Saturday, January 30, 2016

Deep In Taxes

Notes on preparing our tax returns after one year of full retirement . . .
  • ·         When we were working, we reported income from two W2 forms, one for each of us.  This year we have to report incomes from six 1099 forms, all from the same annuity.  Why I don't know.  So we have to add six separate incomes, six separate federal income tax totals, six state income tax totals (with dollars rounded off for them)—all of which totaled a fraction of our original salaries.  So much for the simple life of a retiree.
  • ·         It appeared initially that because of my age I might qualify for a $15,000 break on my state taxes.  Was I 62 and receiving Social Security exempt retirement benefits?   Yes, I was!  Er, maybe not.  I was 62 and receiving benefits that were exempt from social security taxes.  But upon reading more deeply, it appears they meant to ask was my original working income exempt from social security taxes.  It wasn’t.  I’d forgotten that some people have jobs where they don’t have to pay social security taxes.  They now get this break also.  Not me.  Lucky sots.
  • ·         Here are the IRS torture-mongers at their finest.  One of the forms I had to complete because I have an Individual Retirement Account required me to take the amount from line 5 ($2,950) and divide it by line 9 ($14,968).  Fun stuff if you don’t have a calculator handy.  Then take the decimal result and round it to three places.  Then multiply line 9 by that decimal result.  Again, fun stuff . . .  The answer is $2,948.  So why not just skip this whole division/fraction-rounding/multiplication exercise and let us use the original number from line 5, which is easier and actually more accurate?  They’re out to get you; that’s why.
  • ·         A couple weeks ago someone left a message on our answering machine stating that agents from the U.S. treasury were taking action against us, implying that we had done something wrong on our taxes.  We needed to urgently call them back at a number they gave us.  I recognized the scam from my latest AARP magazine.  So I ignored the call.  If the worst happens and I’m hauled off to federal prison, I figure I’ll have plenty of time to finish my taxes.  So it’s still good.
         When it’s all done, we’re planning to take a vacation.  I’ll need a break.  So we’re going to Taxes.  Arggghhh.  I meant Texas.

       P.S.   I had JUST posted this blog when Wendy handed me a bank statement we just got in the mail.  It was for a small amount of interest on her savings account.  Now I have to re-do it all.  ARGGGHHHHH!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Witches, Luke And Keys

     Maybe it’s that we’re retired (hmmm, I almost typed ‘tired’ by mistake) but the holidays this year are unraveling and passing in slow motion.  No last minute shopping or rushing around.  No playing an adult game of dodge ‘em to find a parking spot at the mall.

     I even had the time to read The Witches:  Salem, 1692.  That’s a 400-page tome that chronicles in great detail the events surrounding the witchhunt hysteria that gripped small Massachusetts communities in and around Salem at the end of the late seventeenth century leading to the executions of 20 citizens.

     During this insanity, husbands accused wives, children accused parents and even grandparents and grandchildren were not averse to making accusations that the other was dealing with the devil.  All that does seem insane to us today in the 21st century. But I did find it kinda weird when the last time our three-year-old grandson Luke was over I teased him, “You’re a witch, Luke.”

     He whirled around and said, “No, you’re the witch!”  He looked serious too.  How does he even know what a witch is?  “No, Luke, you’re the witch,” I deadpanned matter-of-factly.  “No, YOU’RE the witch, grandpa” he said, his eyes intense in his accusation.  This was getting familiar, sounding too much like the events I had been reading about so I dropped it then.

      Besides, if he were a witch, he might drop a hex on me. In fact, I did feel hexed, or worse—afflicted with senile dementia—within the past week.  A simple task turned into a memory-ravaging ordeal.  We had to make a trip to the store so I went to snatch the keys from a hook in the kitchen where I usually put them.

      They weren’t there.  That’s not that unusual as I sometimes forget to put them back.  Probably left them in a coat pocket.  So I checked my coats, all of them.  Shirt and pants pockets too.  Not there either.  I continued on, looking on tabletops, shelves, desktops—any elevated flat surface where I might have absent-mindedly put them.  I even looked under my La-Z-Boy reclining chair as change and whatnot sometimes come loose from my pockets and end up there.  But again, nothing.

     Now I was starting to wonder.  I had checked not only the places where the keys should have been but also the logical places where they could have been.  That scary condition popped into my mind . . . Alzheimer’s.  If those keys were in the refrigerator freezer or the mailbox, finding them might reveal too much about my present state of mind.

     (I should note that I have been suffering from a debilitating cold and discovered that my ability to do simple mental puzzles, Sudoku for example, seems to have suffered.  Then again, maybe it had nothing to do with my cold).

     So now my wife and I began to check for the keys in places that would seem illogical.  I looked in my desk in the basement, in the car itself though it was locked, on the workbench in the garage, underneath furniture, the mailbox (I felt I had to), Wendy’s purse when she wasn’t looking (you never know--she's a little up there in years too), even in the Christmas manger scene set up in our living room.  Nothing.

    Wendy told me to check my La-Z-Boy chair again.  I had already looked under it as well as probing with my hands into the crevices near the seat where change, keys, even a TV remote sometimes become lodged.  So I overturned the chair completely.  And there, trapped and held fast in the recliner’s metal frame, were my keys. 

     What a relief.   I had been recalling a time when a relative, while cutting my grandparents’ grass, came across a set of keys belonging to them.  Turns out my grandpa had thrown the keys out into the yard to see if his metal detector could find them.  Then he forgot about the task at hand as his mind moved on to his next adventure.  Now I’m wondering how old he was when all that happened.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Becoming My Neighbor

      I remember when contemplating retirement around ten years ago I tried to envision what life would be like without a structured workday.  That’s rather difficult to do when you’ve toiled eight hours a day for decades but something I vowed I would never do is become one of those fussy seniors who obsess daily over their garden and yard.

     Fast forward to present.  I am retired now and find myself recalling those earlier vows with mixed feelings.  To be honest, my yard does not compete aesthetically with those of my neighbors.  They have lush green weedless (not a word Microsoft says, maybe weedfree?  Nope. Oh well)  thick sod that could easily replace the fairway on hole number nine at the master’s course in Augusta.

     My yard is, well, more diverse I like to say since diversity is a buzzword nowadays.  Sure, there is grass.  But there’s lichen, moss, dandelions, clover, wildflowers, and numerous other species of weeds, er, plants that are still green, but nearly as appealing to curbside onlookers.

     But . . . it’s looking better since I retired.  I’ve trimmed dead branches, pulled weeds from around the house, kept the grass cut and the leaves raked to the point where I don’t think my neighbors shake their heads when they look in our direction.  In fact, I think my efforts may have unnerved one of my neighbors.

     He always cuts his grass twice to my once and is constantly out manicuring his own personal greenspace.  He almost takes offense if my grass is shorter than his.  Once when I cut my grass, my wife and I noticed he was cutting his own lawn after dark, so as to keep up with Big Dave we thinks.

     I’m still not that obsessive.  But I’ve learned that yardwork is something simple, easily fits in with other daily activities, provides some pride when things look pretty, and is good for your heart.   I still avoid using chemicals or noisy machines like leaf blowers and gas-powered edgers.  Call me an environmentalist.  Or that’s my excuse anyway (can’t be that I’m just cheap).

     In the past I’ve been a season behind in my yardwork, trying to run the gas out of my mower when the temperature already has been freezing, or pulling out the remains of my garden when there’s snow about.  But I’ve become more pro-active all-round.  My snow shoveling and outside holiday decorating had been tardy in my working years.  Not so much now.

     In fact, as I was shoveling snow off the walk this past week I looked around the neighborhood and thought to myself, “Something doesn’t look right.”  Then I figured it out.  Nearly all of the walks around me were still snow-covered.  I was among the first to shovel.  That is a good thing . . . I guess.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Indoctrination

     I’ve blogged before about my enthusiasm for all things Halloween.  Now that I have grandchildren, it would follow that I introduce them to the thrills and chills of the season.  OK, since Luke is just two I have to tread lightly there lest I get reported to some agency of some sort.  But he’s enjoying the spooky season now as much as any two-year-old, I think.

     Here are the photos to prove it.  Whether it’s holding up the pumpkin he found during a local pumpkin hunt, admiring the creepy spiders on the side of a house at a Crossroads Village ghost and goodies event, or playing with the Halloween display in our bay window, Luke’s interest and appreciation is obvious.
    If you say that two-year-olds should be engaging in less things macabre and more things developmental, let me add that there’s education bonuses to horror, even at the age of two.  Luke’s favorite Halloween creature  is the spider and he particularly likes monster spiders like the gigantic arachnid in the movie Tarantula.

    When he watches the movie trailer from our DVD, he reads aloud the phrases he recognizes as they come on the screen:

    “Bullets can’t stop it.”  “Dynamite can’t kill it.”  “Tarantula.”  Man, if he isn’t pre-school material already.  I can see him zombie-walking into pre-school (he’s learned to do a good zombie walk too), then speaking up when the teacher pulls out a stuffed animal—“Dynamite can’t kill it.”

     Not only word recognition, but our Halloween fun develops leadership skills.  A couple weekends ago we took our grandsons to the Crossroads “Halloween” Village near Flint.  It’s relatively tame fun with a train ride down a track among some painted wooden spooks and adults in costume passing out treats in the village.

     They also had a straw minion maze built in a Despicable Me theme.  We coaxed our pre-school grandkids into the entrance, then I went around the straw-bale labyrinth to the end to wait.  I could see over the top Grant leading Luke around this corner and down this or that path.  Using their problem-solving skills, they were.  Never mind that most parents were in there themselves to help their own kids through the maze.

     I was confident they could do this themselves, even when Grant took a wrong turn and started back the opposite way they came.  I noticed Luke even took over the lead at one point.  I knew they’d make it out before dark and they did.  Now Luke leads his grandma and I down wooded paths near our home.

    Luke, pointing down the path:  “This way.”

    Me:  “This way?”

    Luke:  “Yep.”

     I can’t say nothing scares Luke, though.  We were playing a music video of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is scary enough in itself, when Wendy and I broke into our own version of the zombie dance.  Luke covered his head and said, “No dance, grandpa.”  Guess there’s some things even scarier than Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wildlife Of The Upper Peninsula

Wildlife  is what we always hope to see on our jaunts up north in Michigan.  This month’s trip to the northwoods involved retirement tent camping in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  But there’s something wrong with that sentence.  “Retirement” and “tent camping” should not appear together, at least not for us.

Sleeping in the campground at Taquamenon Falls State Park required lots of bending, stooping and twisting, sometimes reaching poses that would challenge a yoga instructor . . . with aging joints that are not as flexible and which at any time might issue forth shooting pains.  Still, I could not pass up a lovely weather weekend so late in the summer.  What better way to enjoy the wilderness experience you can find up north. 

I had looked forward to this expedition for most of the summer and practiced setting up and then sleeping in our two-man yellow nylon tent in our backyard one night.  Since rain was not predicted, I didn’t even bother with the rain fly, wanting to sleep with the stars shining brightly above me.  That lasted until the wee hours of the morning when I began to feel damp inside my sleeping bag.  My tent was as wet as if it had showered briefly.  But this was all dew gathering into droplets on the netting above me, then dripping like so many leaky faucets onto me as I slept below.

Oh well.  Better to keep the rain fly on anyway.  Better not to see the woodland creatures, a bear perhaps, looking down on us in the middle of the night.

So we pitched a tent next to the woods and a gurgling brook below us, not quite close enough to hear the roar of the falls.  Despite being after Labor Day, there were lots of campers, mostly housed in the stainless steel mobile home kind.
There was a small tent in the campsite next to us, about the same size as our’s.  However, that turned out to be a bit suspicious, at least for my wife.  There was nobody there when we originally set up, though a car was parked nearby.  Then an older man and younger woman arrived in another vehicle, regarded Wendy cautiously as they sat together, then embraced eachother fervently before striking their tent and quickly leaving in separate vehicles.  Hmmmm.  All kinds of wildlife.

Well, no, we actually didn’t see any exotic wildlife.  There was a squirrel and a chipmunk that chattered and scurried around us, especially when we were eating a couple donuts.  In fact, the chipmunk bravely approached us and stood up on hind legs as if to say, “Can you spare a crumb, please?”  Uh, sorry, no.

We saw more dogs than anything here.  I hiked up a trail along the rapids and on the way back noticed that a gentleman in front of me was having difficulty pulling his powerful looking mutt that looked like a cross between a boxer and a hound from Hell.  The dog was trying to pull his master into reverse after he spotted me coming up behind them.

“Lucky,” he called to the dog as I approached.  “He wants to go south instead of north”, he added to me.  No, no—I think he wanted to eat me.  The dog was muffling something to me under his own breath that sounded like, “C’mon, buddy, come on over here and let me give you a sniff.”

    I passed Lucky as his owner struggled to contain him.  A little ways farther and I passed more dogs going the other way.  As I skipped down a side path devoid of other hikers, whether four or two-footed, I heard all the dogs engaged in a rather vehement discussion, about rights-of-way I assumed.  Pretty soon, I heard a guy calling out, “Lucky” over and over.

     Turning around, I saw Lucky had broken free with his leash and had also taken the side path and was now behind me.  The hellhound was still muffling something that sounded like, “C’mon back here guy, I want to nuzzle your pant leg.”   Lucky for me, Lucky the dog was re-captured by his owner before he could muffle or growl any further invites at me.  

     Other than that, the only wildlife encounter of note occurred when Wendy climbed out of our tent and cried out when a frog tried to hop past her through the open tent flap, trying to join me still lying on our camping mattress.  That's okay.  I'll take a frog over Lucky any day.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

One Big Happy Family

      Back when my two boys were growing up, I frequently used the term “one big happy family” to describe our family bonding adventures, whether that involved camping, road trips or a night out altogether.  Now that my two sons are married with one living near Washington DC, those adventures seem so far in the past.

     But a couple weeks ago we re-lived those days, kinda.  My wife and I rented a condo at Ocean City, Maryland that could accommodate everyone including our two grandchildren.  We could all stay together for a week—one big, happy family—just like days gone by.

     I loaded up our mini-van with lots of toys for kids and adults—a metal detector, kite, an old boogie board which my boys used an a previous beach vacation over ten years ago, a restored ‘geezer golf’ game, lots of DVDs, a couple board games and an oversized flashlight to spot crabs on the beach at night.

     My oldest grandson Grant is a huge fan of crabs and has been since he got hooked on my old sci-fi movie classic Attack of the Crab Monsters.  I brought that DVD but for some reason neither he nor my other grandson Luke wanted to watch that, preferring to watch the “ogres” battle humans in another sci-fi classic, The Time Machine.

     Grant and I found a park in Ocean City where they were catching crabs off a pier.  One fisherman had a half-dozen Maryland blue crabs in his bucket.  I also bought Grant a soft-shell crab sandwich so he could say he’d eaten crab.  “That’s really gross,” he said, refusing the seafood treat I’d bought.  

But Grant liked the crab I’d found on the beach and put into a makeshift aquarium.    Never mind that it was dead.  Neither Grant nor my other grandson Luke knew that.  When my wife Wendy complained the next day that the crab was beginning to smell, I told Grant it was time to release the crab back into the ocean to join his family, which Grant helped me to do.  “Do you think he has a son?” Grant asked as a big wave carried it out to sea?
      The boys were wary of the heavy ocean surf, never having experienced that.  Two-year-old Luke was knocked down by a big wave and was content to play in the sand from then on.  Grant would play catch-me, running from the big waves as they rolled in.  For the adult children and their spouses, the surf, sun, shopping and sand all sufficed.

     What about the toys I brought?  Our old boogie board was ripped to shreds by the second or third wave it was ridden on.  I asked Grant if he wanted to help me look for treasure with my metal detector.  “No.  But can I have some of what you find?” he asked.  He has future as a tax collector for the government, I’ll bet.

     I flew my kite once; the boys weren’t really interested in helping with that either.  The geezer golf game never left the back of our mini-van.  Grant did accompany me with my flashlight one night on the beach, but he insisted that I shine the light into various holes in the sand dug earlier with plastic shovels and pails.  I knew we weren’t going to find anything in any of those.  And we didn’t.

       Luke’s version of vacation fun was more skewed.  He enjoyed locking himself in the bedrooms at the condo.  “Open the door, Luke,” his dad commanded to no avail.  Luke would appear at a patio door, also locked, and make half-hearted attempts to unlock it as the rest of us urged him on or tried to find a utensil to pick the other bedroom door lock.  Luke seemed to be enjoying the attention, running from the bedroom door back to the patio door and back.  Eventually Wendy found a tomato peeler which worked as a lock pick.

      So at the end of it all, I asked Grant what his favorite part of our Ocean City vacation was.

     “The ogre movie,” he responded.

     Thought he might at least say the crabs.  Well, at least we were together as one, big, happy family.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

You're A Senior When...

We’ve been suffering through a stretch of days with temperatures in the high 80s and the low 90s here in Michigan.  It almost makes me long for the days in an air conditioned office, toiling on my computer.  For now, when I’m on my computer, I depend on a personal Honeywell fan. 

So it seems like I’ve been doing a little of everything and a lot of nothing here.  That may not be all because of the weather though.  It seems like it’s a symptom of being retired and getting older.  Here are some other symptoms of ‘senioritis’ as I’ve noticed them:

1.        --Your favorite TV programs all include commercials for prescription drugs.

2.        --You are no longer offended when given a senior discount without having to ask for one.

3.        --When you go to your favorite places, whether a coffee shop, gym or favorite dining spot, you seem to be in the company of fellow seniors.  Remember, millennials supposedly outnumber baby boomers.  This may be true, but they’re not at the places I frequent, or maybe just not at the same time.

4.        --You answer correctly a history question on the TV quiz show Jeopardy that stumps the TV contestants because you remember it happening in your youth.

5.        --You like flowers in your yard more and more each year, and weeds less and less.

6.        --You can’t understand why anybody would NOT want to hear funny stories about your grandchildren.

I’ll probably think of more as the months and years go on.