A couple of months ago I wrote to President Obama and asked that he appoint me to be the U. S. Volunteer Czar.  I wanted the job because I’m so confident that volunteers could fix pretty much everything that’s wrong with this country.  Instead of the appointment, I got a lousy form letter that thanked me for my concern, but never mentioned anything about my thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written letter.

But I’ve come up with an even better idea.  What we need more than a Volunteer Czar is a Shopping Czar.  This occurred to me yesterday when one of the news channels reported that a cruise missile costs $160,000,000.   In the past I have ignored reports that my government pays $125 for an ordinary hammer and just under a hundred bucks to feed lunch to one of our soldiers.  But A HUNDRED AND SIXTY MIL FOR A MISSILE?  That’s insane!

For the record I pride myself in being a great shopper.  I NEVER pay retail.  A sign reading “80% off” doubles my heart rate.  I’m one of many friends who I consider skilled at this trade.  All of us clip coupons, scout sales and can recite from memory the best place that’s web-based or within 200 miles to buy anything.

I’ll bet I could have gotten us that missile at least half-off.  Maybe we could have found some that were just past their expiration date, or were last-year’s model or perhaps something slightly used or with a couple of scratches or dents.  Once they explode, who would know?

I know I can do a lovely homemade lunch for under eight bucks (maybe ten, with packaging and shipping) and I found perfectly good hammers at Home Depot for under $15, and there were a couple in the clearance bin on sale for  $7.  Some of my friends are positively addicted to shopping and would likely volunteer a few hours for free.  Forget the paid position; I could get hundreds of folks lathered up about shopping for cheap missiles. 

I know exactly how our government makes purchases.  They use a thorough and complicated bidding process.  But their contracts lock them in for as many as 50 years.  That’s craziness.  I sincerely believe that if the contracts were shorter and more flexible, AND if our contractors guaranteed the lowest price in the marketplace, both our national debt and budget would shrink considerably.  With our purchasing power you’d think we could get a volume discount at something close to cost.  Instead we appear to be paying a healthy “sucker” premium. 
Please send me your thoughts.

I never burned a bra, the underwires were so hard to light with a Bic but I have quietly fought against the glass ceiling for all of my adult life.  I remember in my early career complaining to management that the other executive at my level was male and made 40% more than I.  The boss looked stunned at my ignorance when he responded flippantly, “Well of course he does, he’s a guy”.  Laws were there to protect me at the time.  But I feared losing my job and being tainted for future opportunities.  I stayed on and I’ve done OK. 

I’m not a rabid Hillary Clinton fan.  She angered me when she tried to make health care mandatory for all part-time employees back in the 90’s and I was a struggling business owner.   Her plan would have put me out of business.  But I found the March 14th Newsweek article, The Hillary Doctrine most compelling particularly side-bar Gender Matrix.

Here are some of the facts assembled by or extrapolated from the data collected by the World Economic Forum: 

  1. Educating a girl one year beyond the national average boosts her earning power between 10 and 20 percent
  2.  Countries with higher levels of female secondary-school enrollment have lower infant mortality, lower rates of HIV and AIDS infection, and better child nutrition.
  3. The WEF 2011 Gender Gap Index shows that a nation’s prosperity correlates with the level of parity between women and men (in education, health, economic opportunity, and political empowerment).   Countries with the smallest gaps in 2010 were Iceland, Norway and Finland.  Pakistan, Chad and Yeman had the largest.
  4. According to the WEF, the U.S. could boost its GDP by as much as 9 percent by putting more women in leadership positions in business and government and working harder to correct pay inequities.
  5. Women still only earn 77% of their male counterparts for equal work.
  6. In the Asia-Pacific region, countries are losing between $42 billion and $46 billion a year, according to the WEF by restricting women’s access to the workforce.
  7. When women earn their own money, they spend on their families at more than twice the rate of men.
  8. Worldwide, companies perform better and produce better ideas when their highest ranks have gender diversity.
  9. And from another source:  The first woman to rule a country as an elected leader in the modern era was   Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, who was elected as prime minister of the island nation in 1960 and later re-elected in 1970.    It is interesting that Sri Lanka ranked ahead of the U.S. in the 2010 WEF analysis.
  10. And from my own personal experience:  Women with whom I have worked are frequently more tactile (feelers), men more visual or auditory.  Decisions that are made with the input of both genders and several generations tend to be more thoughtful, fair and enduring.

Please share your thoughts with me..

Dear Kathleen,  (From my Mom)

I have been receiving telephone calls from people who claim they wish to give me millions of dollars because my phone number was drawn in a Vegas lottery.  I haven't been to Vegas in years.  I hung up on the first guy.  But a few hours later another fellow called and was more insistent.  He said he wanted to come over and bring me the money.  I asked if we could make the appointment for tomorrow so that we could give the police plenty of time to fit it in their schedule.  This guy hung up.

Good Job Mom,
I asked some friends to ask around about this kind of solicitation.  I was appalled to hear how ,many not only have been approached, but that two of their relatives were embarrassed to report they had fallen for it and lost at least several hundred dollars.

Just today, six offers to give me millions landed in my junk mailbox.  I deleted them. But more arrive every day.   A couple of years ago my beloved husband wasted most of a Saturday morning composing responses to one he'd received, a variation on the Nigerian Scam.

This particular letter was from a "highly placed" government ministry official in Gambia, claiming that he and a few of his fellow employees have managed to accrue some $18,500,000 from foreign investments.  He needed to find a "trusted silent partner" to get the money out of Gambia.  He couldn't do it himself because his country had some silly law about such things.  After an extensive search the group had picked my husband out of the billions of candidates as his guy.  Laurry was promised a 10% commission and parts of all the future deals the boys were planning to make with their stash.

Here is my hubby's reply:

Dear Nelson, 
What exciting news!  I am thrilled that you would think of me in this intriguing, exciting, remunerative--and, ultimately, criminal--assignment.  Needless to say, I am fascinated by the opportunity and totally committed to working cooperatively with you to bring about a successful outcome.  

I'm sure you are aware that I'm an attorney admitted to practice in the states of California, Oregon and Minnesota, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.  Consequently, I realize that you intend to violate various federal and state wire fraud statutes, as well as the so-called "RICO" act. 

So, before we move forward, I have a couple of questions.  How are you planning to (a) camouflage your activities without getting indicted within the first, say, 15 minutes of your operation and (b) raise the necessary bail money and (c) hire the squadron of attorneys that will be required under the circumstances? 

I must tell you Nelson, that I have grave doubts that the eighteen five will even cover expenses.  On the plus side, the U. S. has some positively spa-like prisons where you are almost  guaranteed a sentence of 15 to 20 years hard time.  

I eagerly await your response, as do the Minnesota and United States Attorneys General to whom I have taken the liberty of sending your offer.  I know you asked that I be "discreet," but surely we can trust other attorneys. 

My best to you and the rest of the team,

We would all like to win the lottery or experience some windfall but those opportunities rarely come along.   Research shows that scams are mushrooming in this economy.  They are easy targets for both foreign and domestic scams (some from within their own families). 

Please e-mail friends and relatives or mention to neighbors over your backyard fence that none of these claims are legitimate.  Caution them to never give out a social security number, bank  or credit card numbers to anyone over the phone or on the web unless they are absolutely sure they are talking to a trusted source or are on a secure site.

Please write me at kathy@greatplacesinc.com.  I'd like to hear whether this is as wide spread as it appears and the stories of anyone who has been hurt by responding. 

My Dear Readers,

I'm terrified of getting Alzheimer's.  That's why I have written about it several times.   I didn't used to be--actually, I never thought much about getting sick or old or even dying.  I'm like most Baby Boomers: I prefer happy thoughts!  Then I hit 55, gained weight, and began to lose my hearing and my car keys.  My mother turned 80, we launched http://www.greatplacesinc.com, and the door to aging opened wide and welcomed me inside.

Over the past couple of years I've visited more than 300 senior housing facilities and dozens of adult day care centers.  I've networked and taught with hundreds of care providers, financial advisors, senior advocates, assistive device manufacturers, social workers and all manner of folks who are in some way professionally engaged with seniors.  My fear?  It's gotten worse.
Here are the facts:

There are 78 million-plus Boomers. Although we're better educated and more affluent than our parents' generation, we were taught that, because the planet was overcrowded, we should have no more than two children. So we did just that. Unfortunately, Social Security--what I call the Great American Pyramid Scheme--needs to be fed from the bottom to support those of us at the top. I'm no economist, but I'm sure that if we gathered up the salaries of the two generations that follow us, we still couldn't support the burden of Boomer retirement.

When the Social Security program was enacted in the 1930s, the average American's life span was 61 years, so age 65 looked like a safe bet.  Since then, of course, we've made enormous advances in medicine. Here's an example: I recently learned that babies born after the year 2000 have a 50-50 chance of living to 100!  The news is also good for the rest of us:  our life expectancies continue to stretch, on average to 80+ plus for women and 78+ for men.  It is also true that if we make it to age 60 and are in relatively good health, we have a more than 80 percent chance of living productively until we're 90!  The bad news, of course, is that our sheer numbers will bankrupt the U. S. retirement system unless we create and execute an innovative solution.

Our healthcare system has been in the headlines for more than a year and heatedly debated for decades.  I don't pretend to know how it should be fixed. But, having viscerally experienced elderly care these past few years, I know one thing: the current system doesn't provide the kind of care I want my parents or me or my family to have when the need arises at a cost most of my generation will be likely to afford.

The care providers I've encountered are, almost to a person, glorious spirits with amazing hearts.  But the cards are stacked against them.  Let me be clear: I've been in some extraordinary homes, most of them housing between three and 36 individuals. The ratios of caregivers to patients may be as low as one for every three patients. The annual cost of care in the best facilities is often more than $100,000 annually, which makes it affordable only to those with solid long-term health insurance and sizable nest eggs to fill any gaps.  The healthcare industry calls these fortunate folks "Private Pays."  They're the ones who make the high-end places work as businesses.  Owners of these facilities can afford to pay for the level of care that we would all want to have.  Both facilities and home care providers need a sizable chunk of their businesses to come from Private Pays.  Unfortunately, Private Pays are a disappointingly small segment of American society.   With recent downturns in the economy, housing values and long-term investments the size of this group has shrunk even more. I suspect that Boomers, who are greater in number, saved less and were greater risk-takers and were less conscientious about retirement planning.


There just aren’t enough care providers to do the work.  The pay isn’t  great, the stress is substantial and most of them go home at night without any sense of accomplishment. Turnover and burnout are high.   

I believe these problems can be easily and rapidly solved. The solutions can be easily put in place; they'll be cost-effective, but require grass-root support and implementation. Best of all, they'll be good for individuals and society.  Let's see if you agree: 


  • We need an attitude shift.  We treat people with dementia as if they were potted plants to be infrequently watered until they die.  Our medical system doesn't include nurturing, companionship, conversation or comforting touch in its definition of "care."  We plant these sufferers but we don’t expect them to grow.  Care needs to prioritize making patients better, whatever their condition.  For an Alzheimer's or dementia sufferer, this means seeking out the person and engaging them as often and for as long as possible. This means more caregivers, more time but perhaps only a little more expense committed to their care.  With a shift in attitude and funding it just might work. 

  • We need to believe and act upon the notion that prevention can readily offset the costs of long-term Alzheimer's and dementia care.  Recent studies have demonstrated that more intensive care and withdrawal from psychotropic medications reduces emergency hospitalizations more than 90 percent!  Ambulance attendants, emergency room and hospital staff can be put to better use administering preventive care. 

  •  And drug companies? They'll encounter willing Boomers clamoring to buy any drug that can positively impact Alzheimer’s--or cancer, for that matter--and we'll gladly make up any financial deficit losses resulting from the removal of psychotropic dementia treatment from the market. The pharmaceutical industry can allocate funds to research drugs to detect, cure and prevent dementia.  The use of psychotropic drugs to keep our seniors under control must be banned. I believe, as do many others, that violent, disruptive behavior is not inevitable with dementia. Rather, it is caused by the patient's inability to make their needs known and have them met.  We need to teach caregivers how to uncover these needs, provide the time to do this job, and pay them adequately for the effort.

  • Much of what is needed in elderly care doesn't require a medical degree or even a lot of training.  It's hand-holding, conversation, stimulation, affection, laughter and the gift of time from another human being.

  • We can provide what's needed by simply shifting our attitudes away from our sense of entitlement.  America is the best place on earth. “We the People" created this country, and we have a duty to sustain it.  We have a moral obligation to care for all members of our society who are unable to care for themselves.  Unfortunately, it is my belief that our systemic welfare programs have created successive generations of capable people who are willing and able to work but either don't want to be employed or can't find a job. 

  • I'm a Boomer. I am firmly convinced that productive work is fulfilling.  It creates a sense of worth and dignity both of which are essential to a healthy human spirit.  Imagine this scenario: every person who is legally entitled to receive a welfare check is required to further their education by attending classes 10 hours a week and volunteer another 20 hours, perhaps in a care center, or as a member of a workforce that paints houses, rakes leaves, shovels snow or does repair work in a senior's home. I can  think of no less than a hundred tasks that could be easily and enthusiastically handled by volunteersOur society needs to systemically adopt both education and volunteerism as requirements for able citizens. 

“It’s not disease that kills us, it’s the loneliness” is a quote I heard recently.  We have all known senior couples in which the wife dies and the husband immediately follows; the reverse also occurs, but less frequently.  What if every able-bodied senior who collects Social Security were required to volunteer?  They can be the teachers who educate welfare recipients, or they can spend their time in a senior community, or perhaps a school or a veterans' home.  There are tasks--feeding, transporting, reminiscing, conversing, dancing, singing, playing games--requiring only a few hours a week that would be beneficial to everyone involved. These volunteer seniors often need socialization as much as the recipients.  We just need a plan.  This one's mine! 

If ever I wanted to hear from you on a blog it's now.   Whether you are left, right or middle politically - please tell me how you feel.

Thank you,



  • In the years GreatPlacesInc.com has been online, we’ve received hundreds of e-mails from visitors asking questions about legal documents, how to start retirement planning in their 50's, as well as advice on traveling with grandpa and the kids and making everyone happy.   We’ve also received personal stories of triumph and tragedy including the creative, often humorous ways people cope with stress, relationships, balancing career and family, 70 hour work weeks, job loss and the "agony and defeat" they encountered starting a new company.   In our newsletter, I periodically share stories about my glorious 86 year old mother and have named a collection after her.  This is YOUR SPACE.  Ask for advice.  Share stories.  I love your e-mails. It's simple.  Just click here!