The CSRS Medicare Trap

HUH? Okay, if you are not a Federal employee this is Greek to you.   At age 65 you are automatically enrolled in Part A of traditional (AKA “Original Medicare). This is for hospital care. There is no charge for this. You already paid for it through payroll deduction. CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System) employees have Medicare but NOT Social Security taxes withheld from their income.  At age 65, you can choose to also enroll in Part B OR enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan. Here is the trap for those of you who are married and retired CSRS employees.

  • You choose Part B, for which you must pay a monthly premium (currently $104.90).
  • You have three options to pay this premium
    • by mail (check or credit card) in quarterly installments
    • by debit from your bank or credit union (called EZ Pay)
    • by deduction from your retirement check from OPM
  • The catch: Whose Medicare account applies to you?

Despite the fact that my spouse (the former CSRS employee) paid into Medicare for more than 30 years (and I, several years less), unnoticed by us, the Social Security Administration (which operates Medicare) assigned her to my SSN (same number used for Medicare, with a suffix added). Result, the deduction from her retirement check is NOT possible. Nor, apparently, can her “claim” be switched to her number. Now, what is the big deal you might ask? She is still covered. We can still have the premium debited from the bank. True, but aside from the principle of the thing (which to us is no small matter–since she paid in for all those years) the setup for deduction from her retirement check is a simple, one-time deal. We never have to worry about bank account balance issues, changing accounts, etc.

So, if this may apply to you, look carefully at that letter you get a few months before 65. Check whose SSN is on the information they send you. Take action then, BEFORE all the paperwork is processed.


Snow Falling on Cedars, an Excellent Book

Cover image, Snow Falling on CedarsWhat I found most interesting is the extreme diversity of opinions about the book–ranging from those unable to finish it and seemingly finding it difficult to give it one star to those who found it outstanding. I can only surmise that any writing instructor will tell you–readers bring their own perspectives to a book. If you are looking for serious suspense, crime fiction, action adventure, a spellbinding legal drama or romance, just skip this book. If instead you are looking for a primer on how to develop characters using a literary equivalent of a fugue and see the locale as if viewing it in a Nat Geo documentary, Read this book. It has vivid imagery that takes you to small town (island) life in the Pacific Northwest of fishermen and stawberry growers. It provides a sometimes painful depiction of the racial tensions between Japanese-Americans and the Caucasians of the island community following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the detention of those Japanese-Americans and the lingering animosity among people in the early 1950s. Before the war, all were friends, for the most part. After the war, especially among those who had fought in WWII or lost loved ones during the conflict, resentment festered. Guterson does a great job of showing the reader the conflicts through the eyes of the various characters in the book. All of the exposition revolves around the murder trial of a Japanese-American. From there, characters shoot out like ribbons from a May pole. While not being a lawyer, Guterson does a great job of handling the narration of the legal proceeding. Throughout the book, the author defines each character through one scene after another–never just giving heavy doses of background but bringing out their lives over time. Some might object that some of the racial characteristics are stereotypical or the biases knee jerk; I don’t think so. Rather, I think they show specific people as they really are–warts and all. The back story of the youthful romance between the Caucasian reporter, Ishmael Chambers and Hatsue Miyamoto, wife of the accused, is particularly well done. I would say more about that relationship, but I don’t want to introduce any spoilers.

Toke Up to Save Your Brain


Photo: AP

OK, let’s not get carried away, but prompted by an offhand comment from our eye doctor to my wife that marijuana leads to Alzheimer’s, I had to do a web search on the matter. The doctor wondered why the rush to legalization when “marijuana leads to Alzheimer’s.” Turns out either he had been smoking some OR getting his news from an unreliable source. I quickly and easily found reports of numerous studies around the country and overseas that in fact, the THC-related compounds in marijuana actually may slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease! Certain compounds compete to bind with the amyloid plaque receptors in the brain–those which are associated with the ravages of the brain disease, blocking the formation of the plaque. No less a liberal source than Fox News has reported on this! So, just one more in the many medical applications for marijuana. Come on Congress–get with the 21st century an discard your antediluvian attitudes.

Oh, and don’t take my word for this, here is a very short list of the many studies out there, which came out as much as ten years ago:

Eubanks, Lisa M., et al. “A molecular link between the active component of marijuana and Alzheimer’s disease pathology.” Molecular pharmaceutics 3.6 (2006): 773-777.

Campbell, V. A., and A. Gowran. “Alzheimer’s disease; taking the edge off with cannabinoids?.” British journal of pharmacology 152.5 (2007): 655-662.

Aso, Ester, and Isidre Ferrer. “Cannabinoids for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: moving toward the clinic.” Frontiers in pharmacology 5 (2014).

3 Books to Read Before Writing Your Own

Three, three, three reviews in one! Not just for writing a memoir but creative non-fiction and/or a book “that makes a difference.”

Writing a Book That Makes a Difference by Philip Gerard

No instruction manual can really tell you how your book should be written. In fact, many can dull your senses and arouse doubts in your mind about structure, organization and other aspects of how you want to tell your story. Nonetheless, desiring to do exactly what the title of this book describes, “writing a book that makes a difference,” I found it very useful in stimulating my thinking. It helped rather than hindered my choices, although, as I suggested, it really couldn’t tell me what I needed to do. Only after reading many such books did the winnowing process of my own brain absorb a little from this and a little from that. So if you too want to write such a book, go ahead and buy or at least read this early on in the process.

Writing Creative NonfictionThis book may not be 100% comprehensive (a tad redundant, perhaps), but if there is any other one out there that has more to offer on addressing the varieties of style, structure, form and the creative nonfiction process, I haven’t seen it. Being new to the business in 2003 when I began working on Waiting for Westmoreland in earnest, I found the instuctions and insights illuminating, inspiring and confusing all at once. How to choose?! I felt like Alice on her journey after the rabbit. Still, it gave me plenty of techniques to consider–that would not have been as readily discernible had I simply tried to read every book of actual creative nonfiction I could get my hands on.

Writing the Memoir by Judith BarringtonLast but not least, a book directly about writing a memoir.

An excellent book answering FAQs that you didn’t know you had or if you did, you didn’t know how to ask them. As I was crafting my own memoir, this book helped guide me on the path.

Why You Really Need That Sleep You Are Missing

Garfileld sleeping on pillow








You may think that cutting sleep during the week and making up for it on the weekend is OK, but as an article in the current AARP The Magazine, explains:

That sleep deficit you’ve been accumulating has real and dangerous implications for your brain, and not just because it makes you sleepy during the day. Sleeping less than seven or eight hours a night has been linked to cognitive decline, memory loss and possibly even Alzheimer’s, new research shows.

There are many tasks the brain accomplishes while you sleep; shorten the hours the brain has to do them and they don’t all get done.

3 Tips to Succeed at New Year Resolutions

Quote from Daisaku Ikeda and "make resolutions that succeed"

A tip of the hat to my LinkedIn friend, Pearl Seigel, who inspired me to post this after I read her piece. We all know New Year’s Resolutions are a time-honored tradition and a satirical cliche. With best of intentions millions make them and most break them. Why bother? It’s a new year—why not have goals, aspirations, resolutions?

Defy the satirists, the late-night comics who make light of your resolve with these tips:

  1. Make a plan for success
    1. Research—find out how to get there, pitfalls and success stories online or in books.
    2. Action—incremental steps you need to take
    3. Monitor—check results as you go along


  1. Forgive yourself for shortfalls as you proceed and move on from them


  1. Resolutions may be the butt of jokes, but if you really want to accomplish something in the new year, don’t be put off by their bad reputation. Change the name to goals or determinations if that will help. Then pat yourself on the back when you win.


  1. Consider these examples:
    1. Want to lose 36 pounds? It’s simple math: calories in plus calories burned equals pounds gained or lost. Eat less, exercise more and the pounds come off. Pick a diet you can stand and exercise you will do. Make sensible monthly goals, keep track of results and don’t let bad months derail the plan. Recognize triggers that may cause excessive snacking and deal with them.
    2. Want to stop smoking? You know it’s difficult. Get the help you need from a physician, a support group or from whatever source makes sense for your life. Pick a method and get the tools you need, whether it’s a nicotine patch, some medication, counseling, etc. Most people can’t quit cold turkey, so monitor progress on the timeline you determine.
    3. Want to learn how to quilt, paint (artistically) or even write fiction. Find classes—adult education, community college, online and sign up. Don’t just put this on a to-do-list—put reminders on whatever calendar you use—physical, smartphone or computer and take action.
    4. Want to be a “better you?” More considerate, support your spouse more, help the kids with homework, etc.? Like the rest of the resolutions, it requires being consistent and disciplined. It may help to have specific targets—tasks that you can do to make those goals real and obvious to others when they begin They won’t happen overnight. They won’t happen just by wishing. But if you set up reminders for those times that the changes are supposed to be happening—dinner-time, holidays, weekends, vacations or whatever times apply, you will have a better shot at success.

Loring Park, a Minneapolis Memory

Loring Park, uploaded by Angela CCA-3.0
Loring Park, uploaded by Angela CCA-3.0








There were few older folks in the vicinity of Loring Park, at least as far as I remember, circa 1965-6. A wonderful urban park by day with a pond in its center. Squirrels ran this way and that, hoping for a handout from the families and tourists that frequented its grassy knolls or sat on its benches . Pigeons did the same. To the west, across busy Lyndale Avenue South, which now feeds directly into I-94, lies Walker Art Center and in front of the center its sculpture garden. To the north of Loring Park lies the Basilica of St. Mary. To the south were cheap apartments—one of which I lived in for a brief time. To the east, as I recall, the apartments were a little nicer. Farther to the west, past the Art Center and back then the Tyrone Guthrie Theater (since relocated nearly to the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis) lies Lowry Hill—old, luxurious homes a 100 years old or more. Tudors, Victorian, Mediterranean and a whole ensemble of eclectic styles. By day a different crowd frequented the southern border of the park. Working boys plied the sidewalk, waiting for cruisers unable or unwilling to hookup for free at the 19 Bar a couple blocks away. As a pre-20 young man, I got my share of eyeballs but I was straight and not in the trade. Still, it made for an educational and entertaining time. Of course, had I been a young woman in most any community in America then or now, the eyeballs and more would be commonplace. Continue reading Loring Park, a Minneapolis Memory

Dare to Be Yourself–Who Else Can You Be

Dare to be ourselves, says  May Sarton. Well who else can you be? There are those who, watching TV or surfing the web, try on a lifestyle they find appealing only later to discard it as a poor fit. To see a movie example, consider this: Berry Gordy’s Last Dragon. It’s a funny movie from the mid-80s— a sendup of martial arts movies and Blaxploitation flicks. Coincidentally, it also features an early version of music videos. Among the funny characters are the self-proclaimed toughest kung fu master in town, who calls himself Sho-Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. Dressed a bit like a member of P-Funk, you get the gist right there. There is a group of Korean youths who run a fortune cookie plant and aspire to be soul brothers—complete with boombox, hand gestures, clothes they expect to match the lifestyle and lingo to complete the package. The protagonist is African-American but is into martial arts; he wears black pajama-styled clothes and a coolie hat. As it turns out, he is in fact the true kung fu master. While it’s OK to become skilled at a discipline like martial arts, my opinion is that maintaining an authentic sense of self as you are is more sensible than trying to live the life of someone you are not.

“I Can’t Breathe”–Protests Are an American Tradition

Did the anti-war protests of the sixties and seventies hasten the end of the Vietnam War? In retrospect, probably not. They most certainly helped bring an end to the political career of Lyndon Johnson and bring on Richard Nixon as the next president in 1968. But I could hardly fail to participate in those protests, knowing what I did from spending the year between October 1967 and October 1968 in Vietnam . Did Rosa Parks bring Lyndon Johnson to confront the American South and shepherd the passage through Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Not directly or by herself, but she started a parade of protests by countless others when she refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955. In the end, all of the protests did make a difference. Will the “I Can’t Breathe” protests have similar result—eliminating the impunity with which police officers can kill unarmed suspects? Who can say for sure, but the protests must continue. In 1849, Henry David Thoreau was imprisoned for refusing to pay a poll tax. While jailed, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him. He asked Thoreau, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” To which Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?” Thoreau in his civil disobedience (a published treatise) inspired Gandhi, who in turn inspired Martin Luther King. Nonviolent protest has a rich tradition in America. When an injustice occurs repeatedly, protests may be the one of the most effective tools at the citizen’s disposal, along with the ballot box, in generating a change.

The Torture Report

Are you tired of hearing, viewing and reading about this yet? If you are, then you should skip this post. But let me try a multifaceted approach that may overcome your reluctance. There is legality and there is morality. There is politics and pragmatics. There is truth and there are lies. There are causes and there are consequences (effects). Finally, there is the opportunity for national self-reflection–if one can get beyond the self-protective rationalization. Continue reading The Torture Report

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