Thursday, April 19, 2018

AARP Tax Aide

AARP Tax Aide offers free tax preparation services to low and moderate income taxpayers.  Now in its 50th year, Tax-Aide has helped 50 million taxpayers – and counting.  You don’t have to be an AARP member, and there’s no age requirement to get tax help from IRS-certified volunteers.

Those IRS-certified volunteers include us.  When we moved to Beaver Dam for the winter, we volunteered for Tax Aide, primarily because there was no Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in Mesquite.  Makes sense – there are a lot of seniors in Mesquite and the surrounding areas. 

The Tax Aide program requires the same certification as VITA, plus a senior-specific training that we learned a lot from.  VITA’s focus is on getting low-income taxpayers their Earned Income Credit, where Tax Aide focuses on the needs of seniors.  We learned how to calculate the taxable portion of annuitized pensions and how to give a retired Public Service Officer a well-deserved tax break.  We also learned how to advise our clients who really don’t need to file a tax return at all.

In many ways, Tax Aide is simpler.  We saw no disputes over which parent gets to claim which child, and very few penalties under the Affordable Care Act.  Most of our clients have Medicare.  But in other ways it’s more complicated.  The more well-to-do clients are receiving Required Minimum Distributions from their IRAs, and taking capital gains and losses from their stock portfolios.

In two days working at the Mesquite Senior Center, I saw more W2G’s than I’d seen in six years in VITA.  What’s a W2G?  It’s a report of gambling winnings.  Casinos are required to report winnings of $1200 or more to the IRS.  Most players who report significant winnings also report significant losses.  Here’s the rule:  Winnings are considered income and are directly taxed.  Losses can be deducted if you can itemize deductions, but only up to the amount won.  Not a very favorable situation for the gamblers of the world, and they usually tell us about it. 

When we worked VITA it made me happy to see a single mother supporting her children get an earned income credit of $2000 - $3000.  Now, working Tax Aide, it makes me happy to see the 70 to 90 set bringing in a good income in retirement, enjoying their lives, and not having to worry about their taxes.  So far my oldest client is 93.  Hoping to see him again next year!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

When we rode out of Mesquite, Nevada into Lime Kiln Canyon, we had no idea that the road was one of the gateways to a little known national monument.  The Grand Canyon – Parashant National Monument is located on the northern edge of the Grand Canyon in northwest Arizona. The monument was established by Bill Clinton’s Presidential Proclamation 7265 on January 11, 2000. 

Per the National Park Service web site, “This national monument is a very remote and undeveloped place jointly managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The 1,048,325-acre monument is larger than the state of Rhode Island.  There are no paved roads into the monument and no visitor services.”  Visitors must be prepared to leave pavement and cell service behind.  Pets are allowed, as are off-road vehicles.  A high clearance 4x4 vehicle with off-pavement tires is strongly recommended to handle the rocky roads.  You can get visitor information at the BLM office in St. George, Utah.

Near the Lime Kiln Canyon Entrance
According to the Grand Canyon Trust (www.grandcanyontrust.org), “Much of the monument remains unexplored, with only five percent of the protected land having been surveyed. You can see remnants of ranching, mining, and timber cutting at sites like Tassi Ranch, Nixon Sawmill, and Pa’s Pocket Line Shack. But human history here dates back much further. Thousands of archaeological sites—petroglyphs, artifacts, agave roasting pits, pueblos—document the cultures and lifestyles of the Ancestral Puebloan and Southern Paiute cultures. The monument’s name derives from an early translation of a Paiute family name “Parashonts,” meaning “elk or large deer standing in water.”

Jacob's Well
Grand Canyon – Parashant is one of the 21 National Monuments to be evaluated under President Trump’s Executive Order 13792.  So far, its acreage has not been reduced – at least, not as far as I have been able to find online.  Maybe it’s too remote for mining and timber cutting to be economically practical.  We saw evidence that grazing is still permitted at a site marked “Jacob’s Well.” 

The nearest towns to the monument are St. George, Utah, Fredonia, Arizona, and as it turns out, Mesquite, Nevada.  The road into the monument from Mesquite is completely passable in a 4WD vehicle.  I don’t recommend driving the sedan.  But if you’re a fan of beautiful desert wilderness, I do recommend Grand Canyon – Parashant National Monument.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Mesquite Senior Center

This year we’re volunteering as tax preparers for AARP Tax Aide.  Tax Aide uses the same IRS-sponsored certification tests, the same process, and the same tax software as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that we’ve supported for so long.  And since it’s a program to help seniors, what better place to meet than the Senior Center? 

When I started this blog by researching fun things to do in retirement, visiting a Senior Center didn’t make the cut.  Somehow I had it in my brain that I would never be old enough to go to the Senior Center. 

Turns out I am.  According to the Mesquite Senior Center newsletter, patrons 60 and older qualify for the reduced lunch price of $3.50, and are welcome at all events.  Who knew?  So I read through the newsletter.  In January they had a line dancing party; they had a Valentine’s dinner in February, and a murder mystery dinner in March.  They offer several crafts each month for a minimal charge, and several exercise classes including low-impact Zumba.

We were told by our Tax Aide colleagues that they usually eat lunch on the days they work.  We tried it on training day, and it was actually very good.  Coffee, lemonade, and punch are available at no charge all day long.  I am absolutely amazed at the efficiency of the center.  They cook the lunches on site and package them for the Meals on Wheels program.  When lunch hour starts, all you have to do is sign in, pay your $3.50 and sit down.  The staff serves you with a smile.  Of course, we’ve eaten lunch there every time we’ve worked.

The center is open 5 days a week from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.  Classes are available during these times, as are tables to play cards and do puzzles, or just have coffee and visit with friends.  They also schedule field trips to exotic places such as Las Vegas. 

So, while I’m still not old enough to spend my days at the Senior Center, I’m pleased to know about the services offered, and count me in for lunch.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?

Does anybody really care?

Beaver Dam is in the northwest corner of Arizona.  If you go eight miles west you cross into Nevada, which is in the Pacific Time Zone.  If you go twenty-three miles east, you cross into Utah, which is in the Mountain Time Zone.

And Arizona?  It’s in the Mountain Standard Time Zone.  Always.  Arizona is one of two states in the U.S. that does not observe Daylight Savings Time.  Half the year, Arizona is on the same time as Utah.  The other half, it’s on the same time as Nevada.

This can make life interesting.  Since there’s almost nothing in Beaver Dam, if we want to do anything, we’re either driving to Utah or driving to Nevada.  And what time it is where we’re going is almost more important than what time it is where we are.  If we were going to Utah, we plan to leave normally.  If we were going to Nevada, we’d leave 45 minutes later than the time we were scheduled to arrive.  Weird, I know, but we got used to it.

Just as we had pretty much figured out our regular routine, Daylight Savings Time hit.  Utah and Nevada dutifully changed.  Arizona dutifully stayed the same.  And now, instead of being on the same time as Utah and an hour ahead of Nevada, we were on the same time as Nevada and an hour behind Utah.

This hit us pretty hard last weekend when we commuted to Hurricane for the Tri-State ATV Jamboree.  We had to be at the Jamboree Headquarters each morning at 6:30 AM – challenging even when you don’t have to adjust for time zones.  We had to leave the trailer at 4:30 AM to make it on time.

Then there’s the TV schedule.   Our trailer antenna picks up one station from Phoenix.  Everything else is from Utah.  So the Channel 4 news at 5 is on at 4 here.  And clocks?  The trailer clocks are set to Arizona time, which is effectively Pacific Time.  The car clocks are set to Utah time.  My watch is set to Utah time.  Thankfully the cell phones change with the location, so if I ever get confused, I have an authoritative source.  Verizon really knows what time it is, and apparently, they really care.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Valley of Fire State Park

Balanced Rock
We took Sue, Helen, and Bill to visit Valley of Fire State Park, located south of Overton, Nevada.  Valley of Fire is named for the red sandstone formations that permeate the desert landscape.  It was designated as Nevada’s first state park on March 26, 1935.

The park covers approximately 42,000 acres.  The roads and trails leading to the better known features were developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1933.  Many features are visible from the paved roads and viewpoints, but to see some of the features, you have to get out and hike.  I was excited to have company on the short hikes, as usually I’m walking alone.

I am completely and totally out of practice as far as hiking is concerned.  I am fine going the distance, but when the terrain becomes steep I become hesitant to the point of fearful.  Hindsight being 20-20, I should have brought one of Paul’s many walking sticks – some of which are actually designed to be hiking sticks.  Thankfully, Bill was sure footed and helped me both up and down the final climb to the Rainbow Vista.  And yes, the view was worth the angst.
The view from Rainbow Vista

The Mouse’s Tank trail featured several walls covered with petroglyphs left by the ancient Anasazi that once occupied the area.  The drawings were all rather high on the rock faces, leading us to wonder if there were once shelters built that high.  I remembered being told once, in Mexico, that “you only need to take a picture of one iguana.  The others look the same.”  That said, I was never even tempted to pass on taking a photo of a petroglyph wall.  Yes, they looked the same, but yet each wall was different. 

With Helen, Bill and Sue at Atlatl Rock
They made it really easy to view the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.  There’s a metal staircase taking you eye level with the drawings.  What’s an atlatl?  It’s a notched stick used to throw primitive spears.  You can see a drawing of an atlatl at the very top left of this photo.

We took the long way around to see Arch Rock.  We parked on the side of the road and walked all the way around to the back, where we got a glimpse of the arch.  As we continued around the rock and back to the road, we realized we could see it from the road – if only we knew where to look.

We spent most of the day and over 14,000 steps visiting Valley of Fire, and still didn’t see everything.  I guess we have a reason to go back.  And yes, I’m still living vicariously through Sue’s Fitbit.  
Arch Rock


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Driving a Subaru

One year ago today I bought my first Subaru. 

I can’t pinpoint the exact reason I wanted a Subaru.  But when it was time for me to shop for a new car, it was the one that caught my eye.  Of course, I tried to be fair.  Nearly every car manufacturer has an all-wheel drive Sport Utility Vehicle similar to the Subaru.  “Look,” I would say to my husband as we drove past one, “there’s the Ford wanna-be.  There’s the Nissan wanna-be.”  Etcetera.  But when it came right down to it, I didn’t want a “wanna-be.”  I wanted the real thing.

Subaru definitely has a culture.  I guess there are other cars that have a culture.  I just haven’t owned one.  I mean, seriously.  What do you think of when you think Buick?  Old???  When you think Subaru, you think of the outdoors, of adventure.  In fact, when I told my daughter and her then-fiancĂ© that I was considering a Subaru, they told me I wasn’t “granola” enough.  They issued a challenge – make it to the top of the climbing wall to get their blessing on buying a Subaru.  I was game – and I succeeded!

My Outback has been a great road trip car.  Since buying it, I’ve taken it all over the Western U.S. – to the tune of 18,000 miles in the first year!  First oil change and 6000 mile checkup!  Check.  Second oil change and 12,000 mile checkup!  Check.  Third oil change and 18,000 mile checkup!  Check.  The Subaru dealer’s service department waiting room has been all that I expected.  Free water, sodas, juices and popcorn.  Recycle bins.  Dog biscuits and a water bowl for the best friend who rides in the back.  The technicians and service representatives are top notch, and they even give me a cookie on the way out. 

My Outback also does quite well off the beaten path.  We’ve taken it off-road several times, and the only problem is getting all the dirt off the back windshield.  There’s a spot at the top of the lift gate that car washes just don’t reach.  Oh, well.

In case you’ve heard the rumor that the Subaru Outback is a “lesbian” car, let me set the record straight.  In 1995, Subaru of America became the founding sponsor of the Rainbow Endowment, a 501©3 charity that contributes to non-profits serving the LGBTQ community.  So our LGBTQ friends support Subaru because Subaru supports them, and has done so long before it became fashionable.  Now we know.

According to Wikipedia, the word “Subaru” is the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters.  According to tradition, one of the sisters is invisible; hence there are only six stars in the Subaru logo.  I’m convinced the stars aligned for me when I made the decision to buy a Subaru. Love it!!!!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Logandale Trails

The Logandale Trailhead
The Logandale ATV trails are a short drive southwest on I-15 from Beaver Dam – not close enough to ride the back roads but not far to trailer.  The road to the trailhead is a little tricky – we saw tire tracks of many other trucks that crossed the railroad tracks in the wrong spot and had to turn around.  For the record – you follow the road to the right and cross at the second crossing.

The trail is relatively well-marked.  I say relatively because it is marked in relation to a map that we did not have when we started.  The overall map showed a loop that had trail markers throughout.  As we examined the trail markers, there were numbers and letter which meant nothing to us, and even though there was a place on each marker for the GPS coordinates, they were not filled in.  We ended up taking a few wrong turns.  How is it that we can get lost on a well-marked trail system?  Yes, we’re that good.

I have never seen an ATV trail area complete with rest rooms and picnic tables along the first few miles of the trail.  I suspect that if we were to ride these trails during spring break, every possible spot would be filled with campers in tents and smaller trailers.  There’s even a group camp site.


Much of the area we rode through reminded me of Lake Powell – minus the lake, of course.  High red cliffs above, red rock and red sand under our wheels.   The parks perimeters were more reminiscent of Southwestern Wyoming, with its green-tinted mountains.  

When we found our way back to the main trailhead, we started exploring a few of the side roads.  We found a road to an abandoned mine – complete with warning signs.  It didn’t look that interesting so we turned around.  We found the road leading to the sand dunes, and Paul had waaaaayyyy too much fun bouncing up and down the dunes.  He hit one bump that reminded me of the old adage:  passengers fly – they just don’t land too well.  That one hurt and I was done.

All in all, the Logandale trails are a great ride.  There’s enough challenging terrain to keep the most expert riders entertained, and enough beauty to keep the fussiest passengers in awe.  After the ride, I highly recommend Sugar’s Home Plate in Overton – just a few miles up the road.  The wings are awesome, and I hear the carrot cake is to die for.

Happy Trails!