Death and Taxes

It’s often said the two certainties in life are death and taxes. So, as we approach April 15, Tax Day, I wanted to reflect on death, finances and organization. That’s right, not my usual topic for this blog. As many of you know, my husband passed away this summer. He had suffered a brain bleed and multiple complications starting the summer prior. During this experience I learned (the hard way) how unprepared we were for life’s complications and the inevitable – death and taxes. In the subsequent months, I’ve also learned I’m not alone in this experience. Many of my colleagues were intrigued to hear my responses to their queries and quips. Upon speaking with one colleague, she said she was fine if she needed to speak with the insurance company because she had a health care proxy designating her. Another said it would be fine because she’s a spouse. No, sorry that’s not correct. Sometimes you can get someone to talk to you if you sob and beg, but most of the time not. I needed to fill out a specific health care form (yearly) to have conversations about my husband’s bills (even though I hold the insurance).

I’ve been asked by numerous colleagues and friends to write or present about this topic. I’m flatter, but I am not an expert, nor qualified to impart estate planning advice, so please don’t use this information below as such. This post is not intended as a guide of what to do, but rather a guide to start asking questions. It’s not intended to ‘scare’ you, its goal is to make you think (and potentially act when necessary). I figure if I can make a difference in your life, then that’s all the difference in the world. Because my colleagues and readers, you are the world to me. 

The Will 

“I was planning on doing that this summer…” 

Be that as it may, life may have other plans for you. Get thee to an attorney as soon as possible. In New York, a spouse inherits without a will but there could be glitches so better safe than sorry. Other states may have other rules – so again, consult an attorney. The Will is what most of us focus on as ‘the’ necessary legal document. However, you’ll discover there are several other considerations as we continue with this list. 

Power of Attorney (POA) 

The often overlooked POA is critical when trying to get anything done on behalf of your spouse or loved one. No, the phone company, credit card nor bank does not have to talk to you if you’re not on the account. I didn’t realize how many bills and services were in my husband’s name. I had one person at Verzion help me suspend my husband’s phone line as he wasn’t able to use it and it was one more bill to pay. Other than that, I couldn’t get anything done. Over the course of the year I had to handle my husband’s medical practice, banking, transfer car titles and more. POA gives the receiver as much or as limited ‘power’ as you decide. This should be discussed with an attorney (and possibly a marriage counselor!). POA helps out in times when a person cannot handle their own affairs, as in the case of disability or unconsciousness. 

Who’s your Beneficiary? 

You know those life insurance forms you filled out over a decade ago when you were first hired? Who did you name as beneficiary? Don’t know? Think you know? Well, you should double check. It might be your ex! Start with your employer and/or union provided life insurance plans, then your own purchased plans and update your forms at your financial institution accounts (I.e. Morgan Stanley, e-Trade, etc.). These funds go directly to the named beneficiary, no will necessary. 

He/She died. Now what? 

Aside from curling up in a fetal position and crying, you’ll have plenty of things to do. 

Get a list of what to do when a spouse dies. There are many checklists online – I used a combination of two different ones. You will need all your legal documents, accounts and documents organized. Ask family members or friends to help. It’s too overwhelming to accomplish solo. Prioritize the list and tackle a little bit at a time. 

Practice self-care. You want to focus on your family and tackle items on the never-ending checklist but remember take care of yourself the best you can even though it is probably the hardest task you’ll face. Btw – it’s okay to flip out. Really. A week after my husband death I boarded a plane for Hawaii. I couldn’t stand being in our house, so I decided to visit my newest (one month old) niece on Oahu 12 hours away. Babies have a way of breathing new life in us. 

Oh, and by the way, you know all that stuff I mentioned above? The Will, the POA, your beneficiaries. Rinse and repeat. You’ll have to re-do all of them. 

PS – making a list of every account username and password cannot be stressed enough. Do it now! 

Squeeze & Relax

MakerCare Lit Connection Series

Today therapy dogs visited our school bringing smiles and respite from a busy week filled with final exams and Regents test prep. I’ve written of my gratitude for therapy animals (yes, dogs and therapy bunny!). Animals can decrease stress in humans. However some students, like me, are allergic to animal fur. The alternatives are hypo-allergenic breeds, social robotic pets or other stress reducers.

Project (Title): Stress Balls

Lit Connection (Test Anxiety):

Check out this list of books

Lit Connection (Service/Therapy Dogs):

Ben: The Very Best Furry Friend, I Know My Name is Love, Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship

Alternative Titles:
PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FAVORITE TITLE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

How To:

You’ll need empty water bottles with caps, Magic Beadz, a teaspoon, funnel and balloons. Pour 1 tsp of Magic Beadz into a water bottle and fill with 2 cups of water. Allow 2-3 hours for beadz to absorb water. Pour out any remaining water. Put balloon over neck of bottle and pour (squeeze, really) the beadz into the balloon. Knot off the balloon. Squeeze and Relax!

Worry Not!

Now that my book, Makers With a Cause, is complete and soon to be released, I finally find myself with time to write about literature connections to some of my favorite maker projects. I started last month with Memorial Day themed books, but now I’d like to focus more on compassionate making (aka #MakerCare) lit connections.

Each month I’ll describe a maker project that espouses compassion, empathy or social action and match it with a book to read aloud or as part of a reading group.

So, here goes…

Project: Worry Dolls

Why: Our kids are stressed out!

“According to the Mayan legend, when worrying keeps a person awake, he or she tells a worry to as many dolls as necessary. Then the worrier places the dolls under his or her pillow. The dolls take over the worrying for the person who then sleeps peacefully through the night. When morning breaks, the person awakens without the worries that the dolls took away during the night.”

When: Anytime, pre mid-term and final testing period, Mental Health Awareness Month (May)

Literature Connection: Silly Billy by Anthony Browne

  

 

Alternative Titles:

Trouble Dolls – Jimmy Buffett & Savanah Buffet

Secrets of Worry Dolls – Amy Impellizzeri (312p novel)

PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FAVORITE TITLE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!

How To:

Cut one pipe cleaner into 1/3 & 2/3 lengths.

Wrap yarn around your hand several times and slide it through the 2/3 length pipe cleaner. Slide a wooden bead up the bent pipe cleaner holding the ‘hair’ in place. Trim ‘hair’ as desired. Draw face on bead, as desired. Wrap the 1/3 pipe cleaner around the ‘body’ forming ‘arms’. Using yarn, cover the exposed areas of the pipe cleaner

 

Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month and as a high school librarian, I have seen my fair share of stressed out teens. How can we help our students alleviate anxiety and stress? While we cannot take the place of trained and certified therapists, we can offer a listening ear or a word of support and encouragement. We can also provide some tools and comfort for promoting good mental health.

Here are five simple ideas for promoting and augmenting mental health. Each is implementable through library programming or makerspace activities.

Stress Balls – Sometimes you just need to squeeze and squish something. Follow directions for hydrating Magic Beadz. Instead of a bowl, use a water bottle, this will make the straining and pouring beads into a balloon easier. Place beads in a balloon and tie a knot at the top. Start squishing! Alternatives to Beadz: use rice, beans or play dough. Some instructions call for flour. If (ahem, when) the balloon breaks, the mess is of astronomical proportions.


Positive Pencils (link) – Everyone needs a reminder. You are strong! You are brave! You’ve got this! Positive affirmations can increase feelings of self-worth. Research shows us that thoughts have a direct impact on emotions and feelings. So, make them positive!

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Social Robots (link) – Hasbro’s Joy for All companion pets can provide comfort to students in school without having to deal with allergies or vet bills. This is great alternative to live animal pet therapy programs.
companion-pet.pngJournaling – Write down thoughts, dreams, and questions in a daily journal you create for yourself. Using Modge-Podge craft glue and images cut from upcycled magazines, cover a marble or spiral notebook for a creative personalized journal. Journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression, among other benefits.
journal cover
Jump Ropes (link) – Daily exercise is good for overall health, both physical and mental. Even just a little activity is beneficial. Make these upcycled plastic (plarn) jump ropes as a fun way to exercise.

Also, check out this resource – 12 Resources to Help You Address Mental Health in Schools.

Stay healthy! Stay strong!

Social Robots

Robots & Us: Can Robots make us feel better?

My husband has been hospitalized for the past 8 months. In the course of that time we’ve had our fair share of mechanical interventions. From ventilators to feeding delivery systems, programmed machines have improved our quality of life.

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Nate’s Get Well Bot is a ‘robot’ designed (albeit, by a 3 year old) to make Uncle Alan feel better. Worked like a charm!

This got me thinking. Can robots make us ‘feel better’?

I’ve been on the look out for other ways robots can make us feel better – not medically but more along the lines of social-emotional well-being.

Companion Robots

We’ve experienced multiple therapy dogs over our stay and recently a therapy bunny. Many of these service animals only visit on certain days and depending on the unit (for example, the respiratory care unit) they may be banned. What to do when you need or want a companion, but don’t have access to a live, furry critter? Companion robots.

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Hasbro Joy for All (https://joyforall.hasbro.com/en-us) –  is “designed to bring comfort, companionship and fun to elder loved ones. With realistic fur and pet-like sounds – and sensors that respond to petting and hugs with familiar pet-like actions – Companion Pets deliver a soothing, joyful experience that inspire smiles, laughter and fond memories for people of all ages.” We own the silver cat and he (Bingo) spends his days with my husband. Not only does Bingo provide comfort and companionship to my wheelchair bound husband, he also brings joy and comfort to me. Best of all no vet appointments, clean ups or allergy attacks!

I think this product would make a great addition to our other stress reducing activities and plan to purchase one for our school library.

BUDDY (http://www.bluefrogrobotics.com/en/buddy/) – “is the revolutionary companion robot that improves your everyday life. Open source and easy to use, BUDDY connects, protects, and interacts with each member of your family. Not content with being just a companion, BUDDY is also democratizing robotics. BUDDY is built on an open-source technology platform making it easy for global developers to build applications.”

There are other “social robots” such as Jibo (https://www.jibo.com/) and Pepper (https://www.ald.softbankrobotics.com/en/robots/pepper). I’m more partial to the furry robots than the humanoid robots.

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I was fortunate to meet Dr. Julienne Greer, a senior lecturer at UT Arlington, while attending the Texas Library Association Conference (2018) in Dallas. She had several robots with her and she explained her work with the theatre arts department in relation to the computer science department. Fascinating work being performed across the country. If you want to read more about Dr. Greer and her work in the emerging field of social robotics and human-robotic interaction (HRI), check out this article: Why we want our robots to like us. In the future, I think we’re going to being hearing a lot more on the topic of human interactions with emotional robots. I can’t wait!