are better off dead. My father refused further treatment and decided it was time to die. We made the choice for my mother. Both could have been kept alive for a few more weeks through great expense. I am sure that this is repeated thousands of times every day. The results do not justify the expense. Those are difficult decisions that need to be based on logic, not emotion.
There are many more things I could discuss. It is an expansive, complicated topic. One more item I will mention is Tort reform or the ability of a person to receive financial damages for botched medical procedures or malpractice. It needs to be capped. People who have been harmed deserve reasonable compensation. Doctors are human and humans make mistakes. The baseball player strikes out with the bases loaded in the ninth and the surgeon occasionally nicks a main artery and you bleed out. Life isn't always fair and mistakes can be a minor inconvenience or tragic.
Whether you agree or disagree with what I have written is not important. Educating yourself on health care reform is important. It will impact your life whether you want it to or not. Oh, one more thing. My current insurer, Connecticare is not participating in next years insurance exchange. That leaves only Anthem who is also considering pulling out. Interesting times.
Exercise Your Brain Russ Leonard 3-4-17
Back before I was retired I had no difficulty keeping my mind sharp. As one of the only surviving Manufacturing Engineers, I was responsible for all types of problem solving on the shop floor. In addition, I did all the manufacturing cost estimating, so I was always crunching numbers. Many years before that I did all the CNC programming. That was before computer aided programming and required high level math with primitive tools.
It did not take long after my retirement to realize that my brain was getting slow and lazy. I started reaching for a calculator for simple math. I did some reading on the importance of challenging your brain on a regular basis. Everything made sense. I was a textbook example of someone who went from using their brain for complex problem solving to hardly using it at all. My brain was getting lazy. It was out of shape.
I started playing little mind games like trying to quickly add up the cost of items as I put them on the store conveyor belt. I still occasionally do that. I have never been exact but I am usually within a few cents of the total grocery bill. Last year my wife and I did several jigsaw puzzles. At first they were a challenge. After the second puzzle I was amazed how I could recognize pieces and just put them together without any trial and error. The brain was reacting and getting sharper. I am nearing the completion of a telescope and mount build project. It required a lot of custom made pieces that needed to fit together with very tight clearances. I designed the entire mount in my head. It was challenging and fun. My wife would see me staring off in the distance and knew that I was designing. I only wrote dimensions down once when I was cutting some very expensive oak boards and did not want to risk wasting them. I was also working with both metric and English dimensioned purchased components. It was a challenge to work out the details without a calculator.
So right now my brain is sharp again. I need to find new challenges to keep it that way or I will start to dumb down again. The brain reacts just like your muscles. Use it or lose it. My wife likes Word Search and other puzzle books. Between those and trying to figure me out, her mind stays active.