Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Emotional Intelligence In Real Life

The lawnmower wasn't working.  It would start, I would push it two feet, and it would die.  My husband saw this and waved me over.  I took the grass catcher off, emptied it into a garbage bag, and brought mower, catcher and bag to the spot where he was standing.

He glowered at me.  “Are you going to leave that trash bag right here in my way?’  I said nothing.  I moved the bag.

He started the mower.  He fiddled with a couple of gears or knobs or buttons or something, and then he pointed at the grass catcher.  Since the mower was on I could only assume he wanted me to bring it to him; it was far too loud for conversation.   I walked over, picked up the grass catcher, and attempted to put it on the lawnmower.  He took the grass catcher from my hands and flung it across the lawn, much to the amusement of the man waiting at the bus stop in front of the rental unit where we were working.

He turned the mower off and shouted at me.  “Don’t you know that’s the worst place you can put the catcher when the mower is on?” 

“Thank you,” I said calmly.  “Now I know.”  He turned back to the mower and restarted it.  It continued to run.  I took the mower and finished mowing the lawn without incident.

What?  This story didn't go where you thought it would go, did it?  No yelling in return?  No crying?  No stomping off in a huff and refusing to continue to help until he apologized?  How boring.

There is actually an entire discipline devoted to the ability to give such a boring response.  It’s called Emotional Intelligence.  Wikipedia defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.”  I was introduced to the concept of Emotional Intelligence at work.  The book we studied, The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, focused on developing emotional intelligence skills in the workplace.

Now that I am retired, it seems I have even more opportunities to practice and enhance my emotional intelligence skills.  It seems it was much easier keeping my own emotions in check, and responding appropriately to the emotions of others, when the “others” in question did not live in the same house as me.  Thinking about this, I've observed that
  • -          Many of us find it difficult to take direction from a spouse
  • -          Many of us assume that because something comes easily to us it will come easily to others.  Guilty as charged.  So is my spouse.

Compounding the above is the well-known fact that I have very poor hand-eye coordination and anything mechanical comes to me only with great difficulty.  My husband is the exact opposite, and gets soooooo frustrated at my inability to “just figure it out.”  So we have these types of interactions on a fairly regular basis as I learn more and more about the day to day maintenance of rental properties. The emotional intelligence skills I've learned help me keep my emotions from getting in the way of my learning.

The emotional intelligence skills, per Bradberry and Greaves are:
1.  Self-Awareness:  The ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and to understand your own tendencies in different situations.
2.  Self-Management:  The ability to act – or not to act – on your own emotions.
3. Social Awareness:  The ability to accurately pick up on emotions of other people and to understand what is really going on with them.
4.  Relationship Management:  The ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully.

The authors also note that, unlike IQ or personality, emotional intelligence can be learned and can be increased.  This is a good thing, as I hope to have many more years to practice.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Immortality Shattered

I recently attended a memorial service for a 28-year old man.  His mother is my friend, but I had never met him.  She was devastated.  This was not supposed to happen.  Parents are not supposed to outlive their children.

The hall was filled with family members and friends of the family, but it was also filled with this young man’s friends.  For some of these young people, this was the first time someone of their own age had died.  For some of these young people, their inner concept that they would live forever was shattered.  One of their own had died.  They, too, would die. 

I remember the day when immortality shattered for me.  I was 23.  I had fallen asleep to the radio and was jarred awake when I thought I had heard my friend’s name in a report of a fatal accident.  I left the radio on and dozed fitfully, listening for another report.  It finally came.  My friend LuAnn had been killed in a freak accident on her way home from work that day.

At 7:00 AM the call came.  Her mother was on the other end of the phone.  “I heard,” I told her.  “Is there anything I can do?”  I’m not sure where I came up with that.  Looking back, of course, there was absolutely nothing I could do.  There was absolutely nothing anyone could do. 

The group of her friends – which had only recently become my friends – gathered.  We took turns crying and consoling one another.  We shared our happiest memories of LuAnn.  We grieved with her parents.  And I knew at that time that none of our lives would ever be the same – in more ways than one.

I have come to know that the moment when the loss of a loved one forces us to fully realize that we are mortal creatures, that there is an end of the life we have here on earth, comes to everyone.  I know the story of that moment in my father’s life.  I know the story of that moment in my son’s life. 

The memory of my friend lives on.  LuAnn’s family established a memorial scholarship in her name.  Many students have now had the opportunity to pursue what would have been LuAnn’s dream.  When I picture these students, smiling in their caps and gowns, very much like the photo I have of LuAnn and me at graduation, it makes me smile. 

“Love and Possession, death and life are one.  There falls no shadow where there shines no sun.” --  Hilaire Belloc

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

Many retirees – and non-retirees – look for a meaningful way to give of their spare time in service to others.  My husband, who retired eight years before I did, found the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program a few years ago.  VITA is an IRS-sponsored program, funded (at least in Utah) through the Community Action Program.  Its purpose is to provide income tax preparation, free of charge, to low income individuals and couples.  I joined “Team VITA” this past tax season.

“Now let me get this straight,” you may ask. “You do other peoples taxes for free?  And you like it?”

The answers are yes, and surprisingly, yes. 

Our clients are low income families, many headed by single mothers.  Our clients include the disabled.  And our clients include fellow retirees. 

It is humbling to see how these families get by on what appears to me to be so little income.  It is rewarding to see the gratitude on the face of a single mother when I tell her that her refund, including the Earned Income Credit and the Child Tax Credit, is far more than the amount withheld from her paychecks.  And it is encouraging to see retirees with pensions – since I’ll never see pension income. 

To volunteer, you need to pass two tests on the tax code and learn the TaxWise software used at VITA sites.  The program offered classes and/or self-study.  Of course, as most of you have already experienced, taking a class or two doesn't make you an expert in anything.  This is especially true of the US Tax Code, which is anything but simple.  I learned far more actually doing the tax preparation – mistakes and all – than I did in the classes. 

Yes, I made mistakes.  Lots of them.  Some, if uncorrected, could have cost the taxpayers hundreds of dollars in unclaimed refunds.  As one of the new kids at our site, I was grateful for the experienced volunteers’ quality review of my work – and for their subsequent explanation to me of what I had done wrong.  At VITA sites, every return is quality reviewed by another preparer – to catch little mistakes like a transposed employer ID or direct deposit account numbers, and to catch bigger mistakes like checking the wrong radio button on the EIC worksheet and costing the taxpayer their Earned Income Credit.

So to those taxpayers on whose returns I made errors, I thank you.  I will be a better preparer for it.

Was VITA worth my time?  Absolutely.  I’ll do it again next tax season.  If you’re interested in volunteering, search the web for VITA in your city or state, as volunteers are coordinated at the local level rather than at the federal level.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Plan on Vacation

The ultimate test of a true healthy-eating lifestyle is the ability to take it on the road.  The Plan author Lyn-Genet Recitas acknowledges that “Most everyone can lose weight if they stay home and cook every meal in their kitchen, strictly adhering to their friendly foods.”  But what fun is that?

Ms. Recitas recommends the following guidelines for traveling on The Plan:
  • Stay hydrated
  •  Eat as many friendly foods as possible
  • Stick to half portions of foods you haven’t tested or that you know are reactive
  • Moderate excess sodium by including foods high in potassium.  Can you say “salt-free potato chips and guacamole?”
  • Drink your red wine – it helps flush out sodium and aids digestion
  • Relax and enjoy
We recently returned from a six-day road trip to Arizona for Spring Training.  We had the luxury of staying with relatives, which meant a) a refrigerator for our non-dairy milk and a cupboard for our healthy cereals, and b) a say in the food that we prepared while we were there.  In fact, when we discussed The Plan with my uncle, he thought some of the recipes might help him deal with pre-diabetes.  They were already reducing the sodium in their diets.  We substituted salads for the mashed potatoes and gravy when we had dinners in.
That left restaurants and ball parks.  Here’s what we learned.

1   Breakfasts are easy.  Every restaurant we patronized offered at least one healthy egg choice, and every restaurant was more than willing to substitute fruit (friendly) for the potatoes (decidedly unfriendly).  That said, I did get raised eyebrows when I told one server to leave the bacon out of my omelet.
2.       Salads were always a good choice for lunches.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find a ball park that has a salad concession.
3.       Ball parks, by design, serve pretty unfriendly foods.  Hot dogs – Dodger dogs or otherwise – are completely off limits, and peanuts and Crackerjack have way too much salt.  We found a beef and bean burrito, which we split, at our first ball park.  We ate in restaurants before the games after that.  See #2.
4.       Margaritas are a friendlier choice at a ball park than beer.  This did not stop us from having an occasional beer.   Alcohol at a ball park must be “chased” with lots of water.
5.       Sometimes you just have to say “What the heck,” and enjoy a fine meal.  We went to a wonderful Italian restaurant our last evening, and enjoyed the pasta, wine, and limoncello without guilt.

Yes, when we stepped on the scale upon our return, we had both gained weight.  The good news – it took only eight days of healthy eating and we were back on track.

I sent my uncle a copy of The Plan when we returned.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Brian at Wasatch Running is a Certified Pedorthist (C.Ped).  The field of Pedorthics is the study of footwear and supplemental devices for footwear; including orthoses, prostheses, shoe modifications, shoe fitting and shoe fabrication.  The licensing board for Pedorthics is the BCP (Board for Certification in Pedorthics) The BCP is recognized by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the ABC (American Board of Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics).

I asked Brian several weeks ago why my right foot still hurt after longer runs.  After examining my foot, he explained that I had a hyper-mobile first ray.  My first metatarsal has more range of motion than normal, which causes friction at the joint where I’m feeling the pain.  He brought out a scale model of the bones in the foot to show me exactly where this friction is occurring. Then he went into the back room and came back with a pair of bright pink shoe inserts.  “I just happened to have these lying around,” he explained.  “Try them and see if they help.”

I’ve been trying them since.  I’ve found that as I get further into a long run – say the four to five mile point, I’ll start to feel numbness in my toes.  This is my reminder that maybe my technique is slipping and I consciously remind myself to bend my knees and lift my heels so I’m not pushing off.  But here’s the best part – I don’t have soreness in the arches after the long runs anymore. 

The brand name of these inserts is “Superfeet.”  According to their web site, www.superfeet.com, they sell insoles for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, running and walking, soccer, cycling, golfing, hockey – even for industrial and military use. 

Their ultimate test came in the Red Rock Relay – Dixie.   I ran two legs separated by three hours rest, 5.17 miles and 7.43 miles.  That’s the furthest I’ve run since I was 21!  And get this – no foot pain! 
I’m sold.  Of course, they sell Superfeet at Wasatch Running Center.