Winter, A perfect Time to Get Rid of "Stuff"​Russ Leonard 1-8-18

    ​ The past two weeks have been pretty cold for our part of the country. The morning lows have averaged below zero F. for the last 12 days. A big warmup is starting today. I have been outside a lot but nowhere as much as I would be out in the warmer months. It is a perfect time of year to look around the house and get rid of things. We just completed a purge of our unused clothing and donated it to a local organization. That was the easy part. My wife and I are total opposites when it comes to saving things. She thinks she might need it some day, so she saves it. I like to give it away or trash it if it has not seen recent use. I am more inclined to give it away rather than go through a lot of effort to sell something for 50 bucks. We do have a couple of very nice local consignment shops. My current goal is to get my wife to agree to consign some household items like wall art that we are not using. After all, she replaced it with something she liked better. It will take all my skills as a negotiator to pull this off. I would like this process to morph into a real downsizing project this year. I scaled back drastically when I retired 3-1/2 years ago. We went from 4 cars to 2. Actually, I went from three to one. I sold my award winning 2000 Corvette that I had custom ordered in 1999. So I have a proven track record of being able to part with nice things. I do not seem to develop the emotional ties to material items like my wife does. I never push my opinions and my wife always gets the final say. My reward for being so nice to her is too much "stuff". Wish me luck, this is not going to be easy.

               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.

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.

​               Aging and Property Maintenance Russ Leonard 9-6-17

​     I have been a happy homeowner for over 39 years and we paid off our home in 1996. With only a few exceptions I have performed all the home improvements and maintenance myself for all those years. I had a new driveway installed about 10 years ago and had my electrical service upgraded to 200 AMPS in 1999. I also had a couple of large oak trees cut down and had some new windows installed about 8 years ago. Everything else including a new roof and chimney repairs I did myself. I have done paver walkways, retaining walls, put in fencing, changed water heaters, etc., etc. My father and I added on my second garage many years ago. I even dug the foundation by hand. The days of digging foundations by hand are long gone!

​   Sometime in the not too distant future I may have to consider having more of my maintenance done by professionals. Certain things just might become too much of a risk or too difficult to do. I still clean my gutters a few times a year. There is always some risk going on the roof. For now I am still comfortable doing it but I can see some new gutters with top guards in the future.

​   The obvious downside of having professional work done on your property is cost. Many of my neighbors are about 10 years older and have made the transition to lawn services and professional snow removal. Barring any serious illness or injury I see myself doing that type of work for many years to come. Every time that I do something around the house, I think of the future and ease of maintenance. We currently have way too much in terms of landscaping work. We have too many bushes that require a lot of trimming. I recently cut 4 down, not to be replaced. We do not plant nearly as many annual flowers as we used to. High cost and constant maintenance are the reasons. If I am fortunate enough to live a long healthy life, someday owning a home  will no longer be practical. I hope that is in my far distant future. Moving to a smaller low maintenance home is a high probability at some point.

​   I recently witnessed two neighbors performing high risk maintenance in their yard. Both are approx. 70 years old and I will be kind and say that they could be in better shape. Both trimmed some trees with power equipment while perched high on step ladders. I actually was stunned by this very dangerous behavior. One had a motorized pruning saw, basically an electric chainsaw on a pole. That device was never intended to be used while on a stepladder on uneven ground. I mentioned to my neighbor that old age, ladders and power equipment are a potentially lethal combination. He laughed it off. I was dead serious. A former co-worker in our maintenance department retired and moved to Florida. He fell off a ladder and was killed before he enjoyed even one year of retirement. Unfortunately many males won't admit that they can no longer do something. Male egos are probably responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths and injuries every year. I certainly will not be in that group. Enough bad things can happen in life without tempting fate.

​   If the maintenance is no to low risk and something that I enjoy, I will continue to do it. If not, I will hire someone much younger with the proper tools and training to do it for me. If money becomes an issue I will have to move on to plan B or C. I don't actually have a plan B or C right now. Something else I need to work on.

                                                     ​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.

​     An Easy Way to Save Time, Money and Gas​ Russ Leonard 8-8-17

      Something strange is happening in my town and others. What used to be the most efficient way to get your morning coffee and donut has become a massive waste of time and resources. Our town is growing rapidly even with a massive exodus from our tax burdened state. We must have at least 12 coffee/donut shops in town, most with a drive thru. The drive thru has become the park and wait. The coffee shop closest to my house typically has 15-20 cars waiting in the drive thru line in the early morning. Even if the workers are  very efficient it must take at least a minute per car, probably longer. Could these people be wasting 1/2 hour of their day in line, several days a week. They sure are! And how did all these typically rude, impatient tri-stater(CT, NJ, NY) people find the patience for what must be a tedious process? They play on their smart phones, texting, surfing the net, etc.

     I have never had a cup of coffee in my life. I have not had a donut in the last 35 years and I do not own a smart phone or similar device. From my perspective this is like witnessing some sort of alien invasion. A massive snaking line of vehicles, mostly premium SUV's and top of the line Pick Ups, idling, wasting gas, polluting the environment, with their drivers in a head down position. All this to get the opportunity to spend too much money on some super duper café cream mocalotto special with as many calories as a normal meal. Let's not even talk about the deep fried sugary accessories.

     Of course I am being just a little sarcastic. What people do with their time and money is their own business. The problem is that many of these same people will complain about having no time to exercise and always running low on spending money. Two or more hours per week waiting in line for coffee may not be the best use of ones time. Spending $20-$30 on high calorie low nutrition drinks may not be the best thing to do either. Putting these on your credit card at 28.9% interest just adds a little more pain to the entire process.

    Here is a simple idea. Buy a new high tech coffee maker. Program it to have your coffee ready when you get up. Use your new found time to do family things or exercise. Invest the money you save or pay down those credit cards. Simple choices to live more efficiently and responsibly can pay big dividends in the long term. 

                                               ​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.

​               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 have always 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 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!

          Enjoying the Holidays Responsibly Russ Leonard 12-17-17

  ​   I really enjoy the entire Holiday Season from Thanksgiving to New Years. I especially enjoy Christmas. I have many great memories from the past.  I make an effort to avoid unnecessary stress this time of year and to maintain my healthy lifestyle. Whether it is because of peer pressure, ego, keeping up with the Joneses or just not wanting to disappoint others, many people spend much more than they can afford this time of year. Anticipating the big charge bill in January can ruin the fun you should be having in December. I know that I am much different than most people when it comes to spending discipline. I do not like debt. I have had my current credit card for over 35 years and have not given them one penny of interest. Maybe just a quick thought or two when pulling out the charge card will help with unwise spending. 

​  I find it amazing that most of the population gains weight over the Holidays. I know people that consider it a minor victory if they only gain 10 pounds during the holidays. That is bad enough, but what really annoys me are those that use the Holidays as an excuse to drink far too much. In some cases ruining the lives of others after they get behind the wheel of a car drunk. When I was 13 years old I was in a car accident while my father was driving. We were hit by a drunk nearly doubling the speed limit in a snowstorm before Christmas. It was amazing that there were no serious injuries considering the extensive damage to the vehicles. I remember that the person involved could barely stand up or talk when the police arrived. He was also related to a town official and no charges were filed. Some things never change.

    So this Holiday Season, I will not spend too much or eat too much or drink too much. I will enjoy good times with friends and family and not have to worry about the consequences of my actions.

You can still be fun and have fun in a responsible manner. There are no reasons to make New Years Resolutions if you act responsibly year round.

​    If you can control your behavior for most of the year there is no reason to let good judgement take a backseat for 6 weeks of the year. If you have bad judgement all the time, I just hope that ​our paths do not cross. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

             Getting Old and Cold Weather ​Russ Leonard 12-4-17

​   I am 60 years old and still enjoy a New England Winter. I am in the minority. Both my wife's siblings moved to Florida years ago. Four of my former co-workers have moved to South Carolina in the last few years. Others plan on moving to Florida soon. A couple of our best friends just closed on a house in Florida. You get the idea. We are staying and everyone else is moving south. I would move to northern Maine if my wife would allow it. 

  So what is different about me? Lots of things but we do not need to get into that. I have stayed very active. I enjoy the outdoors in all seasons. I have stayed in top physical condition which I believe helps me tolerate both the heat and cold. I am also a snow lover and will stay outside all day in big snowstorm, just like I did 50 years ago. Most older, retired people associate a northern winter with being cooped up inside and boredom. Staying active and enjoying outdoor winter activities is key to remaining happy and enjoying the winter.

  Another very important aspect of enjoying the cold is having the correct clothing and actually using it. The other morning it was about 25 deg. F. Cool but not real cold. I was walking into the grocery store at the same time as two employees. One was complaining about winter and hating the cold. This person was not wearing a coat or even a sweatshirt. If I went outside in sub freezing weather with only a t-shirt I would be complaining about the cold also. 

  Almost every country has some sort of saying involving the weather and clothing. The Norwegian version is "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing". Makes perfect sense to me. I dress for the weather. I was often ridiculed for it as well. I didn't care. Walking around in the winter without a coat on does not prove how tuff you are. Just maybe, it proves how bad one's judgement is.

    I do realize that some older people have real medical conditions that make living in a colder climate impractical. It is also much more difficult driving in the snow and ice. There is no need for a retired person to be driving in a snow storm. Wait a day and go out. An eighty year old in an old buick with big sunglasses in a blizzard is enough to scare anyone. I did not even put my snow tires on the last two years. If the roads are real bad I will stay home. It is different when you have to get to work. There have only been a few storms in my lifetime when the roads remained impassable for more than a couple of days. 

   So put on your down coat, ski hat and mittens and get out there and have some fun. Winter is not just for kids.

"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.

             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.