‘Packing for Retirement’ & Beyond: Jim Flanagan’s Passion to Help Older Adults

Trying to make heads or tails of health care, with its seemingly endless changes and complexity, is enough to make just about anyone queasy.

Against that backdrop, a retirement planning expert who speaks with clarity and authority is the perfect antidote.

Jim Flanagan during a 2018 program at River Forest Public Library.

That’s one of the ways that Inside Edge PR introduces Jim Flanagan. In this instance, it’s the news release about his Health Care in Retirement presentation–one of nearly a dozen programs that he and his colleagues have delivered in numerous Chicago-area suburbs over the years.

The founder of Bentron Financial Group, Jim’s next Health Care in Retirement presentation is coming up on Wednesday, September 4th at the Berwyn Public Library.

His other programs include:

Affording Retirement
Financial Management in Retirement
Understanding Social Security: A Look at the Bigger Picture
Retire with Confidence
Essentials of Estate Planning
Can You Afford to Retire?
Packing for Retirement

For Jim, helping older adults isn’t just something he does for a living. It’s a lifelong passion that continues to grow. In 2016, he earned a Master of Arts Degree in Gerontology from the University of Southern California. Currently, he is pursuing doctoral studies in Leadership and Gerontology from Concordia University in River Forest.

He has been on the Oak Park/River Forest Township Senior Services Committee since 2005, serving as chairman since 2008. And in 2010, he founded the Celebrating Seniors Coalition, a not-for-profit organization that, among other services, helps seniors with emergency needs and raises public awareness of issues affecting seniors in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.

Overarching all of his endeavors, Jim is expert in just about anything you can imagine pertaining to finance, particularly as it intersects with retirement planning. He brought it all together earlier this year with the publication of Packing for Retirement: A Practical Guide to Prepare for Retirement at Any Age.

When you find the book on Amazon (accessible by clicking the link above), read the five-star reviews to get others’ impressions on the highly informative and helpful book.

Then do yourself a favor and purchase a copy. That singular decision may well be one of the best investments you ever make.

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From (Brand) Promise to Silence

The Amazon delivery began with such extraordinary promise. Not only did it include the super-affordable and Gumby-like-flexible tripod Smartphone holder, but also a note from the top dog at the device’s distributor.

And this communication was no lip-service brimming with empty platitudes. Instead, what greeted me was a warm, earnest note pledging supreme customer satisfaction, capped by his e-mail address, and an invitation to contact him if I had any questions or concerns.

About a week later, after encountering some difficulty with the product, I shot this e-mail:

Hello, Mr. Doe*!

I received this tripod (photo attached) via an Amazon order a few days ago, and appreciate your note—very impressive!!

I wanted to make sure I knew how to adjust it to slip in my Smartphone safely and securely. So far, when I do it, it’s been a struggle and I don’t know if I am doing it in the ideal way. Trying to slip the phone into the space as I stretch it is difficult, and I am concerned that it will break each time.

A quick phone call from someone is all I need….or perhaps an instructional video?

Thank you!

The note includes: “I will do whatever it takes to fix the problem or concerns you are having.”

Another eight days passed, so I sent this follow-up:

Good evening, Mr. Doe*….

I wanted to follow up on my e-mail of last week (below). Not sure if you saw it? Or if you replied but I didn’t see your reply?

Thank you!

That second e-mail was a week ago.

Brand promise made, brand promise broken. Here’s hoping that the tripod won’t soon be broken, too.

*Last name isn’t actually Doe. Giving the guy a bit of a break.

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Damian Lillard’s epic buzzer-beater: off-the-charts talent vs. out-of-your-mind bad judgment

In my 40-plus years as a basketball player, coach, referee and all-around zealot, I have found that there’s no reliable metric when off-the-charts talent meets out-of-your-mind poor judgment.

A standout player can make what appears to be the worst decision, and somehow make it right. This is especially true when that out-sized talent is rivaled by the individual’s confidence in said talent.

Which brings me to Portland Trail Blazer guard Damian Lillard’s winning shot on Tuesday evening. With Portland up 3-1 in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the score is tied after Portland has overcome a 15-point deficit. All they need is a basket of any kind—even a free throw will do the trick.

For Lillard, this has been a special night already. He had 34 points at the half, a new team playoff record, and 47 points at this point. But he has been slumping in the second half and has missed half his shots overall.

He brings the ball past half court with 12 seconds to go, then strolls near the Blazer logo with eight seconds remaining. As the seconds tick down, for a good six seconds, there is the All-Star guard rocking back and forth just a step away from the logo. One of the league’s best defensive players, Paul George, is giving him a few feet of space because, well, Lillard’s closer to the bathroom than the basket.

Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two…

As I am lying on my living room couch, cat outstretched on my legs and my smartphone only a few inches from my eyes, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This had all the feeling of a playground, with the only thing at stake being pride—and the right to stay on the court to take on the next group of five guys waiting in the wings.

Does Lillard realize that he’s blowing his team’s chances of winning in regulation? Why isn’t he going anywhere? Does he really want to go back to Oklahoma City for Game 6?

I have begun mapping out my next two minutes: first, I stick around to see Lillard miss the impossibly, irresponsibly, needlessly long shot. Next, I re-fill my water bottle while keeping alert to commercials ending and the broadcasters’ righteous lambasting of Lillard’s arrogant hero ball-hog behavior as the contest heads to overtime.

After all, as any basketball fan knows, he had plenty of time to do plenty of higher-percentage things. Try these three options for starters:

Option #1: Drive all the way to the basket and try a layup or another close-in shot that would, surely, be challenged by a much taller defender or set of defenders. At the same time, this climactic clash could result in a foul and Lillard is exceptional at free throws.

Option #2: Drive toward the basket, draw a crowd of defenders, and then kick out a pass to a wide-open teammate who would be, oh I don’t know, somewhere in the same ZIP code and therefore stood a much better chance of making the winning basket than Lillard near midcourt.

Option #3: Drive toward the basket, step back somewhere along the way, and take a 15-footer, a 20-footer, even a 25-footer would be a much better choice.

But what does Lillard do instead?

He moves to his right with a shade over two seconds left, stepping back slightly to create enough space to loft the ball over a lunging George’s outstretched hand. The release happens with about 1 1/2 seconds left–and the ball takes that much time to arc 37 feet toward the basket, the buzzer sounding just as the ball drops in for three points.

You can see it all, from a variety of angles, for yourself:

Portland wins the series, and George—who did all he could do—simply walks off the court as Blazer players, staff and supporters form a victory pile.

Goes to show: sometimes the absolute worst shot, in the hands of a supremely talented and supremely confident player, can become the best shot of all.

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Admiring & dissecting an artful Dodgers vs. Cubs story

I began inhaling Sports Illustrated cover-to-cover when I was 10 years old, after my dad hooked me up with a subscription for my historic double-digit birthday.

It was summer on the South Shore of Boston, my beloved Red Sox were miles ahead in the American League East, and the cover of my inaugural issue featured a photo of beleaguered Yankees manager Billy Martin and an allusion to a famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (“Double, double, toil and trouble”) that went over my elementary-school-aged head.

I had seen the game that was the focal point of that cover story, as Martin yanked star outfielder Reggie Jackson from Fenway Park’s right field for failing to hustle. A heated tete-a-tete ensued in the dugout, the Sox went on to win, and all was right with the world.

Between that moment of getting SI delivered to my home set back in the woods off Webster Street and my development as a writer, there is one solid, bold-fonted line.

Four decades later, this vibrant account of last night’s Cubs vs. Dodgers game at Wrigley Field reminded me of a key element that drew me to journalism: the creative joy of drawing from an abundant supply of words and phrases, coupled with the challenge and reward of picking precisely the right one for the moment.

It’s what SI did more often than most, and it’s what I would find in the sports section of the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe that I would fight over (and play hide-and-seek with) my brother Andy.

It was a stroke of Alice in Wonderland-style hyperlink-clicking fate that I happened upon Los Angeles Times writer Jorge Castillo’s story. Some of his choices that resonate with my word- and phrase-wielding and story-telling soul:

“electric boom-or-bust slugging shortstop”

This one’s got a back-to-back batch of alliteration–and even casual readers ought to get the gist that I am a sucker for alliteration, especially when it is as aptly stated as that characterization of Chicago Cubs shortstop Javy Baez.

“provoking an exasperated response”

Granted, this is a “tell, don’t show” description of Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda. Did he flail his arms? Tilt his head up and gaze at the encroaching darkness? Stab at the ball with a flick of his wrist when the catcher tossed it back?

Castillo doesn’t say, and that’s OK with me. Every word, every piece of punctuation is a choice, with a constellation of factors at play. Very likely, he simply wanted to employ an economy of words to move on with the story of Maeda’s rough inning. So that’s just what he did, raising the literary bar in the process.

“in a jiffy”

When’s the last time I read this phrase in a newspaper story–or any story, for that matter? Have I ever seen it? Maybe a handful of times.

A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to revive “in a jiffy” in my everyday conversational repertoire, particularly around my teen-aged kids. I like how it sounds, how it makes me feel. Digging deep, I suppose it has something to do with my own sense of nostalgia, since the phrase hearkens back to my childhood, when the phrase seemed to be more frequently uttered.

That Castillo chose to sprinkle “in a jiffy” in this game story makes it something of a gift that I choose to make personal.

“display of agility”

This refers to Baez’s latest base-running caper. And although the scene could have been depicted in innumerable ways, this phrasing gets it just right. It was, after all, a display of agility.

“His contention didn’t produce a reversal.”

Having covered the civil and criminal courts for years, this brings to mind a legal argument. In the context of this story, it was Dodgers manager Dave Roberts arguing that Baez should be ruled out for running out of the baseline.

Castillo’s choice strikes me as a bit of tongue-in-cheek whimsy. We’re talking about a game of baseball, not a life-or-death issue. But, oh, how these trifling contests in the universe’s grand scheme can be treated as so exceedingly consequential.

The story runs 16 paragraphs; the highlights I have picked out are only in the first six. If you enjoy the art of writing, or baseball, or simply have time on your hands, I exhort you to read the entire piece before the link goes stale.

Notably, and perhaps not coincidentally, much of the delightful story’s early phraseology revolves around the colorful Baez. Castillo was equal to the task of capturing and conveying the action.

One might say that, in his story-telling, he was Baez-like. My whole point, though, is that there are countless other ways to describe it. That’s the challenge–always has been–and therein lies the reward.

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Shameful Smollett Plea Deal, Destructive Fall-Out From His Sham Claims

In my latest installment of “As the Jussie Smollett Debacle Turns,” I closed with this thought:

If there is sufficient evidence to convict Smollett of these charges, then his sentence should be stiff enough to deter others from trying anything similar.

That was one humongous “IF,” as it turns out.

Hot on the heels of today’s startling, troubling, smack-my-head-inducing news that charges against Smollett have been dropped, in exchange for community service and $10,000, I suppose one might wonder if this saga will actually embolden Jussie-like behavior in the future. (No need to elaborate on what that means—let’s get real here.)

My hunch is that it won’t stir copy cats among those borderline celebrities seeking to take a perilous, false police report-style short-cut to move up a rung on the Rich & Famous Food Chain. That’s because my hunch is that Jussie Smollett’s star has dimmed considerably through this entire shameful spectacle he set in motion.

Meantime, it’s infuriating to ponder the scope of damage wrought by Smollett. A partial list:

*Damage to actual victims of hate crimes, past or future, when people are that much less likely to believe them because of this grand fabrication;
*Damage to the City of Chicago’s reputation, which got dragged through the gutter as a place where such a vile attack could occur;
*Damage to the Police Department, which six weeks ago appeared foolish to have taken so long to get to the bottom of this outrageous scheme and which now appears to have been left hanging out to dry by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office;
*Damage to public safety, because the Police Department’s resources were diverted to chase these mythical bad guys; and
*Damage to the trust of everyone who stood behind Smollett. He used his small measure of celebrity to leverage a lie of epic proportions, and became a bigger celebrity through it.

Smollett is such a dedicated actor that he is maintaining his line that he has been truthful throughout this chain of events. Nobody who understands the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are fictional is buying this fairy tale, either.

Maybe, beyond his own selfishness, on some level Smollett wanted to shine a light on oppressive truths–the racism, homophobia, and other horrible things that certainly, and tragically, exist in our society.

But the fights against those ills have been undermined by his alleged fabrication. Instead, his name deserves to become a verb. Get ready for “jussied” and “jussying” to enter our lexicon.

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