Come Sing a Song of Joy!

Santa gave me sniffles and coughs for Christmas (or it could have been a gift from the world’s most adorable snotty-nosed nine month old).  At any rate, my energy level is at an all time low. So I’m going to be lazy and repost a New Year’s Eve post from a few years back.

December 2014: Once you get to a certain age let’s face it. New Year’s Eve is about as exciting as taking out the trash. In fact I can’t remember the last time I actually stayed up until midnight. But there was a time when I drank champagne and toasted in the New Year in something other than sweats… really!

My most memorable New Year’s Eve was the inspiration for this scene from the now out-of-print book: The Graduation Present.  The main character, Riley O’Tannen, has to catch a New Year’s Day flight home out of Frankfurt Germany. However, she spends the night before partying and arrives at her uncle’s house with barely time to spare before they have to head for the airport. Here’s the excerpt:


I felt like telling Uncle Bob  that it was his fault for leaving me slightly tipsy at the club surrounded by young officers and their dates. His fault that light snow fell as we floated along the Rhine in a tide of other young adults, Beethoven’s “Ode of Joy” blaring from every restaurant barge, café and tavern:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken.

Giddily we’d made up our own lyrics:

Weiner Schnitzel,
Bitte Danke,
Guten Tagen, Wiedersehen! 
snowglobeWe were in a snow-globe world. Sam from Colorado, Elke on the prowl, warm hearted Gil and a few others whose names I never caught, tap dancing on cobblestone streets, singing silly verses and laughing till our breath froze.

We arrived at the station just as the last train to Heidelberg was pulling out. “Run!” Sam yelled as we joined a crowd of young Germans rushing the train. Once on board, the chaotic scene made it impossible for our group to stay together. Unconcerned with the others, Gil grabbed my hand and pulled me through the mob.

Two cars down we finally found a seat and snuggled together by the window as the train rambled along. For once in my life I didn’t feel the need to talk. I was content to listen to the riotous laughter and singing coming from the other cars, while Gil fiddled with my long, stringy hair “looking for split ends,” he claimed with a chuckle.

CastleHeidelberg Castle sits on a hill overlooking a generally quiet campus town. Its fortress walls, which easily span several city blocks, were lit by a barrage of pastel lights. The crowd erupted in cheers as we entered the station and leapt from the train. The idea was to get as close as possible to the castle for the best view and so the mob snaked its way up the hill, along the route buying beer in red plastic cups and kazoos that sounded like drunken mallards from gypsy street vendors.  I realized in that particular moment we were not German or French or Italian or American; those labels were meaningless as we marched uphill to storm the storybook castle singing a song whose lyrics were universal. fireworksWe’d just managed to reach the medieval center of town when the fireworks began, first as fizzles in the falling snow, and then, mini starbursts.  These were promptly followed by sonic booms echoing in the clouds high above. The show continued for thirty minutes, gaining in intensity until the sky was filled with iridescent glitter raining down upon us. The finale, a blinding explosion of silver and gold, exposed armor-clad knights and their bejeweled ladies standing on the battlements in defiance of time and death.


 

Happy New Year’s everyone!

I Smell Like a Skunk

 It’s a terrible thing to smell like a skunk.  To have your cat smell like a skunk and your house smell like a skunk.  And nothing I’ve tried thus far has had any effect at all…

skunk

From what I’ve read – here, there and everywhere – skunks are not aggressive animals.  They only use their special scent when threatened, the reason being that once the spray is gone, it takes up to ten days for the gland to fill again.

Of course, the first thing I did upon realizing some skunk had sprayed our front door was to find every scented candle I’ve ever received – generally at Christmas gift swaps – and set them ablaze around the house.  The living room got Cappuccino, the bedroom

Didn't do a thing to distill the smell but did manage to set off the smoke alarm.

Didn’t do a thing to lessen the smell but did manage to set off the smoke alarm.

where I write, Scents of the Sea, the kitchen Cinnamon Delight, etc.  This method for skunk smell removal only works if you’ve got your nose in the candle which I do not recommend as I burnt the tip of my nose and almost caught my nasal hairs on fire.

Next I googled “how to get rid of a skunk smell.”  As expected, the first links that popped up were Pest Removal ads.  Yikes!  Can you imagine spending your days removing skunks from basements and attics?  Still, if you are a successful skunk removal expert I bet you could interest Hollywood in a new reality show “Skunk Dynasty.”  I mean the duck men have their dynasty, why not the skunk men? 

The ads were followed by several home-spun remedies, some resembling chemistry experiments.  Having done poorly at chemistry, I passed on any remedy that could potentially blow the roof off the house.

This one from Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures looked safe enough.  So I filled every small bowl I could find with vinegar and set them around the house. This, for some reason, drove my husband crazy.  He hates the smell of vinegar even more than eau de skunk.  So I returned to my scented candles.  The hope is eventually they will work.  Otherwise, I guess I’ll just have to get used to smelling like a skunk.

Here are some interesting things about skunks I found during my research:

  • The name “skunk” has Native American roots: skonks in Mohegan, škakw in Lenape, squnck in Wampanoag, zhigaag in Ojibwe, etc. The Indians have countless tales about the skunk, some tribes believing them to be monsters and others, good luck.  The Cherokee hung dead skunks outside their teepees believing they would ward off disease. Sounds very hygienic!  But the myth I found most disturbing was of a giant skunk so powerful he could shoot his spray across the ocean.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather face King Kong than Stinkzilla. 
  • Early Jesuits believed that when Saint Catherine de smelt sin, it had the same vile odor as a skunk.
    I feel your pain!

    I feel your pain!  Painting is the Passion of Saint Catherine

    Poor lady, no wonder she suffered so.  There was probably a lot of sin going around.

  • Charles Darwin encountered stink “clouds”  so virulent upon his entrance into MonteVideo harbor that he almost turned away.  Apparently they didn’t like foreigners!  MonteVideo looks like a beautiful town but I think I’ll pass on a harbor cruise.

The Three “Easy” Pieces

MrsCleaver

Back in the days when women wore a strand of pearls and high heels to make dinner. “My husband takes care of all our financial affairs!”

This post is a continuation on the dreary subject of taxes, specifically something called Innocent Spouse Relief, a law enacted to protect women from enormous tax debts incurred by their husbands.  It was established at a time when most women worked from home, allowing their husbands to take charge of finances.  As you can imagine, it’s changed over the years.

Currently there are three “conditions” which anyone filing for Innocent Spouse Relief must satisfy.  On the surface they sound relatively straight forward but they’re not.  And the tax man is very strict about these waitressrequirements – if they don’t think you’ve satisfied all three, your appeal will go unanswered. It’s kind of like that famous scene from the movie Five Easy Pieces….  No substitutions! 

The first condition is that you filed a joint tax return with your spouse.  Now this may sound like a silly requirement  because if you were leery enough of your spouse’s financial shenanigans to file separately, why would you need innocent spouse relief?

The complications arise if you live in one of the nine  “community property” states in America where all property acquired during marriage (except for gifts and inheritance) is considered jointly owned and thus both spouses have a 50/50 liability for taxes due no matter who brought in the majority of the loot.  According to TurboTax, most people filing separately are going through a divorce, however, they warn that if your divorce is not final by the end of the tax year you’re still considered married by the IRS no matter how long you may have been separated. Thus, filing separately in a community property state is not guaranteed to protect you should the taxman throw one his famous penalty flags. Plus, you lose your ability to file for relief should your soon-to-be ex flee the country leaving you holding the bag. 

brando

Godfather, please make my husband come clean. Break his legs if you need to!

The second condition addresses knowledge and, my favorite bug-a-boo, the duty of inquiry.  How much knowledge did you have of your ex-husband’s financial situation—and how much you should have known—based on your education and experience and on the lifestyle you were enjoying. As I mentioned in the previous post, the IRS position is that it’s your duty as a prudent taxpayer to get the information you need from your spouse in order to understand tax returns before you sign them, using whatever means at your disposal.  Works best if you’ve got buddies in the Mafia.    

richwoman

Honest Mr. Taxman – I had no idea my husband made so much money! Excuse me while I shuttle off to Bermuda for my spa treatments!

The third condition is the one that sinks most appeals.  For me, it was the easiest to prove but apparently many women drive around in Ferraris, shop on Rodeo Drive and winter in Aspen all the while unaware their husbands have money.  Then, after being confronted by the taxman, they try to claim innocent spouse relief.  I have to point out that the tax man  doesn’t care if at the time of the appeal you’re working a minimum wage job, living in a trailer park and supporting three kids.  If, during the year covered by the tax return, you and your spouse lived a very lavish life style you cannot apply for innocent spouse relief…. 

Okay – that’s it for the taxes.  Sheesh. It’s the holidays!  On to something fun!

All the images on this post are from Bing.com

Five Deadly Sins in the Eyes of the Taxman

Taxman

From Bing Images

At one time I owed over $100,000 to the State Franchise Tax Board. They threatened to take my house and bank accounts and to attach my meager wages, leaving  me and the kids out on the street.  They even verbally threatened my sixteen year old daughter over the phone because her father had dissolved her college savings plan and they expected her to pay the taxes due (six thousand dollars!). Like Maya Bethany in Willful Avoidance, by that time I’d divorced my husband, leaving me with a mortgage, two children and a dog and cat to support on a minimum wage “temp” job.

Box1

Box full of appeals – the exhibits A through Z

The State Franchise Tax Board, affectionately known as SFTB, is the agency responsible for collecting taxes on your income for the state of California where I live.  Not all states collect income taxes.  Some states have found other ways to get necessary revenue.  For example, Nevada has no income tax because taxes on the gambling industry fill the coffers.  The petroleum industry is Alaska’s sugar daddy. They are apparently so desperate for workers and women to keep those workers happy that they provide a yearly stipend for families.  However, everyone wants to live in California, so, instead of getting paid, we pay.

For the year the state claimed I owed over $100,000, I’d had no income – no salary, no interest payments, no dividends, no property sales, no inheritance.  I was a housewife, a Make-a-Wish volunteer, girl scout leader and all around soccer mom.  So you might ask, what sin had I committed?

Well, as it turns out, I had inadvertently committed all five of the tax man’s deadliest of sins.

Sin Number 1:  Trusting your spouse.

Every taxpayer in the United States has what our government calls the Duty of Inquiry. And what does this mean, you might ask?  This means that if your spouse hands you a tax return and orders you to sign it, you must say the following:

FarmerWife

You mean, I’m not supposed to obey the old coot?

“I can’t just sign this, honey.  It is my duty as a US citizen to affirm the validity of every, single line item on this return.  Failure to do so would be a crime.  A crime called Willful Avoidance.  And I’m sure you don’t want to be married to a criminal, do you Honey Bunches?

Hubby:  “Don’t you trust me?  Didn’t you vow to love, honor and obey me?”

As you can probably guess, refusal to sign every document your husband puts before you might cause a bit of stress in a marriage (particularly if the secretive spouse belongs to one of those religions in which the husband is always right). However, trust between spouses is not something your government condones.  Even though the politicians rail on about the sanctity of marriage and all that family values crap, it is written into tax code that prudent taxpayers must disobey their spouses should one or the other attempt to hide taxable assets. 

Sin Number 2: Believing a spouse when they say “It’s my money.  I earned it and can do with it what I want.”

No, no, no!  Not so fast!  According to the tax man, even if your

Woman peeking into her husband's secret money chest. It's not a Pandora's box - it's your money too, according to the tax man.

Woman peeking into her husband’s secret money chest. It’s not a Pandora’s box – it’s your money too, according to the tax man.

spouse had all his income going to an account you did not have access to, or, in some cases, knew nothing about – you are as responsible as him (or her – let’s not be sexist), for whatever the heck he’s doing with “his” money so you better know where it is and what he’s doing!

Use whatever methods at your disposal to get your spouse to reveal his assets.  Tie him to an ant-hill! Hire a hit man!  Call 911!  Oh yeah, that’ll work.

Sin Number 3:  Believing you’re innocent until proven guilty.

football

No innocent spouse relief for you! (image from Bing)

There is one court in the United States where there is no presumption of innocence.  The tax court.  I’ve had this explained to me by not one but two lawyers and I still don’t completely understand, but it here goes…  The amount you owe is computed based on the many articles of The Code which is the tax man’s Holy Bible.  Once it’s spit out by one of their super computers, penalties and interest begin to accrue and if you don’t respond, they come after you with the assumption that you are guilty.  The so-called Innocent Spouse Relief is a misnomer.  What it really means is that after a long, drawn out often humiliating battle, the tax man has granted you either full or partial “relief” from a tax debt.  But you are still guilty as hell because of all that duty of inquiry crap. One lawyer told me to compare their decision making process with that of a referee deciding whether or not to toss a penalty flag during a football game.  Comforting thought, hey?

Number 4: Thinking government service attracts compassionate people willing to go the extra mile to help you out (the Jimmy Stewart complex)

I’m sure there are many people who go into government service for altruistic reasons however, for most it’s a nine-to-five job with benefits and a retirement package.  People who uphold the Holy Tax Code are particularly lucky in that they aren’t expected to make any decisions. The Code makes life easy. If a taxpayer says:

MrSmith

From Mr. Smith goes to Washington.  Love the expression on his face!  What???

“Can’t you see that I’m just barely making it – that I’m not defaulting the government?”

The tax collector can respond with a clean conscience: “I’m only upholding the Code.”

It’s not that they don’t care about their fellow human beings, or give to charity or volunteer but they have sworn to abide by a complex set of rules mandated by the Congress, those same family values folks who’ve decided trusting your spouse is a crime when it comes to the revenue stream paying their salaries, their retirement, etc.

I have to admit that I did run into one particularly lovely agent (a woman) who helped me get Innocent Spouse relief from the federal government however that didn’t help me at all when dealing with the henchmen hired by the state.

Number 5: Thinking you can win a battle against the tax man.

They want you to believe it’s impossible to win a battle against them but it’s not.

Next week, the three “simple” requirements for Innocent Spouse Relief and why they’re not so simple.  Or maybe I’ll repost Dem Damn Hippies’ Christmas in Have-You-Been Saved Missouri in honor of the Holidays!  What do you think? Tired of tax talk?