Saturday, March 14, 2015

Turbo Taxing

My income tax guy made a huge mistake on my taxes last year that cost me an extra thousand dollars I had to pay. I talked it over with Y, who majored in finance and is taking his CPA license courses and doing well. Could we muddle through the taxes if I bought TurboTax, a highly recommended tax program. We came to the conclusion that we could not do worse than my tax guy, so Y downloaded the software and we were in for better or worse.

The graphics make the program seem so easy, but there is no place to explain that last year, an error was made and this year we have to do it a bit differently than last year. We made it through the federal return, going to the reams of documents to find the specific information we needed at each step in the program. It seemed that we did the return correctly, but Lord only knows!

Then it came time to hit the send button on the federal and check the state return for accuracy and completion. Alas, no state form – and panic set in. We tried everything we could think of to find the return, to no avail. Lacking that, we wanted to purchase the state return and complete it as a separate document. Believe it or not, we could not find an option to purchase a single state copy of the program. When worst comes to worst, call tech support, and what a mistake that was. The woman who answered our call was foreign, based on her very thick accent and difficulty communicating with us. When Y explained the problem, she told him she would check, then they began having a challenging conversation, so I asked him for the phone. I repeated the core problem – we did not have our state return, so could we download it and merge the federal information? Her response was that she would check with her supervisor, which led me to believe that she had limited knowledge of the product, much less the actual usage of the software.

After she told me three separate times that she would check with her supervisor, she finally gave me the bad news. We would have to purchase the state return program separately and start all over with completing it. I told her there had to be an option to merge the information, but I’m pretty sure she had no idea what I was talking about. I finally thanked her for her time and hung up.

Then we started trying to find a way to download the state return and I asked Y if he had saved the completed return. When he assured me he had, I asked him to find it. When he located the completed federal return, I saw the word “state” as Y quickly flashed past it and back to the main menu. I asked him to return, but he wanted to call another service representative. I told him that it said “state” as he looked at the saved files, so he reluctantly went back just to shut me up. Voila! There was our completed state return. We figured out that when we bought the federal program, we also bought the state program, which is what we intended, but we had no idea that we actually had done that. We printed both documents for our files, but also printed the state one and sent it by mail because we had already submitted the federal return and were tired and cranky and just wanted to be finished.

I had everything we needed ready to import to the program – and it still took both of us working together 5 hours to complete the return. Yes, it completes both federal and state returns at the same time, but the language and options are restrictive and don’t allow for much help in preparing the returns. The only positive is that once the federal is completed, the state is auto-completed too, which means we only had to wade through this process once. If I were to rate this software experience, I’d give it a 6/10.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

For Your Viewing Pleasure

A good film can hold the watcher’s attention even when the watcher already knows the story and how it ends. Such a film is McFarland, starring Kevin Costner. The story centers on Costner’s character, a highly-stressed out high school football coach who loses his cool and throws a cleated shoe at a player – and then loses his job. With few (if any) options available to him, he accepts a job teaching science and coaching at a high school in McFarland, CA. The town is definitely Mexican, so it takes the white middle-class family a bit to make adjustments to the new culture, but they do so willingly as they meet warm, wonderful people who welcome them into their neighborhood.

Costner develops an appreciation for the young men he sees leaving early for work in the fields, then running cross country to make it to school in time to beat the tardy bell. He sees their inner strength, as well as their innate potential for running, and decides to start a cross-country team. The team not only turns the young men around, but it also draws in the rest of the community with a deep sense of pride in the runners and their accomplishments.

This is a feel-good film that is worth the time to see. It is the kind of film that schools should show during assemblies or on a film night. It’s relatable for both adults, who need to know that the generations to come have potential and are able to reach for the stars, and for young people, who often doubt that they can make a difference. The message is there, but the movie isn’t in your face to receive it.

A second film that I watched this past week is the second installation of the Marigold Hotel, set in India and featuring a cast of elderly characters who wonder what’s left for them in a world that seems too focused on young people. The cast is amazing, playing elderly, but coming across as still vibrant and engaged with life. The story moves right along, but pauses here and there to present issues about the quality of one’s life after middle age is in the rear-view mirror.

Some days, it is challenging to wake up and realize that there are fewer days ahead than are past, but not have a clear pathway to the future. There are characters who are afraid to share love because they don’t know how long they have to enjoy their lives together. There are characters who realize that they are no longer defined by what they do, but who they are, and they are not sure who that is at this time in their lives. And there are characters who fool themselves into believing that they are fine just the way they are because it’s too much work (or too frightening) to take a chance on what if.

Absolutely the best event of the movie is the Bollywood wedding, which is fun, colorful, noisy, and a perfect ending to a subdued storyline. I like uplifting, fun entertainment, so I’m already standing in line for a ticket for the third phase of the Marigold Hotel series.

Monday, February 23, 2015


The next time I hear one of those "70 is the new 50" comments, I may just go off the rails and punch the speaker in the face. Seventy is the same old seventy, but with, generally speaking, better health and longer life prospects. Knowing this, I have been to a few appointments that could provide me with specific information about my health, and, thus, my longevity prospects.

Happy to say, all is well within my corpulent life container. My Diabetes II continues to be adequately managed, but the fasting blood sugar was moving toward the let's talk about daily medication at our next appointment. Thus, I'm off sweets and carbs as my two primary food groups, replaced by protein and veggies. When I'm tempted to cheat, I recall how much I hated sticking my finger every morning and tracking both my fasting blood sugar and my dietary intake.

My heart and associated bloodways to/from it are fine. My cholesterol is good, so I'll take that result with a grain of ... oops, not salt! Thankfully, I'm not having blood pressure issues, but I've cut back on the salt just in case.

My COPD is well-managed with an inhaler, but even that does not work well when it's both cold and windy outside. I gulp for breath like a beached whale when walking the dogs in those conditions, so it's nice that we're having one of the milder winters I can recall. Last night, however, a storm was coming in and it was suddenly cold and windy, causing me to stop a dozen times during the walk to breath inside my sweatshirt until I warmed up my bronchial tubes enough to breath somewhat naturally/normally.

The one area that needs immediate aggressive intervention is my body mass: it's far too much mass, with little discernable body hiding underneath the blubber. I'm working on it each day in a positive way, but results don't come at the end of each day's exercise and/or abstinance. I've upped walking the dogs to twice a day, and we go at quite the good clip around the blocks, but it'll take years to take off the weight I've put on if all I do is walk the dogs. They love going for the walks, but I'm sure that one day they will look me straight in the eyes and ask why the hell I'm punishing them for my inability to control what I put into the oral orifice!

With knowledge comes great power a wise man one sayeth, so I'm repeating it. I know that I'm in good shape for the shape I'm in, so if I just continue to tweak a couple of little issues, like food, I've done the best that I can do to be the best that I can be.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Black and White

I'm not a huge Kevin Costner fan, but he does a wonderful job of being the grandfather to a mixed race grand-daughter in the movie Black and White. The premise is that both sides of the family want the little girl to grow up knowing her people, as well as their customs and traditions. For a bit, they forget the welfare of the child as it becomes a tug-of-war between white grandpa and black gramma.

Costner's character focuses on the fact that the black son, at age 24, had sex with his white daughter, age 17, and left her to fend for herself when she found out she was pregnent. With that as a starting point, Costner is not willing to budge even one inch when it comes to exposing his grand-daughter to her father's side of the family.

Of course, we all know how the story ends before it begins, but it's a pleasant journey through some complications that make Black and White a good popcorn movie either on a deep, snowy day -- or a hot, dry day such as we've been having.

In Memory

Mia has had huge tumors in her body for the past couple of years. One of them has been particularly large and seemed to affect her bladder, as she voided water as she walked, and especially when she would sleep on the floor. Another tumor constricted her lungs and caused her to gasp for breath. Her hind quarters were also problematic and would suddenly collapse so Mia ended up splayed on the ground, unable to get up. Many times we had to go out into the yard to pull her to her feet so she could come inside and collapse on her favorite pillow.

Several weeks ago, we saw a sadness in her eyes that had not been there. She became more quiet and less mobile, so Y and I talked about her failing health and agreed that time was coming to have her put to sleep. We both agreed that we did not want to wait until she was totally helpless as that was not the Mia we both knew and loved. Last weekend, it seemed that the time had arrived, so I called the vet and made the appointment.

Mia had a really good day prior to the appointment. She was able to walk and seemed very comfortable, so it gave me cause to pause and question whether I was doing the right thing, but I knew the decision was best for everyone, including Mia. The vet gave her a sedative and then the lethal dosage of the medication that put her to sleep. We stayed with her, said our goodbyes, and shed our tears.

We're all missing Mia as she's been a big part of my life for well over a decade. All the kids in the neighborhood look forward to our daily walks and love to pet the dogs, but especially Mia. A couple of the kids saw her collapse in the street, unable to get back on her feet, and felt such sadness for her, showering her with love until we could get her up and on her way home again. Daisy and Cinnamon have looked for Mia, especially at night, because the two smaller dogs sleep on top of my bed, but Mia's pillow and palette were on the floor right next to the bed. They've sniffed all her favorite places, but haven't been able to find her. I wish I knew that is going through their minds ... but I know they miss Mia too.

We're not going to get another big dog as we still have two dogs to keep us busy and amused. Daisy, the Jack Russell terrier, has become fast friends with Y, while Cinnamon is my little girl. We'll spoil them and enjoy having them in our lives, but we'll always miss Mia, too.