An Open Letter to My Pets by Nicky De Lange

Dear Dog and Cat,
When I say to move, it means to go someplace else, not switch positions with each other so there are still two of you in the way.
The dishes with the paw print are yours and contain your food. The other dishes are mine and contain my food. Please note, placing a paw print in the middle of my plate and food does not stake a claim for it becoming your food and dish, nor do I find that aesthetically pleasing in the slightest.
The stairway was not designed by NASCAR and is therefore not a racetrack. Beating me to the bottom is not the object. Tripping me doesn’t help either, because I fall faster than you can run.
I cannot buy anything bigger than a king size bed. I am very sorry about this. Do not think I will resort to sleeping on the sofa to ensure your comfort.
Look at videos of dogs and cats sleeping; they can actually curl up in a ball. It is not necessary to sleep perpendicular to each other, stretched out to the fullest extent possible. I also know that sticking tails straight out and having tongues hanging out the other end to maximize space used is nothing but sarcasm.
My compact discs are not miniature Frisbees.
For the last time, there is not a secret exit from the bathroom. If by some miracle I beat you there and manage to get the door shut, it is not necessary to claw, whine, try to turn the knob, or get your paw under the edge and try to pull the door open. When I exit this room, I will come out the same door I entered. In addition, I have been using bathrooms for years. Canine attendance has never been necessary.
The proper order is kiss me, then go smell the other dogs’ butt. I cannot stress this enough. It would be such a simple change for you.

Now, In return for your following these simple rules, I have posted the following message on our front door:

Rules for Non-Pet Owners Who Visit and
Like to Complain About Our Pets:
1. They live here. You don’t.
2. If you don’t want their hair on your clothes, stay off the furniture.
3. I like my pet a lot better than I like most people.
4. To you, it’s an animal. To me, he/she is an adopted son/daughter who is short, hairy, walks on all fours and doesn’t speak clearly.
5. Dogs and cats are better than kids. They eat less, don’t ask for money all the time, are easier to train, usually come when called, never drive your car, don’t hang out with drug-using friends, don’t smoke or drink, don’t worry about buying the latest fashions, don’t wear your clothes, don’t need a gazillion dollars for college, and if they get pregnant, you can sell the results.

Note from Nicky: While digging through a ton of stuff I’ve saved for use in future columns, I recently found one of my favorite articles on pets. I received it as an e-mail from a friend. It rang so true and made me laugh so hard that I printed it out to read again and again. Then I promptly misplaced it.
I found it today and decided to share it with you. I don’t know who the original author is. I wish I did, so I could give proper credit as well as a thank you for creating something so funny. For now I have to go with “Anonymous” but if you know who wrote it, please let me know. Here it is.

Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

Whether it’s a matter of comfort, appearance or safety, there are many medical procedures that you may want or need, but your health insurance won’t cover.
LASIK eye surgery may fall into the want category for most people and it can be a hefty investment with each eye costing several thousand dollars. For those wanting to start a family, infertility treatments, which can cost over $10,000, may be closer to a need. Yet most states don’t require health insurance to cover treatments.
Considering the lasting impact that these and other procedures can have on your life, you may not want to seek out the least expensive option. However, that doesn’t mean you should forgo attempts to save altogether. From tax-advantaged accounts to comparison shopping doctors, there are many approaches to safely cutting costs.
See if you could get a tax break. Although tax breaks don’t lower a medical procedure’s price, tax deductions can decrease your taxable income and by using a tax-advantaged account you may be able to pay for some medical procedures with income-tax-free money.
Take a medical expense tax deduction. If you itemize your tax deductions, you can get a deduction for your qualified medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. LASIK and some fertility enhancement treatments may qualify. However, cosmetic surgery doesn’t unless it’s related to a congenital abnormality, disfiguring disease or an injury resulting from trauma or an accident.
Use an employer-sponsored flexible spending account (FSA). Some employers offer FSAs as an employee benefit. You can make tax-deductible contributions to the account each year and withdraw the money tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses, including health insurance deductibles and copayments. However, this approach could require planning as you may forfeit remaining FSA money at the end of each year.

Enroll in health insurance with a health savings account (HSA). An HSA account is similar to an FSA in that you can contribute pre-tax money and withdraw funds to pay for eligible medical expenses tax-free. HSAs don’t have the use-it-or-lose-it requirement, but to qualify for an HSA account, you need to enroll in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) and can’t be eligible for Medicare.

Ask your health insurance company about discounts. Even when a health insurance provider doesn’t cover a procedure, members may still be able to save money by going through their insurance. For example, health insurance generally won’t cover the cost of LASIK surgery, but your provider may offer a 5 to 15 percent discount if you get the surgery at partner eye care centers.

Health insurance requirements can also vary from one state to another, and you should double-check your benefits before assuming something isn’t covered. Infertility treatment is one of these gray areas, as some states require health insurance plans to provide coverage while others do not.

Compare costs from different providers. Varying medical costs sometimes make headlines when patients find out that a $3,000 medical procedure at a hospital could cost several hundred at a nearby clinic. If it’s not an emergency, there are websites that you can use to comparison shop nearby medical centers and get estimated prices.
Some people also look for savings in other countries. Medical tourism is a growing industry, and millions of people travel outside their home countries seeking lower costs, higher-quality services, treatments that aren’t available at home, a relaxing environment to recover in or a combination of several of these factors. While the U.S. is a destination for some medical tourists, Canada, Southeast Asia, Latin America and parts of Europe are also popular.

Bottom line: Although you may not be able to convince your health insurance company to cover what it considers an elective procedure; you can turn to other methods to save money. As with other large expenses, you can take a dual big- and little-picture approach by looking for tax breaks that lower your effective cost and savings opportunities that can reduce a procedure’s price.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PracticalMoney. His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

Crime Watch with Walt Candelari

Candy is bordering on hysterical. She found out that their brand new super smart TV, the one with all of the bells and whistles, the one that can be voice activated/ operated not only responds to voice commands, but reportedly it records more than simply the voice commands …. It will record their conversations while in the active mode. And to top it off, it is shared with a third party. Originally Bill just shrugged his shoulders but has taken a totally different posture when Candy reminded him of several of their conversations sitting there in front of “Big Brother” as they have named it.
Add to this situation the fact that some televisions also have the ability to send pictures. And to think, they almost had it installed in their bedroom! There have been reports of “Nanny Cams” – the ones used by parents to monitor what is happening at home while they are at work – being hacked and ‘unknown parties’ watching and making comments. A big fear is that the camera has been hacked and, unless the hacker says or does something to alert you, you may never know.
When Bill read the disclosure on the paperwork that came with the TV, listing all the ‘attributes’ of Big Brother, he found that all of it was there including the recording and use by third parties. It clearly states that the voice recognition protocols can capture voice commands and associates texts so that they can provide you with Voice recognition features and evaluate and improve features. The added warning cautions people to be aware that if their spoken words include personal or other sensitive information that it will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party. All perfectly legal.
You CAN turn the voice features off …. But isn’t that part of the reason you purchase that TV?
This is not a reason to panic but, as with all other devices connected to the internet, read the fine print and understand what the device is capable of and who can legally have access to it.
The next issue is should you purchase ‘anti-virus’ software? That issue is discussed in a posting on the http:forums.cnet.com and there does not seem to be a clear consensus. Issues range from – is there even an anti-virus program out there, the level of sophistication needed to hack the system, to – is there any real value in hacking an ordinary citizens TV? If a device is connected to the internet you need to ask questions. Consider all of your other ‘smart’ devices and ask the same questions. To this point, I have not found anyone that has had this happen and most stores argue that because of the differences in the operating systems, it is highly unlikely that this would ever happen.
I don’t have a clear answer or recommendation. I can tell you to read all of the fine print on any ‘smart’ device; ask questions of someone who knows and check with the items manufacturer. Remember: Think, plan and execute crime-prevention design. Don’t be a crime victim.

Trishna’s Tidbits

Modern Musings by Trishna Buch

According to an article by financial advice website, WalletHub, and reiterated in the Washington Post, it is extremely expensive to raise a child in the US. According to the Washington Post “families will shell out an average of $233,610 from birth through age 17—or about $13,000 a year—according to new figures from the government.” Furthermore, according to a report by the Health Care Cost Institute and stated in the WalletHub article “per-capita spending on children’s health care in 2014 reached $2,660—having increased by more than five per cent every year since 2010—due mainly to rising health care costs”.
In regards to the above, and because last week was Every Kid Healthy Week—analysts at WalletHub studied the 50 states and the District Of Columbia to determine how these locations ranked up, in regards to their healthcare for children.
To figure out the scores, analysts studied the locations across three categories: kids’ health & access to health care, kids’ nutrition, physical activity & obesity and kids’ oral health. Each category was studied across several factors including infant death rate, pediatricians & family doctors per capita, access to healthy food, share of overweight children, dental treatment costs and share of dentists per capita.
So how did Texas score? Frankly, not very well. The state came in 47th, meaning that it is the fifth worst state for children’s health care. The state came 20th in infant-death rate, 35th in percentage of children aged zero to 17 with unaffordable medical bills, 45th in pediatricians and doctors per capita and 49th in percentage of uninsured children aged zero to 17. In terms of the three categories, the state came in 47th with kids’ health & access to health care, 39th in kids’ nutrition, physical activity and obesity and 35th in kids’ oral health.
I am someone who loves kids. I have several young cousins who are the light of my life. I’ve substituted in schools, I’ve done field observations and I am currently earning a masters degree in Early Childhood Education. So this study really spoke to me. I think our state needs to do a lot more to protect the health of our youngest residents. Let’s make healthcare more affordable. Let’s make it more accessible. Let’s take some time and enjoy the outdoors. We spend too much time cooped up inside, with children whiling away the hours on the computer, television or iPad. Let’s spend some time and boost our health. We only have one body and we need to take care of it. My hope is that Texas earns a much higher score next year.

Trishna’s Tidbits

Modern Musings by Trishna Buch

Routine. It’s something I prefer and something I appreciate. I am the type of person who hates change and hates unexpected things happening. I prefer going into an event knowing exactly what to expect and I cannot deal with being caught off guard.
Unfortunately, in life, unexpected things happen and we all have to figure out a way to deal with these unexpected occurrences. Our first instinct may be to run far away, hide under our covers and avoid it as much as possible, but eventually we do have to face up to these changes
Of course, that is easier said than done. Trust me—I know from experience. In fact, I had to deal with an unexpected event in my workplace about two weeks ago. It was a Tuesday, the start of a new press week and I was driving to work, full of ideas and plans on how I would tackle the week. But all of my plans were turned on their head when I walked into the office, due to some changes The Post had to make. These changes slightly altered the layout of the paper and heavily revised the type of articles I would publish. It was completely out of the blue, I was not ready for this change and, that night, I tossed and turned for hours, worrying and wondering. The next morning my parents had to drive me to work because I was completely stressed and panicked on what to expect and full of dread on how I would handle all these new story ideas.
But all my worrying was for nothing. The changes, which I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle, I picked up with ease. What scared me the most was the knowledge that I would be writing a lot more articles and doing a lot more face to face interviews. One thing to know about me is that I am an introvert. I’m not shy, but I just prefer talking to people on the phone or by email, rather than face to face. However, being a journalist, I know that there will times when I have to get out my comfort zone, put myself out there and talk to people to get story ideas.
And so I did exactly that. In the week between the change and writing this piece, I interviewed two people and wrote articles about these interviews, wrote an additional three articles and started considering tentative ideas for potential articles. I pushed myself further than I ever thought I could go. But these changes, which I was so terrified of at first, are now so welcomed by me, because I feel they are going to allow all Post readers to really see the type of work I am capable of doing. Big things are happening for the paper and I am privileged to be a part of them.
Do you want to know the best part? All of these changes have come right as I am celebrating a year with the paper. That’s right, May 10, 2016 was my first official day with the paper and I am so thankful for all of the opportunities the paper has provided me with. Not many people can say they wake up every day happy to work. Not many people can say they have the best bosses and best coworkers, who make even the difficult days bearable. Not many people are lucky enough to work at a place that also allows them to pursue further educational opportunities. I do and I will never take it for granted. I am so thankful for all of the opportunities The Post has provided me with. I have been able to put my journalistic skills to the test, I have learnt to come out of my comfort zone and I have become a more confident person. So many good things have happened and I just look forward to what the future will bring.
Because of the change at The Post, I am going to have a lot more responsibilities. A lot more will be put on my plate and that scared me at first. But after speaking to my parents and the people at my job, I felt a lot calmer. And I know that with the help of my parents, my coworkers and God I’ll be able to handle any changes life throws at me—either at work or in my life general.
What are some unexpected changes or difficulties you have had to handle? What did you do to handle them? Feel free to write me at trishna@thepostnewspaper,net and I may make you a subject of a future tidbits!