Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Bag Lady, the IRS, and the SSA

It's been about the government's money this week. The Bag Lady has been busy.

On April 15 I put a check for $3,200 in the mail to the Department of the Treasury.  

It used to be easier to file our taxes, and we almost always got a refund. Not so this year. It's because we're retired now. I quit my job just before I turned 62, but I didn't want to collect my pension until I turned 65, when I'd get my full entitlement. So, each month for three years, I took a pension-equivalent amount from an inheritance I got from my mother and moved the money into our checking account. For the last three years, we've been living on the amount we'd be getting from our pensions once I did retire. Problem was, the money from my mother had already been taxed, so our income tax returns didn't include that monthly amount. Because we showed a lower income, our deductions kicked in at a lower level and our taxes were lower. 

Not so this year. I turned 65 in September and my first pension payment arrived in October. Three months of taxable pension income got included. Plus, my husband turned 70 1/2 so he had a required distribution on his 401(k). And that money was taxable too.

I didn't like putting $3,200 in the mail to the IRS. But I feel grateful that we have the resources in our retirement to owe the money. It started me thinking about how we might spend a little more on deductible things - like contributions to causes we feel strongly about - instead of sending money to the government. The government and I often disagree on how its money should be spent.

On April 16 I spent an hour at the local Social Security office. As I said, I started collecting when I was 62. For the last 20 years of my career I worked for a company that didn't pay into Social Security, so I knew that when I retired the WEP (Offset Of Some Kind) would reduce my Social Security entitlement. When October rolled around last year and I got my first pension payment, I went to the local SS office, gave them the paperwork and told them I needed to have my check amount changed. They said okay. Three months later, no change. I went down again and repeated my request. They took my documents again. This time I got two sets of paperwork - one from Washington and one from Alabama - to fill out regarding my pension. I sent it in. Last month I got a letter saying my SS entitlement was being changed because of my pension.

I had done my research and I knew my SS check should be about $300 a month less once the pension kicked in. I'd been putting that amount away each month since October. But the difference in my revised check was only $20.

That's why I went down to the local office again on April 16. I waited half an hour for my turn. Told the man my circumstances. He went to talk to the manager. Came back. Said, "Your check is correct. You worked for 30 years so your WEP isn't affected. I said, "Yes, but the last 20 of those years were in a job that didn't collect Social Security." He went to talk to the manager. Came back again. "You are right. Let me copy your paperwork and we'll send it off. You should hear within a month."

I could have just kept my mouth shut and collected the $300 extra each month. But I didn't because (1) I'm not entitled to it and (2) I know the Social Security Administration will find out eventually - like maybe 20 years down the road when I'm really a Bag Lady - and want their $72,000 back, plus interest. Nope. Not going to happen.

On a more pleasant note, I helped save Snohomish County money this week by mediating as a volunteer in Small Claims Court. Two gentlemen had a business dispute, and after an hour and a half of facilitated conversation they agreed to settle their difference instead of going to court.

The Bag Lady is doing her part!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A week in ordinary time

It seemed like an ordinary week. But if I compare it to a week from, say, two years ago, I see that my "ordinary" has changed.

One of the priorities I set back in 2012 was to attend to my spirituality. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I knew I wanted to. Now I'm a regular attendee at Sunday services in a denomination to the left of mainstream, and I fit right in there. I'm part of a small group in that community that meets a couple of times a month. This week we discussed disabilities - how we learned as children to respond to disabilities in others, how we grew (or not) past that, and our attitudes now that we are sometimes disabled ourselves. I like the perspective this small group provides me. On Thursday night Art and I attended an event on freedom led by a rabbi I'd heard about. The event included chant and meditation. Two years ago I wouldn't have gone. It would have been too different for comfort. And yesterday, we went to a talk about investing our time and our money in opportunities that align with our values. Like sustainability and clean energy and making contributions to local small businesses. I'm also doing some reading in the area of left-of-mainstream spirituality. I heard it described as "spiritual oneness theology" and that's pretty close to how I understand it.

When I set out to explore spirituality, I didn't know what roads I would walk. Where I am now seems quite natural, but it's not at all where I would have guessed I'd be. Pretty cool! I'm learning that if I put my intentions out there, the path opens up.

I got a massage on Monday. I do that nearly every week since we own part of a massage clinic. I would never have guessed I'd be doing this in the second half of my life. I lie down on a table for 90 minutes and a skilled person takes good care of my muscles and my spirit. What a treat! I have been doing this for more than two years, though, so it's a long-term "ordinary".

I met a friend for lunch on Tuesday. She's a judge in a local court that I met last year while mediating in small claims, and she's retiring this year. She and her husband have bought a motorhome and want to start traveling. She wanted to know about the 55+ resort in Arizona where we spend the winter. I told her about the many activities and interesting people.  She thinks they may want to spend a month there next year. Word of mouth is the best advertising, I think. It would be great to have her and her husband there. Two years ago I would never have imagined we'd be spending winters in Arizona.

I had a mediation on Wednesday. After I retired I took 140 hours of training to become a certified mediator. I hadn't done a mediation in five months and I was a little worried that I might have forgotten how. I hadn't! Like riding a bicycle, I'd say. And, as usual, when I drove home I was grateful for my life and the opportunities I've been provided. Here I am, nearly 66, and still active and healthy and able to participate in numerous areas of interest. 

I have aches and pains, of course - I had forgotten I had arthritis in Arizona and I am now reminded daily here in Washington! - but my life is pretty good.  Two  years ago I don't think I had arthritis. I really didn't think I'd ever get it. The Peter Pan syndrome, you know? But here I am, like many people my age, wishing I could get out of bed one morning and not hurt anywhere. I remember my mother used to say that, and I thought she was exaggerating. She wasn't.

I thought that after three months without espressos I would have overcome the habit, but I haven't.  I love sharing a few minutes of conversation with the barista in my neighborhood - and his mother who works a shift each day. So nice to keep my connections.

Today it was beautiful and sunny. Our grandson Kyle came over and I taught him how to test the garden soil to see what nutrients it needed, then add them and then plant lettuce and spinach and peas. Kyle is 14 and I think he likes to come over. When he gets dropped off he usually comes into the house. "Hi, Grandma." I know we'll have some kind of conversation where I can actually get him to talk. I'm pretty good at that with kids and teenagers. Seems like just yesterday I was doing it with our own teenagers. Kyle is very motivated to get no grades lower than a C this quarter. We will be celebrating by taking a trip to New York City - his most-wanted place to visit. I'm thinking about how much energy it will take to keep up with him. Ground Zero will be good, and the Empire State Building I can do. But a Yankees game! That means taking the subway across town and sitting in stands for several hours. I will really have to pace myself. But the time with Kyle will be wonderful. There's nothing cooler than watching the carefully blank face of a teenager transform into a grin at something I say. "Score"!

I had a list of things to do today. Got hardly anything done except what came along, none of which was on the list. The list will wait. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Long road home

From Sedona to Brier was a four-day drive. We stayed with travel club members Shirley and Tom in Las Vegas, then with travel club members Nancy and Rob in Reno, then with old friend Jeanne in Roseburg. Traffic was light but several hundred miles of the drive was on two line highways - nice wide lanes but with passing necessary. It snowed between Reno and the California interstate. Even alternating driving, Art and I were both tired by the time we got home on Wednesday.

And we are still tired on Sunday. We do a bit of something, putter, and then take a nap. We feel fine - we are not sick - but we still haven't gotten back to our customary energy level. It could be the change of climate - it's in the 50s here in Washington and it has been cloudy for three of the four days we've been home. I notice twinges of arthritis that haven't been around since December. I also feel kind of weighed down, mood wise. Very glad we will be getting out of town next year for most of the gloomy months.

People are glad to see us. "Welcome back," they smile. I smile back. Their faces are familiar and dear. Our Washington life. On Thursday I went to water aerobics at our local recreation center. In the afternoon I visited my neighbor Jennie, and four-month-old Elsa smiled at me with very blue "old soul" eyes. Friday at noon was my customary 12-step meeting; that night Art and I went to vespers at my church - a lovely hourlong meditation. Yesterday I returned to drumming circle. This morning I sat with the congregation and smiled with delight at minister Eric's springtime talk. I have a massage tomorrow afternoon and a mediation on Wednesday morning. I am home.

In my mind are the faces of my Arizona friends and the time we spent this winter in the sun. Most of them are taking their own long roads home by now - returning to Canada, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere. 

Five years ago I would never have imagined we'd buy a winter place in Arizona. That was for "old" people who wanted to slow down and play bridge and sit in the sun in their declining years. Now I see it is for people who want to live in a sunny place. We can be as active or as sedentary as we want. I slowed down only from time to time. I didn't play a single hand of bridge. I sat in the sun on four occasions. Even Art's January health scare has resulted in our taking a look at the quality of our lives and making small adjustments in our activities and our attitudes. It's all good.

We have decided to sell one of our timeshares. It's in Whistler, British Columbia - a spring or a fall week each year. A beautiful destination, but no longer for us. We'll sell it for next to nothing and that is fine. Let me know if you'd like to hear more. 

Ahead of me this month? Do the taxes in the next nine days. Get a pedicure to repair my Arizona feet. Take the cat to the groomer. Call for estimates on refinishing our decks. Check on my grandson's grades to find out whether we're going to New York City this summer. For him, I hope so. For me? I'm not ready to leave home again just yet.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The voices of the children

You know what you rarely hear when you live in a 55-plus place. The voices of children.

I like to hear kids playing outside. At home in Washington, we have about eight neighbor kids who play together when the weather is good. They shriek and giggle and run from imaginary burglars and shout as they descend a slide into a pool of water. They tattle and argue and whine. I love listening to them through my open window. I remember the long days of my own childhood and those of my children.

My next door neighbors Jennie and Jason and their children Kaela and Jesse are my special friends. Baby Elsa was added to their family just before we left for the winter. When we get home on Wednesday evening I may walk over to hear the voices of these children and exclaim over how much they've grown in the last three months and how Elsa is nearly crawling and has some hair now. I have missed that texture of our lives.

I am thinking of our grandchildren - four teenagers and a six-year-old. I haven't heard their voices in a while. I see the teens' posts on Facebook from time to time and I read about the first grader's first report card. I miss those voices especially.

I'm reminded about these voices by the children visiting the Sedona timeshare resort where we've spent the last six days. Usually we come here in the winter, when it's colder and the trees are bare and the kids are in school. This year we chose the week between our departure from our winter home in Tucson and our four-day drive home. It's spring break, and we've seen children here, from toddlers to teenagers. We can hear the smaller ones playing by Oak Creek and in the courtyard. We see the teens stroll by with their giant sodas, casual in their shorts and summer tops and bright hair. I remember spring break!

I like the voices of the children. All the voices.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

We bought it!

After spending two winters in our park model rental in Tucson, we decided to make an offer to our landlords. The place had been for sale for over two years. We got a very good deal. They were asking $22,500 for a place they paid $40,000 for seven years ago. We got it for $18,500 including a year of space rental. The space is $4700 a year - a small savings over renting for three months in high season - but much cheaper for longer stays.

Now, instead of getting ready to pack everything we brought down in December for our upcoming departure, we're deciding what we'll leave here: water aerobics equipment, sun visors, canned goods, bird feeder. And what changes we'd like to make: window coverings, Arizona room lamps, recliners, table and comfortable chairs for the deck. What we'll bring down next year: more plates and silverware and towels, framed pictures - and Larisa, our cat! We live in the no-pet section of this large park, but cats are known to live indoors. 

Here's how I described our winter residence recently to a blogging friend:

"We found the Voyager RV Resort two years ago. We were at our timeshare in Sedona and an old friend and her husband, who were already staying at the Voyager, invited us to come and look at the place on our way back to the Tucson airport. We did. They gave us 'the tour' and I said, 'Art, I want to spend time here next winter.'

The winter population of the Voyager is about 2,500. There is a myriad of activities - discussion groups, physical activities (dancing, biking, hiking, pickleball, tennis, swimming, golf, you name it), a book group, two writing groups, crafts (quilting, silversmithing, leatherwork, lapidary, etc), music (bands, choruses, handbells, ukulele, etc), shows, field trips, spiritual studies, games (bridge, dominoes, mahjongg, poker, etc).  Ages 55 to over 90.

I like to be busy so I do multiple activities. Sometimes Art goes with me. But many people are quieter. A friend in water aerobics told me this morning, 'I do this and read, plus bike and hike. That's it.' So whatever you want to do, you can.

The community is strong and very friendly. We wave to everyone as we walk or bike or drive down the street.

We have been here nearly three months. We have had two days of rain, three days of wind and about three days of clouds. Otherwise it has been sunny. Daytime temps range from 50s to 80s, depending on the year (this year has been quite warm, last year was colder than average). It's the sun I'm after, so that's fine.

People live in RVs or park models (trailers) or houses. Some people own their residences and others rent, either from the resort or from a private owner. Our landlords used to live in our park model, but they bought a larger manufactured home on the other side of the resort. Our place is 13 x 34 with an Arizona room and laundry shed, so we live in about 650 square feet.

This place is full of life and energy. A great community of seniors from all over North America." We feel very much part of the community. We got a lot of support in January when Art had a cardiac arrest. Here's what I wrote in the March newsletter:

"A very large 'Thank you' to all the people who helped my husband Art when he experienced a cardiac arrest on the pickleball court on Saturday, January 25th. To the person who called 911, the men who lowered Art to the ground, the man who used the AED to revive him, and those who stayed with him until the EMTS arrived. To those who asked about him, visited him in the hospital, and greeted him on his return, and to the many who supported me. We are grateful to be part of this community."

We leave on Monday for six days in Sedona and then a four-day drive home. It will be very good to be back in Washington. But in the winter, there will be no seasonal affective disorder for me, no arthritis for Art. And he won't fall on icy stairs (two broken ribs) or a slippery driveway (torn rotator cuff). A good deal all around!

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Our next-to-last week in Tucson was a good one.

Sunday - we went to the "4th Street potluck". About 50 people there. I only knew four of them. Apparently our street is quite long! I've recently learned how to have a conversation with a stranger I'm sharing a dinner table with. You ask them about themselves, and then you listen! I'm grateful to have learned how to do this, finally.

Monday - Our last session of "Reimagining God." This year's new activity has been such a gift! I'm finding long-held questions being answered and feeling very comfortable in my own spiritual search.

Tuesday - line dancing. Two dances for 45 minutes. Such good exercise. 

And in the afternoon, a massage. We've treated ourselves every week since we got here. There's a Massage Envy in Tucson we especially like - including getting the employee rate. 

Wednesday - Art sat in a vendor booth for four hours selling our book. We figure we have sold 25 books since we got to Arizona in December. It always surprises me when people ask to buy a copy. I wonder why that is? I'm looking forward to hearing from someone what they thought about the book. Is anyone reading it? 

And in the afternoon, I walked out of the current events discussion group for the first time. There was a substitute facilitator who used the occasion to pontificate on his own very conservative views about climate change, and another conservative person picked up the topic and said some unkind things involving "wacko people from Seattle". I thought, well, no, I don't have to listen. It felt good to comment with my feet!

Thursday - Our last session of Great Decisions, a foreign affairs discussion group. I was a new facilitator this year, and the enthusiasm of group members was encouraging. Almost everyone plans to attend again next year. They've decided they want to limit the amount of a time a person can talk when it's their turn, and they want to discipline themselves to stay on topic. This group jelled really well and I learned a LOT about foreign affairs. 

And then, in the evening, our last session with a covenant group at the local Unitarian church. The topic was hope - not a word often used in our daily lives.

Friday - In the evening we met my ex-husband John's sister Patty's daughter Bridget (24) and her fiance Gilbert at a Tucson restaurant. This young woman was not even born when John and I divorced, but I've met her a couple of times and had a good conversation with her her at an Oregon funeral (John's brother Paul, Bridget's uncle) in November. Good food (enormous T-bones their specialty), campy cowboy entertainment and a shoot-out show afterwards. As usual, the two women talked and the men listened. What is that about?

Saturday - An extra handbells practice to prepare for our Sunday concert. I thought I got the last few spots worked out.

And in the afternoon we took desserts from resort folks to the Salvation Army in Tucson. Along with a dozen other people, we put 90 desserts on plates, set out silverware and napkins. As people came in, I took 90 plates from Christine, each with a bowl of chili, added a piece of cornbread, and handed it to Hannah to add cheese and avocado. We fed women with small children, women alone, and men. Most of these people sleep in the facility and leave for the day in the morning. Some receive job training and coaching. I was pooped by the time we got home, but what a cool thing! First time for me, to feed the hungry. 

Sunday - another handbell practice and then our concert. I couldn't believe how many mistakes I made!  So did others. Our director, Bette, said no one in the audience would have noticed. The beginning handbells group played first. Their music was simpler than ours, but I didn't hear a single mistake. Good to remind myself to be humble.

I thought off and on this week about buying the place we're renting. It's our second winter renting, and we'll be signing a contract this week for next year, assuming the place doesn't get sold. We're considering offering to buy it in September for a lower price than the owners are asking.

Blessed are the 55+ folks, for they may be free from the obligation to work.
Blessed are the volunteers, for they share themselves with others.
Blessed are the new friends, for they listen and want to be heard.
Blessed are the opportunities to serve, for they remind me to be grateful!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

It's getting to be time

We leave Tucson two weeks from today. We'll spend a week in Sedona and then begin our four-day drive home.

The end-of-season gatherings are beginning. Today we're going to a "4th Street" potluck. We'll be spending time with neighbors we've met  - Dar and Betty, Ronnie and Bill, Jodie, Selma, Michael and Michelle, Don and Betty - and meeting some we don't know. I'm not keen on gatherings of this sort, but we've been waving to them all as we walk or ride our bicycles - everyone does that here - so the faces are familiar. The potluck will celebrate our neighborhood away from home.

On Thursday my Monday/Wednesday/Friday water aerobics class is going to lunch at the RV park's restaurant. I used to think an 8:00 a.m. class was too early, but here I usually wake up on my own at about 7:15 so it's been a good way to start my day. The class is full of familiar faces now: Carol, Susie, Mike, Hannah, Laura, Bill, Marilyn, Billie and a dozen others. We laugh a lot. When we meet at other times, we say we don't recognize each other with our clothes on! Carol teaches the class as a volunteer and there's a card and an envelope going around for her.

A week from today my handbell group gives its concert. We're in the usual "not quite ready to perform" state, but I expect the rough spots will be ironed out at Tuesday's rehearsal - or we may need an extra practice. It's been a pleasure to meet up with these folks for the last ten weeks to make music. There's also a card and envelope going around for Bette, the director.

Next Monday there's a gathering for the Reimagining God discussion group. This has been an unexpected gift for us - we didn't participate last year because we knew we'd be leaving before the end of the season. Everyone in the group is on a spiritual journey. Storytelling has been a big part this year - Art and I told our stories, and so did Betty, Mer, Eve, David, Sanjay, Bob, and a few others. The trust among group members has been very special.

The luncheon for the Great Decisions foreign affairs discussion groups is a week from Thursday. I was asked to facilitate the newest, fifth group this year.  Group V started out with six participants and grew to thirteen: Alex and Nancy, Lou, Al and Bette, JoAnne and Dick, Marcia and Jerry, Jim, Pothan, and Art and me. We're from Canada, California, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. All winter friends. The luncheon speaker is a woman talking about the current status of women in Afghanistan.

Two weeks from today there's a potluck for participants in our Tuesday evening 12th step group. We may decide to stay one more night so we can attend that gathering.

There are no gatherings that I know of for our line dancing class or our current events group. We have two more sessions of each before our departure.

We started the season with the intention of regular attendance at two-step dancing and the Native American flute circle, but other circumstances prevailed and we only attended those events a couple of times. We still dance, though, and we're still working on playing our flutes. We hope to take the flutes on a hike in Sedona and see how they sound among the red rocks.

A few of our friends have already left the resort for home. Others will stay a little longer than we do. The winter community will dissolve and come together again next year. We're signing a contract with our landlord for another three months in 2015. Our park model is up for sale, so we risk not being able to come back to the same one if it's sold before next year - but we're not ready to buy a place.

Sun, wonderful sun! Arizona in the winter!