Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Notes From The Bus

We're back from our bus tour of Washington DC, only the second time Wendy and I have participated in such an expedition, the last time in 2002 when we went to New York City with my parents and a group of senior citizens. This time we joined my sister and her husband with a group of veterans--he being a former Marine.

As usual, my pictures turned out terrible. I just posted a couple here, including one of the bus we rode. It's hard to get a bad picture of a bus, or a good picture for that matter. Then below is a picture I took of the White House. I posted this one because if you zoom in close enough, you'll see someone was watching us tourists.

Our tour leader was a county commissioner with the patience of Job, forever counting passengers after each stop, making sure everyone was there and accounted for. More often than not, there would be a straggler or two. Sometimes he had to resort to his cell phone to track down the missing.

Thankfully, we never received any of those calls though once we strayed from the official itinerary so we could check out the Capitol Lounge, a supposed home away from home for ex-patriate Michigan State University alums. My brother-in-law has a nephew playing for the Spartan football team. After a couple rounds in the lounge, we joked that if Vaughn called us, we'd tell him we were lost and have the bus pick us up in front.

We had a gregarious bus driver, a former teacher, for much of the trip. After watching him maneuver through openings so narrow I thought he'd have to do two wheels, I decided bus driving is a skill akin to being an airline pilot.

He had to put up with occasional crankiness too from the passengers. Once, when we were stopping quite late for dinner and having difficulty finding a dining venue large enough to accommodate all of us, somebody spoke out, "Rumor is we're going to eat the driver."

Another humorous moment occurred when the driver very slowly angled his vehicle towards an empty parking spot, intending to parallel park. He moved so slowly a passenger ahead of me jumped out of his seat, heading quickly to the front. He thought the driver had exited the vehicle and the bus was rolling on its own.

It was a memorable and educational trip as we learned more this time than in our previous trips to Washington. Still, home was a welcome sight. Kinda like the times I accompanied the boys on their school bus for overnight trips. It was good to be in our own house, in our own bed.

When we checked our phone upon arriving back, we found five messages on the answering machine. They were all from the tour leader Vaughn. One said something about meeting the bus at the old post office there in Washington. All the messages were of a similar nature.

Turns out he was dialing our home phone number instead of our cell phone number.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall Fun And Not

Since I haven't posted a picture of my one and only grandchild here in a while, let me start off by doing so. Here's Grant in his first trip to a pumpkin patch on Sunday.

He's looking a little glum, perhaps because he was coming down with a case of croup or else because his beloved Michigan Wolverines had just lost their first game to the cross-state ruffians of Michigan State. I believe the latter more likely, though the pediatrician confirmed that he does have the croup.

I'm not sure either Grant saw the purpose is heading out to a muddy farmer's field just to pick out and haul back a few inedible gourds. Maybe in a few years he'll understand. I kinda wonder how many of my blogging buddies understand the joys of a pumpkin patch around Halloween. Is that just a midwest tradition?

Wendy and I are preparing for yet another trip, one that involves NO DRIVING BY ME! No, we're not flying. I'm not that crazy. We're hopping a tour bus bound for Washington DC. While there, I hope to catch up to our youngest son who is working somewhere up on Capitol Hill. My sister and brother-in-law are joining us. I hope the weather's better there than the chilly, wet stuff we're currently enduring here in the Great Lakes state.

My tax and financial issues appear to be resolving after a few more phone calls. The stress from it all hasn't resolved yet. Over the past week, I've found myself doing some strange things:

--Trying to use my telephone as a calculator at work.
--Forgetting how to dial an outside line, also at work, something I've done many, many times. I actually had to ask a co-worker.
--Bringing my lunch bag home after work, taking the ice pack out and throwing the lunch bag in the freezer. I left the ice pack on the kitchen table. Wendy pointed my oopsies out to me later.

I could use another vacation. DC here I come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another Day, Another Sigh


I've been doing lots of that lately with the IRS breathing down my neck, our extra car sitting dead out in the driveway, the city seemingly spending all of its federal stimulus money re-paving the road in front of our house for the past several weeks, and the bank giving us money we didn't ask for.

Yeah, that's right, our bank giving us money we didn't ask for.

When we found out we contributed too much to our Individual Retirement Account (IRA), we asked the bank to withdraw the excess funds. They investigated, referred our issue to "legal", then finally gave us more money than we originally requested, that excess contribution.


To make matters worse, I'm getting conflicting stories via the internet--always THE authoritative source for all things legal and financially complicated, right?--on how to proceed with our tax situation.

Of course, the IRS covers our situation itself with a publication that's over a hundred pages long, with links to other publications and information I may require. Can't they just publish, like, a Cliff Notes version?


I'm seriously thinking of putting pride in my pocket and going to H.R. Block.

All life's stress aside, the movie geek in me wants to report a discovery I made this past weekend.

I've always been a big fan of science fiction movies, going back to when I saw my first movie in the theatre almost 50 years ago. I even have a book capsulizing hundreds of horror/sci fi flicks that were made pre-1970. Those that I've seen I put a star next to.

Anyway, I've always remembered a scene from one of these sci-fi flicks I saw before my age hit double digits. It's always haunted me for some reason. These two astronauts go into a cave. There's an opening in the cave with light beyond, so they venture through the opening. A translucent shell then forms over the opening and the astronauts are never seen again.

Of course, over the course of decades I'd forgotten the name of the movie and though I've seen hundreds since, I'd never seen a movie with this specific scene again . . .

. . . until this past weekend. Our "On Demand" feature on cable offered a 1960 movie titled "Twelve to the Moon." The capsule summary didn't sound too intriguing but when I saw it listed in my movie book, I had to watch it so I could put a star next to its entry too.

And wouldn't you know it? That scene I'd envisioned since I was a mere child was in there. I must have seen this movie at the show or on some late night science fiction theatre eons ago.

Eons ago. *Sigh*

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Big Oops

I try hard to live my life on the straight and narrow. Always have. I've avoided run-ins with authorities, only picked up a couple traffic tickets in over 40 years of driving, and never even considered cheating on my taxes.

So why am I getting an official letter from the Internal Revenue Service? That's what arrived in the mail last Friday. This looked serious too. For one, it was a fairly fat envelope. Oh, oh. And peeking through the window on the envelope, I could see "official business" written on one of the letters within.

I've always done my taxes myself. Filled out all the forms by hand, double-checked, triple checked, read and re-read the instructions. Wouldn't consider using H.R. Block or even one of those Turbo Tax programs you buy in the store. I've never had a problem as a do-it-yourselfer.

Until now.

Reading through the letter, I quickly focused on the crux of the matter. I owed another thousand dollars, they said. What?? How is this possible? They tacked on interest too and this didn't involve my 2010 tax return I had filled out earlier this year. It concerned my 2009 tax return done LAST year.

It took a few times reading through their technical explanation of my misdemeanor to glean what had occurred. Uh, incidentally that's misdemeanor in the generic sense, not the legal sense (I hope). I knew it wasn't like I'd forgotten to report the profits from my uranium mine in Tanganyika.

Ummm, for the record, I don't have a uranium mine in Tanganyika. I don't need to dig myself any deeper here.

In my zeal to sock away as much money as I could towards my retirement, I had over-contributed to my Individual Retirement Account, by several thousand dollars. I had misinterpreted "phased out" in the instructions as meaning something that was going to happen in the future. Nope. It meant that because I already had a retirement plan at work, the amount I could contribute to my IRA was being "phased out" because of my income.

Wonderful. In a sense, the government considers me and Wendy to be too wealthy (??!!) to qualify fully for an individual retirement account. That's hard to believe for someone like me who counts every penny and rides his bike around trying to spot spare change. As an aside, I found two dollar bills in separate rides this past weekend. About 993 more rides like that, and I'll be square with the IRS.

I called the IRS up and wasn't too sure that I received the full scoop of what I need to do next. I talked to a tax adviser who said you may get a different answer each time you call the IRS on something like this. So Wendy and I head to the bank that has our IRA tomorrow. Hopefully, they can steer me back unto the straight and narrow.

I'm not too confident about that though. We might have already gone too far down the path to the dark side. Remember the Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde. Maybe some day it will be the Ballad of Dave and Wendy.