Retirement 101

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 I am not a financial expert. The whole subject of taxation confuses/bores me but I realize it is a necessary evil to know something about it. I write about it mainly to remember what has happened, but perhaps someone else can be spared some pain by reading of our experience.

If you are blessed with work during your life and have been able to put any of it into savings, there will come a time called retirement (age 72) when the government says you have to start using this money. You must take out a certain percentage of your savings every year, called an RMD or required minimum distribution. If you don’t get the hang of it the very first year, you are given a little mercy – if you apply for it. It’s almost a “given” and happens to people all the time. It happened to us. I think I’ve written about it already.

2016 was a year for mistakes. We missed the RMD by four days for one, and we also made a mistake in figuring what we owed. As a result the IRS punished us with a penalty –  50% of what our RMD would have been. When we discovered what had happened, we hired a CPA to submit an amended return for 2016. He also discovered our mistake which resulted in us being owed a return for that year. No one was alarmed at this point. It was expected that we would be forgiven the penalty for the RMD.

We started getting letters telling us to pay our penalty. They were counting the days we were “overdue” and charging interest on the debt. Twice over a period of several months our CPA called the IRS hotline, explained the situation and was told that since the amended return had been filed they would eventually get to it. We could ignore the letters. They said they put a hold on any further action and wouldn’t be bothering us about the matter.

But the letters didn’t stop, and the amount they said we owed kept climbing. Finally one day we got a notice that since we hadn’t paid, the IRS was going to start taking it out of our social security checks. Yes, they can do that. Once again, our CPA spent a couple of hours on the phone trying to find out why this was happening. The IRS couldn’t locate our amended return. One office had sent it to another and in between, it disappeared. It was resubmitted immediately and once again we were assured that any action against us would be put on hold. Nevertheless, money was taken out of the husband’s SSI check that month.

Our CPA had decided to get an extension for our 2017 taxes. He reasoned that we should get 2016 out of the way first, especially since the IRS didn’t seem to be getting the message that we didn’t owe them anything. We were due a return for 2017 and he was afraid they would take it. By this time, he had gotten a tax advocate for us – a person who almost walks your return from office to office until it is resolved and no longer a problem. His extensive conversation with the IRS gave him assurance that it would be okay to file for 2017. There would be no action to take the return we were owed.

Today we got a letter saying they took our 2017 return and applied it to our “debt”. It’s beginning to seem like the only sure thing is that they WILL DO everything they say they WON’T DO.  I feel like my favorite government agency has me on a hit list. In their defense, I have heard that they have had severe budget cuts and have way too few employees. But how is this ever to be solved? We pay a lot of tax – it’s not like we are paying less than we owe.

I’m just saying, if this ever gets straightened out, I’m throwing a party. #frustratedtaxpayer

Is Fall Fallen?

The grass is still green. There are still leaves on some of the trees. But, the white stuff is snow and it’s coming down as a storm.

Since the picture above was taken, we have been swept into white-out condition with wind gusts and other weather drama. In a way, the extreme earliness of cold weather is exciting and part of what I love about the snowy north. I love it from within our cozy living room. I love it at the begining of the six or seven month stretch (when the snowbanks are not blocking the view).

We may still get an Indian summer in November but right now it’s hard to see it.

I like white. It’s a pretty color.

Who Indeed?

A post written in five minutes on the prompt “who” for Five Minute Friday.  Check it out if you want some inspiration to write. 

Who?

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I’m sorry but I don’t think  you’re my grandson (that I’ve had never). Photo by Oscar Mikols on Pexels.com

 

For the first time ever, I have gotten a call from someone calling me Grandma. “Who are you?” I asked.

“I am your grandson.” He said, in a masculine adult voice.

“Oh, really? I don’t have any grandsons. Would you like to try another approach?” Click.

I can hardly believe that anyone would take the time necessary to make calls to scores of people, hoping to find one gullible person who actually has a grandson of a certain age. They hope to find someone who doesn’t even recognize their grandson’s voice or know his circumstances. I imagine if our conversation would have gone on longer I would have heard a story that ended with the need for funds being sent. But who does these things, and who is so confused that they respond to them and send them money? Inconceivable (at least for me.) Who?  Just sayin’…

My Elephant

Part of my problem as a writer is that I often feel like a minor player in someone else’s drama. Even if they don’t write their own story, I feel like I’m stealing if I write about it.

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In searching for reasons why he was diagnosed with Lew Body Dementia just weeks after his retirement, the husband has wondered if he is supposed to share his experience with others. Could it be he is meant to encourage others in some way, even though he is pretty sick about this whole thing? He actually says he might start a blog, or write stuff down as he thinks of it. For several reasons, I think the chances of him writing anything are slim.

For one, he has a history of brilliant ideas that never see action. I don’t see his diagnosis changing that.

Reason two – he doesn’t have experience expressing feelings. He has them, but they don’t usually bother him or beg to be shared. He would like to share things now, but they end up coming out in long, convoluted histories of his life journey accompanied by tears, and a tone of desperation and sadness. He’s doing it a little better now, but the first couple of weeks were tough and any compassionate person who had time to listen patiently ended up crying with him and giving him a hug.

Reason three is simply that writing is work and work isn’t something he’s looking for. Too much mental work makes his head spin.

It’s true that my story has a lot to do with his story but, of course, I tell it from a very different perspective. He reads what I write. I wonder if I will be able to write what I really think or will I change the narrative because of the effect it might have on him?

Interestingly, the two things that have helped the husband and I know each other better in the last few years are our “together” prayers and my blog/journal. I guess in each instance I tend to be more open, truthful and informative. In each instance he feels less threatened by my words because they aren’t spoken to him – they are conversations with God or my readers. He listens better. And the same goes for him when it comes to telling God his thoughts and concerns – one might as well be honest. I learn things about him that he doesn’t think to tell me.

It certainly isn’t that I don’t want him to write his own story, from his own perspective. I do. But not writing about this part of my own life has been hard. The vague feeling that I couldn’t write about this big thing happening to us, has made me not write much at all. Somehow, when there is “an elephant” in the room, so to speak, writing about anything else takes second place to wondering about the elephant and what it’s going to do next.

That elephant is on my mind most all the time. I might as well write about it. Probably have to. Just sayin’…

The 15th of October

I have a friend (at least one, thank God!) who has a birthday today. What a joy it is to me to think about someone who is special and dear, and be able to share those thoughts publicly. Meet my friend Arlette.

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There is something about her that actually looks French, but I’m not sure what it is…

You will notice that she has a name which I think both looks and sounds French. She is of French origin and this comes through in so many of her ways. Of course, there is the accent which she has not been able to shed (nor should she) even though she is fluently English speaking. I hardly ever have to wonder what she is saying. I love the way she and her French-speaking husband call each other “chere”. Sometimes, she will be thinking of an exact word in French but not able to immediately find the English equivalent. She will question Dwight and together they will come up with it. Endearing.

I met Arlette because our husbands were thrust into work together. The men set up an office in Sarasota for their company, an American subsidiary of a French corporation. Although we women knew each other and the Shackelfords were very kind in helping us get settled in Florida, we did not automatically jump into friendship. That started when Arlette agreed to tutor my home-schooled daughters in their French lessons. Merci beacoup mon ami!

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Two people who speak French very well, and a daughter who still knows a little of it, I think.

As time progressed, we became better friends, mainly because Arlette is an accomplished hostess (which she has trouble admitting, but it is true). Her invitations were NEVER turned down. I don’t have any other friends who do a small, intimate dinner evening for two or three couples so excellently. She loves beautiful flowers in simple vases, interesting tableware, luxurious touches like cloth napkins, just the right music, and well-planned food choices. She believes in appetizers, which I have to admit were a new thing for me. My family experience – we sat down and ate. At Arlette’s house I learned to enjoy a warm up meal before the real thing.

We deepened our friendship in the last ten years because we learned of common things in our faith worldview. I felt Arlette would really enjoy Bible Study Fellowship, which I was attending. She finally agreed to check it out, hoping to put an end to my annoying requests. I was right, she liked it. We have had nearly ten years of enjoying spiritual growth together. It is hard to put into words what sharing our hearts, and mutually acknowledging what God is doing in our lives has done for me. I view her friendship as a gift from God, evidence that he kindly answers my need for companionship.

Arlette is my friend who says she is not brave but nonetheless allows herself to be talked into outings a bit past her comfort zone, like expeditions in the kayak. She has braved a weekend in a motel with me, let the husband and I have free overnight stays in her home, exercised me with many long walks, hauled my furniture and boxes around, advised me on home décor, helped me plan parties, listened to me for hours on end. There are some things I haven’t convinced her to do with me yet, but the potential is still there. I don’t intend to let this girl rest.

So, happy birthday, my friend. Don’t worry about getting older. You are still younger than me and, barring a miracle, will always be. God bless you today and always. I love and appreciate you.

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You are lovely!

Up North: Money

Finances.

Today we go to a financial advisor. It’s not that we have great stores of wealth to manage but we have tried to be smart with what the husband has earned in his many years of service.  We would rather not have to make others support us in our old age. Given how quickly money can disappear these days, it is good to have advice. And is it really money when all you know of it is numbers on digital screens. It’s a strange world.

With me, it gets stranger still. I am not an astute financier. The thought of me managing any amount of money is not a good thought.  I am in awe of CPA’s and financial advisors, even of bank tellers. But I have to do it now that the husband gets too tired when he thinks about numbers. God helps me. Oh, and I have this.

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Secret weapon

What people like me need to do, I think, is find and hire others who have the gift. The IRS is my enemy at present, so we have hired our own army of money soldiers. They are mercenaries from some other planet judging by the language they speak. I don’t understand most of what they say. They seem friendly.

As I said, God helps me. I just ask him that none of my mistakes be fatal, and that there will always be a roof over our heads and beans and rice to eat. So far, he has greatly exceeded my requests. I am grateful. And I am amazed at how many interesting things I can learn along the way. There is a website for everything, of course, and a password or two for each portal. There are secret questions and chosen pictures to keep me from wandering into the dark web, whatever that is.  All I have to do is keep my memory intact. Hmm….

Oddly, I am comforted when my bank makes a mistake. When there is no one there who can explain why I’m getting monthly service charges on an account that shouldn’t have them, I am happy to know that there was a human somewhere who, like me, makes mistakes. And there is a human who can make a phone call and tell me that they will remove the charges, just like that. Sometimes it’s still that easy.

So, I am praying today for my “soon to be” financial advisor and putting him in God’s hands. It will be okay. We will be okay. (The stock market goes down, the economy collapses, but we will still be okay, just sayin’.)

Up North: The First Snow

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The hydrangeas never give up, and they look real good with a dusting of snow.

Today it snowed. It wasn’t dramatic. The temperature has been inching down toward the freezing mark over the last week or two. We have had a lot of rain, which usually will spoil the fall color and make the leaves turn uniformly brown and dull. But this year the colors have held out brilliantly. Today, every time we looked out the window the weather was changed from our last observation. The sun would come out briefly and be followed within minutes by a snow squall.

Since I will so soon be taking pictures of snow, I need to finish letting you all know how beautiful autumn has been. I am so blessed by God the artist, that I don’t have to take a vacation and travel to see the woods in glorious color. It’s right here in my backyard. Last Sunday, after lunch with the family, we didn’t want to go straight home. Mom, the husband and I drove out in the country, to the lake, just to see what the trees were doing. Later, I got to explore a park I had never been to with my brother and his wife. It was a wonderful day – that’s what “full of wonder” means. My  phone is so full of pictures – no way could I show them all – but here are some.

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Seriously, the air itself takes on a glow when there is this much gold and yellow overhead.
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But it’s the abundance of reds that stand out this year.
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A path to remember – my hiking companions Den, MaryPat and Scruffy.
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I love the color contrast with the remaining green. We came upon this pond in the forest – magical.
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At the lake, a bald eagle did a circle of the shore while we watched.

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Spatter technique – there was a lot of it this year.
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The color is close and touchable. It is easy to feel submersed in it.

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The goodness is everywhere to be seen, even down on the path.

There are so many more – it was hard to choose. I wish you all could see it. Part of the reason it is so beautiful is that it’s also so short lived, fleeting. As I said, today it snowed…

FMF: A Marvelous Thing

This is my Five Minute Friday submission. I’m sorry, I don’t write very fast. I rather like to think about what I’m writing and that takes time. The prompt was SHARE.

When I was a child, to share meant letting others eat some of your cookies, or use your toys. You didn’t have to give them away, but you did have to peacefully watch while someone else enjoyed them. I guess that’s still what it means to me but it has become more of a “show and tell” experience for me. It is now about sharing moments of joy, or sorrow. It is about sharing experiences, doing things with others. It is about sharing moments of importance, in the hope that someone else will enjoy them along with me.

For instance, I came across a red maple tree today. It has been vividly green all summer. Now it is suddenly and perfectly red. This is a marvelous thing. The science is behind it all, I know. But even without the science, it is just a marvelous thing to look at and enjoy. I share it with you.

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Birkie Trail, Next 6 miles

This is the second weekend that we have put on our hiking shoes and taken to the trail. After a week’s work, we really enjoy a good long walk in the woods. We skipped a shorter section in favor of a longer hike than last week. We will go back and pick it up someday when we have less time.

The trees were still more green than colored. There were only a few brilliant ones, but that didn’t keep it from feeling like autumn.

I was a little obsessed with the fungi, but you’ll see why. Strange stuff.

Enough talk. I just want you to see what I saw.

Makwa Trail, here we come.
First spot of color.
The trail skirts this lake except for here, where it gets a little crazy. This is a single track bike trail.

Moss abounds. Lovely, right?
Time for some fungi.
More fungi.
And more…

And this one!

This little guy, about head high on the trunk of a tree, amazing!
Can you spot the camouflaged picnic table?
One more.
No, one more.
Some trail worker forgot their saw.
I spent a lot of time looking at the path because it was always so lovely.
About mile 6 we left the single track trail and did a mile on the larger ski trail. We (the girls) were getting tired and the ski trail was straighter and smoother.

Celebrating Today

Although I am not with her, today I am celebrating the birthday of my daughter, Julia. As I scrolled through multiple pictures of her it was easy for me to recognize why I love her and am blessed to share life with her.

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First off, you cannot put this girl in a box. Oh, wait, maybe…

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Of course, I am her mom and have a fair amount of bias. There are a lot of “mom pics” in the album I’ve made. But most of the photos are of Julie with the family at large, with her Cambodian “sisters and brothers”, with her clients and their animals, with her own menagerie of four legged friends, Julie being silly, enjoying the outdoors, Julie being Julie. The smile is always present and gives the impression of coming on easily and quickly. She is connected. She is involved.

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I’ve seen her when she isn’t at her most glorious, when her dishes aren’t washed, when she doesn’t feel well, when she’s depressed, when she’s overwhelmed with her complex life, having a bad hair day, in trouble at work… all those things that happen to us all. I still like her. I always love her. I admire her resiliency and her ability to work through to better times. If I were a captain choosing my team, I would pick her.

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So today, thank you for keeping yourself in my life Julie. I am grateful for your friendship and all the wonderful opportunities you give me to talk, to laugh, to work, TO HAVE FUN! I am forever on your side and you are forever in my prayers.

Love, Mom