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Volume 19, Issue 1    February 21, 2017

In this Issue:

        Childhood Play - by Julia
        Learning - by Valerie
        Larvalbug Lens
        The Terra Tabloid - by Larry
        Backyard Beasts - by Valerie
        Are We There Yet? - by Larry
        Final Thoughts

Childhood Play

by Julia

I am now living in a retirement community. I have a two-bedroom apartment on the first floor. One day my doorbell rang, and I answered the door. There were four young girls in uniform standing behind an older woman. The older lady explained that they were from a community college in Waco and were in training to become nurses' aides. She asked whether I would be willing to be interviewed by one of the girls. I agreed and invited her in to ask her questions. I had thought she would have a few questions which would take a short time. However, I invited her to sit down and for the next hour I answered a whole page of questions. Such as: where was I born, when, where did I go to school, where did I go to college, did I have a best friend, etc.

The question which stirred a lot of memories was what did I play? I explained that it was a time before TV, computers, hand-held phones, air-conditioning or central heat (at least in my neighborhood), and there were only a few cars. We walked everywhere, then, such as to Cameron Park (3.7 miles from our house) to play on very tall swings or in big sand boxes. There too we had water pools to wade in. Near my home on 10th and Clay streets, there was the Cotton Palace Park. It had swings, slides, and sand boxes. At a very early age, I could go alone to this park. During the Depression on Tuesday evenings there was also what we called a free park movie. The movies were shown on an outdoor projector. People sat on the ground, often bringing picnic food to eat while watching.

A 1926 postcard featuring the Texas Cotton Palace Exposition, Waco. Later, the area became Cotton Palace Park, close to where Julia lived. The palace burned down many years ago. (Courtesy Baylor.Edu)

I guess that poor girl must have thought she had opened a spigot as I recalled all the things we had done for play. I lived in a middle class neighborhood of houses owned almost entirely by those living in them. The houses were neat and kept painted. Everyone had a grassy lawn, and most had flowers. In the summer, the children gathered outside, and together we somersaulted, played leap-frog, did endless cartwheels, jumped rope, played hide and seek, skated, played hop-scotch, and on and on. One favorite was called "statute," I think. One person would hold hands with another and spin them 'round and 'round until they were dizzy, then turn loose. The whirled person was then supposed to hold a pose in whatever way he or she landed.

As we gathered together on hot evenings, we would see who could make the silliest faces or who could tell about the most gruesome food combination and still be able to eat while looking at it. We also caught fireflies and looked for frogs and horned toads under the corner street light.

In memory at this distance, it is easy to forget the hordes of flies and mosquitoes, the occasional influx of bedbugs, and the very hot days and nights of summer.

In the winter, we might play dominoes, card games, or, in my case, play with paper dolls. No money was ever spent, but I got out-of-date pattern books from places like Woolworth to cut out my dolls. I had whole families, all dressed most richly of course. I would make houses from card board boxes and doll house furniture from out-of-date sample wallpaper and paint catalogues which the stores would give me. The wallpaper made outstanding sofas, etc. The sofas, chairs, beds, and tables I made looked realistic to my young eyes. I could easily spend hours making up stories about my doll house families.

As soon as I could read, I was allowed walk a mile to the nearest library alone. Also, I walked to Austin Avenue, the main street in Waco, to ask for the various catalogues I needed. I was probably about eight when I stated striking out on my own this way.

My young aspiring nurse's aide spent some time discussing how different life is for a kid now. Are there places in the U.S. where kids can be carefree? From my perspective, it seems we are trapped in our houses with all our gadgets and "things." And yet, I wouldn't want to go back to the world I knew as a child either. I know there are parents who provide trips, outings, and play dates for their children. However, for too many there is no freedom like I knew. Perhaps there are some neighborhoods where children run back and forth with no supervision. Not that I didn't have supervision, though, for the whole neighborhood kept an eye out for us. But most of the mothers were home to do it.

As my visit with the student ended, I had learned more about her life too, as well as she had gotten acquainted with mine. I asked her whether they were trying to interview everyone; she replied that most people said "No."

(Thanks, Julia, for this terrific, entertaining reminiscence! Too bad many of the residents did not take advantage of the opportunity to be interviewed. Seems it was a refreshing and enlightening hour or two for the folks at the center and the young students as well. Larry )


by Val

Can somebody be a born teacher? Or does the ability to help others learn need to be, well, learned? When I was a fairly young kid, I certainly liked to play "school" with my little sister. It might have had a lot to do with the essential prop: a chalkboard. That blank slate just pleaded to be written upon. Content didn't matter; it could be math or spelling or penmanship. Labeling the parts of a plant, listing the colors of the rainbow, or drawing a diagram of the planets circling the sun would do as well. The simple act of writing down the exciting things I'd learned in school in order to share them with my younger sibling just seemed like an engaging thing to do. I'm not sure if she liked it or not, but she submitted, perhaps because I was older, and, early in life, a couple of years makes a big difference. At one point, I had TWICE as much experience under my belt as she had. By high school, there is not all that much disparity between the sophomore and senior years, but in elementary school, a third grader has what seems like a vast amount of knowledge not yet gained by a first grader.

I do not remember ever being on the receiving end of a play school session. I was always the teacher. I'm certain that if our ages had been reversed, so would the roles. Anyway, playing school with my sister was something that was quickly outgrown. In our home life, it was replaced with activities that involved mutual exploration of the world. Whether we were entertaining ourselves exploring in the woods while our parents were off mushroom hunting, listening and dancing to 45 rpm records, watching Saturday morning cartoons on our old black and white television (with the sound down low because the adults had not yet gotten up), making up stories with our dolls and dinosaurs, or perusing picture books, we often discussed the things we encountered, our thoughts about them, and how they fit into our ever expanding environment. As we got older, we both gravitated towards art, music and biology. Our ages were close enough that we belonged to some of the same organizations and so had many shared experiences. We both enjoyed playing musical instruments, dissecting road kill, collecting fossils and catching small aquatic animals for our aquarium. Upon retrospection, it is obvious that we both learned more because we shared our ideas, questions and insights into all the engaging things we found and experienced.

While I was a student in school, I, like many others, sometimes also took on the role of teacher. Presenting a research project to the class, helping younger students with reading, or contributing my part to a group assignment all gave me a nudge into the other end of the information exchange. I was frequently bored in classes, so having a little extra responsibility certainly distracted me from being a trouble-maker. While rule-bending (okay, -breaking) came quite naturally, so did explaining complex subjects to classmates who didn't always catch on as quickly. Friends don't let friends get bad grades.

I started teaching in a more official capacity when I was a freshman in high school. As part of the local band program, some high school students tutored the fifth graders beginning on the same instrument. The two schools were only a short distance apart, so after classes ended, groups of youngsters walked over to the high school for their weekly private lessons. At $1 for a half hour, this was an economical way to give beginners the personal attention they needed while at the same time allowing older students to gain skill in teaching and a little income to boot. Guiding my private clarinet students made me organize my thoughts, come up with new ways to communicate concepts (until the proverbial light bulb finally appeared) and persist until problems were resolved, no matter how long it took. It was one of the most effective methods of learning I had ever experienced. It also helped the students.

The fact that I was receiving music lessons from my teachers while giving them to my students made it abundantly clear that it was all of a piece, from my perspective. When I later began studying the violin, I was both a beginner on that instrument and a teacher who could appreciate the techniques that I observe being used by my own, more accomplished, teacher.

One thing I noticed about clarinet instruction was that it was much more engaging than, say, helping a student who had problems reading. I concluded that I didn't really like teaching as much as I liked certain subjects. If it was interesting to me, I couldn't see how it wouldn't also be interesting to others. Luckily, providing private lessons has been a mainstay occupation for musicians for centuries, so I had a marketable skill that was always in demand. One drawback, though, to teaching youngsters is that they are not necessarily motivated to do their best. Some don't have the patience, or the desire, or don't even like music, and are just taking lessons because their parents tell them to. I'm not one of those notable teachers who can inspire anyone to high achievement. If I wanted to pull teeth, I'd have been a dentist.

After 30 years of teaching music lessons, I was not at all reluctant to retire when I got the chance. It gave me the time to pursue my other interests, which was sort of like going back to school, but without formal teachers, classes or a schedule. If I wanted to learn about something, I studied it, found an expert to query, read about it, or joined an organization that would provide new related opportunities. When I was younger and struggling to make a decent living, I never thought I would volunteer for anything in any way, shape or form. However, age has changed my mind. Doing something that I enjoy and find stimulating is worth doing for free.

Among adults with a penchant for lifelong learning, I think I've found an ideal venue for my teaching proclivity, and it is not in music but in biology. Using photography, observational skills and small group settings, exploring the natural world, especially through entomology and botany, seems to satisfy my curiosity and desire to network with others. Every new encounter, insight or bit of information is a delight as we piece together a coherent understanding of our fascinating planet. I find that guiding a group of enthusiastic people through a structured curriculum has far more rewards than expenditures.

Now, long into a life that has included many types of teaching and learning, it seems unmistakably obvious that the two experiences are simply aspects of a single entity. The difference between teacher and student is quite narrow and has more to do with age, leadership or responsibility roles than with the direction information is flowing. The best situations involve people with different strengths and backgrounds so that they complement each other, contributing various components to the knowledge base they are all developing. For the sake of organization, most classes must have a leader and participants, but "teacher" and "student" are flexible labels that do not stick too tightly. And that is to everyone's advantage.

Larvalbug Lens

The photo was taken in Japan about early 1946. Leon, Julia's husband and Larry's father, led an Army investigative team there in support of General Douglas MacArthur's preparations for war crime trials of Axis Powers' business, military, and political leaders arrested in that country at the end of World War II. Leon is third from the left. He later said this was difficult duty, that many of those investigated and some who were subsequently hung had simply been doing their duty as they understood it and that if the tables had been turned and U.S. leaders were being investigated and tried by Japan, many of them also might have suffered a similar fate for merely having followed orders or supported our cause.

The Terra Tabloid

(The Terra Tabloid is a venue for the discussion of issues pertaining to the past, present, and future of our planet and human interaction with it.)

Our Many Mini-Mites

by Larry

Eww, gross! Lots of folks have heard of or experienced problems of lice, ticks, chiggers, fleas, fungal infections, and bedbugs infesting our clothes, bedding, or persons, but mites? Not so much. Yet it turns out that these last parasites are at least as common inhabitants of our bodily biospheres as the more typically considered free-riders on human flesh. In fact, we have mites so characteristic of ourselves and our backgrounds that an analysis of the ones we carry around all the time tells scientists much about from where our forebears came.

Happily, the illustration image is not to scale. These alien looking arthropods are microscopic, the largest of them only 0.2 mm, or roughly 0.008 inches, in length, hence the reference to them as mini-mites.

Scientists have known for well over a century that mites live on our faces. They were thought to affect only a small percentage of us and to have been responsible for such dermatalogical disorders as rosacea. While initial investigations supported the notion that only a fraction of folks play host to these translucent creatures, once DNA studies had become more the norm researchers began looking for the mites' DNA on human subjects and found that actually just about all of us, 100% of adults in any case, have Demodex mites. To date, they are the first genus of arthropods to be found on the bodies of everyone studied.

This begs the question, then, how do we get them? Do we come out of the womb with the mites, or do they arrive later? Newborn infants generally do not have them. Perhaps they arrive from our mothers during breast feeding. What about people who were entirely bottle-fed? Well, by age 18 at least, they have them too. So...scientists are as yet simply not sure how the mites are transmitted. One way or another, though, once we are cadavers, virtually all of us have them!

One variety of human parasite, the hair follicle mite Demodex folliculorum (Wikipedia)

Two kinds of mites live on humans, Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis. The latter species is also a relative of those that can cause the common dog disorder, mange. Fortunately, our version does not affect us in this way.

How many mini-mites are swimming around in our skin pore oils at any given time? Probably thousands, maybe millions. Fortunately, most of the time they cause us no discomfort or disorders whatever and do not require treatment. In fact, providers of remedies for normal, asymptomatic human mites may do no good and possibly can be harmful not merely to our pocketbooks but even to our health. Not all mite cures are safe for direct application to people. Itch mites and scabies mites, on the other hand, may be treated, but these problems are caused by kinds of parasites that cannot live on human hosts beyond an initial infestation anyway.

Later research has shown that the genetic diversity of parasitic facial mites can tell scientists more about our family trees and the major migrations patterns of our ancestors. Minute genetic variations in the mites allow experts to tell if people are, for example, from China, the Americas, or Africa following the great dispersion routes of our species 60,000-100,000 years ago.

Among Americans, human ancestry can be classified into one of four categories, A through D, based on subtle differences between our mites' DNA. All four lines of mites occur on folks of African descent. People with mostly the D-line but not the others are virtually only of European descent. Those with B- and C-lines are mostly Americans of Asian descent. People whose roots were primarily South American have A- and D-lines. Thus it seems our mites have been with us for hundreds of thousands of their generations and that they are in a sense "loyal," sticking with their traditional human family ties.

As yet human mites have not been studied extensively. Apparently this is a rich new field for ongoing discovery.

Primary Sources:

- Facial Mites Reveal Where You Come From. Rasmus Kragh Jacobsen in Scientific Nordic; January 7, 2016.

- Hey, You've Got Mites Living On Your Face. And I Do, Too. Nancy Shute in NPR - Your Health; August 28, 2014.

Backyard Beasts

by Valerie

Not many crustaceans can show up in our backyard ponds, but one can and did. The red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) is an extremely adaptive species that can survive in even marginal habitats. It grows rapidly and can live for over 2 years. This is the crayfish most often raised commercially for food, especially in Louisiana. While it is usually red, it can also have a bluish cast to its shell. It is native to our area, but has been introduced in other places in the U.S. and also in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, where it is often considered an invasive species.

During wet weather, individuals may wander long distances over land, sometimes as far as several miles in a few days. These are burrowing crayfish and dig deep holes in mud next to ponds or other water sources, usually down to the water table, as, despite their penchant for terrestrial travel, they are aquatic and breathe through gills. One that lived in our pond during a summer did construct a burrow, but it couldn't adapt to the fact that the pond has a lining and so it never reached water. I think the burrow simply went under the pond, where the animal could stay cooler and somewhat moist during the hottest weather. Otherwise, it had to periodically return to the pond through the entrance to its retreat. One characteristic of this species is that they alternate periods of sexual activity and inactivity, so eventually our yard crayfish got the urge to move on, very likely because it was all by itself and had no mate. However, it wasn't as successful at finding a way out as it had at getting in. I found it dead in a corner by the fence.

Are We There Yet?

by Larry

When can I safely retire? From several sources, the distressing evidence is that most of us are not doing enough to prepare for an end to our work-a-day routines. Assuming about 20% of our retirement income will come from Social Security and that we take around 4% annually in income distributions, experts say to retire securely we need 11 times pre-retirement income set aside in savings and investments. Instead, more than two-thirds of us are not putting away nearly enough funds for our leisure years.

How about you? A number of websites will assist in calculating where we are (for our ages and incomes) on a glide path toward financial security. Here is one.

For a couple, household income is considered as a whole. Say the combined earnings are $100,000 annually, then a retirement nest egg would appropriately be $1,100,000 (11 x $100,000). The figure takes into account that the average retiree will live another 20-30 years, invest conservatively, need about 70% of pre-retirement income for regular expenses, and have his or her buying power gradually reduced by inflation.

Actual average pre-retirement household income for people in their sixties is lower, though, roughly $75,000 a year in the U.S. So, using that amount, combined household savings and investments of approximately $825,000 are suggested before giving up earnings and attending our retirement parties.

There is some confusion about the recommended levels. Some calculators take into account the anticipated Social Security income, while some do not, in setting the ratio of nest egg to annual earnings at a multiple of 11. Clearly, if Social Security on average is to provide 20% of retirement income and is part of that 11 times pre-retirement earnings target, the balance needed in one's nest egg would be lower, $660,000 in the above instance.

Another way to look at it is that about 70% of pre-retirement income will typically be needed in retirement, at a minimum, and this is without extras like budgeting for increased health care costs (as there is of course an inevitable decline in people's capacities as they age) or like additional travel one may want to do in checking off bucket list kinds of activities. If our household income prior to beginning the Life of Riley was $75,000, 70% of that is $52,500. The suggested average 20% of retirement income from Social Security works out to $10,500 a year, leaving $42,000 a year to be obtained from nest egg income distributions. Dividing that figure by 0.04 (representing the 4% recommended level of yearly distribution, to avoid running out of one's nest egg principal) leaves us with a minimum household nest egg amount (not counting Social Security) of $1,050,000.

Yet the mean level of retirement savings at age 65 in this country is about $200,000, $400,000 for a couple. The significance of the earlier stat, that about two-thirds of us are not putting enough aside for retirement, is apparent in those figures. 4% of $400,000 is just $16,000. Combined with the average yearly Social Security payment by household, this means per year income for a retiring couple works out to a mean of only about $38,000 ($19,000 apiece), more or less half of pre-retirement income. This naturally considers merely the averages. Many have retirement incomes far lower.

What to do? If one finds his or her retirement nest egg to be too low, join the club. The majority of us at one time or another have been in the same boat. Certainly I have. Financial advisors have in years past suggested people save and invest around 10% annually toward their eventual financial independence. These days, though, there may be a few problems with that low a percentage:

  1. Most are already behind the curve by a large amount.

  2. In the past decade, total returns from stocks and bonds have not been up to their longer-term standards, and this appears likely to continue for at least the next few years.

  3. Social Security and Medicare benefits probably will be reduced, so more of the retirement funds' slack will need to come out of our own savings and investments.

  4. Fewer children may be content to have their aging parents live with them than previously, so the onus becomes greater on the more advanced generations to fully fund their own residential expenses.

  5. We live perhaps in more uncertain times than has been the case since the end of World War II. Over the prior twenty year period, we have experienced our country's worst terrorist attack, most economically devastating hurricanes, and the harshest recession since the 1930s. Many nations around the globe have suffered even more difficult circumstances.

Instability can lead to adverse changes in currency, economic outlook, security, credit ratings, basic utilities, goods, services, taxes, the value of real estate, internet access, etc., all of which could jeopardize one's buying power.

To get us back on track and remain there, a 15% annual investment in equities and/or bonds is now recommended, more if sustainable and practical.

Alternatively, we can plan to put off full retirement, maintaining part-time work for awhile after leaving our primary sources of earnings. We might also consider sharing residence costs with more than one household and in other ways being more frugal in our later years. Having greater than average income from Social Security will be a possibility for some and could substantially alter the calculations of what is required in the retiree's nest egg.

Finally, everything else being equal, the earlier we can start to regularly invest, the better. Just $5000 used to purchase shares in a S&P 500 Index fund (Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor Shares [VFINX]), at the end of January, 1977, with an equal amount added annually thereafter, would have become more than two million dollars by the end of January, 2017.


Larry is not a professional. Don't take him seriously!

Actually, the investment article provided here is for general information only and should not be considered as professional advice, a solicitation to buy or sell any security, or the Word of God. Investors are encouraged to do their own research while considering their personal goals and circumstances, or consult their own professional financial advisors, before making investment decisions. Neither Larry nor LARVALBUG will be liable for any losses sustained by any visitor to this site.

(Disclosure statement: Larry and Val have holdings in some of the suggested assets but do not "make a market" in any of them and do not derive any direct benefit from recommending them, except perhaps for a bit of smug self-satisfaction.)

Final Thoughts

As we enjoy the pleasant weather of winter here in the South, it is difficult to think ahead to the sweltering summer. However, it is not too soon to plan for one of the most impressive astronomical events of the year. In exactly 6 months, on August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cross the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The last time totality crossed our country following a similar path was in June, 1918. Several cities are in the path, but give up on booking a hotel room - solar eclipse enthusiasts from around the world will have already made their reservations.

In more mundane matters, don't forget to turn your clocks ahead on March 12 as Daylight Saving Time begins.

Larry, Val, and Peri

For others who may have chanced upon this site, larvalbug bytes is a monthly family-and-investment newsletter, put out by an old codger and sweet thing, with sometimes a little help as well from our engaging pooch, Peri. We invite readers' comments by and would also be happy to readers when new issues are published. Articles and stories from back issues are available in our archives.

Copyright © 2017 by LARVALBUG

"Sacred Scarab Serenity Spiral" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.

larvalbug bytes, February, 2017 / Home / Archives / Investing / Frisky / Peri / Bugs / Garden / Val's Art / Photos / Zoo / Clip Art