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  • Traveling COVID 19 Style - Yellowstone National Park

    Not too many people are doing any leisure travel with all of the concern over contracting COVID-19.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t see other parts of the county or the world for that matter.  I have been writing a novel where my characters went on a cruise.  I wanted the story to be credible, so I researched each destination on the internet and described the experience as seen through the eyes and cameras of others. I feel like I have been to those places, every bit as much as those I have actually travelled to over the years.

    I decided it would be fun to take you all traveling with me to somewhere I have always wanted to go.  This time, we’re going to Yellowstone National Park.  The National Parks website, NPS.GOV has a variety of visual resources that allow you to explore the park virtually.  The easiest to navigate are the video walks which are simply a photographer, walking along the path to a specific feature or destination while filming the scenery.  This trip is highly educational but still allows for plenty of recreation.

    The first video walk I explored and recommend is the Upper Terrace parking lot to Canary Spring at Mammoth Hot Spring.  The path is easy, it’s a boardwalk which keeps the visitor to the site as well as the landscape protected. The link to this walk is:

    The Canary Spring walk is the longest of the video walks; about 10 minutes.  It is a beautiful day under partly cloudy skies and the photographer seems to take one short rest break along the way.  At the end of the walk, the Canary, Dryad Spring offers a stunning view of the Travertine terraces enhanced by the diverse Thermophilic Bacteria.

    Uncle Tom’s parking area to the overlook of the Upper Falls is the subject of the next video walk.  This path is paved in asphalt and an easy 1 minute 11 second walk. It was filmed while the ground was covered in snow, but the path is clear. The Link is:

    Dragons Mouth Spring at Mud Volcano is another easy walk along a boardwalk.  As you approach the end of the path, you clearly see the steam rising into the air from the crevasse in the rocks at the edge of the spring. The link is:

    This walk takes a duration of less than two minutes, but the view is spectacular.

    Lookout Point is the next destination with the purpose of viewing the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  The path is again paved in asphalt.  Even virtually, you’re thankful for the metal railings that protect visitors from falling from the steep ravine along which the path travels. The link is:

    One of the rewards for completing this two-minute virtual walk is a view of the falls with the colors of the rainbow visual within the falling water. 

    Once you complete the easy virtual walks, the site offers map-based tours with links to discover many aspects of each section of the park.  The tours will take anywhere from a few moments to many hours depending on how many of the embedded links you follow as you explore.  To begin the first of the map-based tours, follow this link:

    You are taken to a map with it’s own embedded links treating you at a variety of experiences.

    1. Mammoth Hot Springs
    2. Norris Geyser Basin
    3. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
    4. Mud Volcano
    5. Fountain Paint Pot
    6. Upper Geyser Basin
    7. Yellowstone in 3-D

    As you or your children explore Yellowstone National Park virtually from the links supplied by the National Parks Service, you may want to answer some easy questions to make sure you are getting the best experience possible.  I have complied a few for you to test your comprehension of the basic information that is available to you on the site. These can be answered by taking the map-based tours at the initial level.  However, you will get the most enjoyment out of clicking every link and exploring deeper into the site. The Answers follow the questions.

    1. What is the name of the limestone-based rock which forms the terraces of Mammoth Hot


    1. What causes the soil in the Norris Geyser Basin to be yellow?
    2. What colorful insect is commonly found in the North Geyser Basin?
    3. What species of bird are you likely to see in Spring the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone area?
    4. What is considered a safe distance from the Bison commonly viewed near the Mud Volcano?
    5. What does the paint consist of in the Fountain Paint Pot?
    6. What is the PH (Neutral) of Blood?
    7. Why was Fort Yellowstone Founded?

    Answers: 1. Travertine, 2. Sulfur, 3. Dragonflies, 4. Osprey, 5. 25 yards or more, 6. Mud, 7. 7.4, 8. To increase the army presence and protect the parks natural resources.


  • COVID 19 Stimulus Payments

    COVID 19 Stimulus Payments

    Simple Tax Advice, Volume 4

    Many of us received payments of $1200 or more to help stimulate the economy during the 2020 pandemic. Being on the front lines in a tax office, I heard a lot of questions from clients as to what happens next. Most feared that they would have to pay tax on the payments when they filed their 2020 returns:

    This is not the case. The payment amount received for the economic stimulus is not added to taxable income.  However, you will need to know what you received in order to reconcile your 2020 return when you file in 2021. 

    The other question I heard over and over is: What happens if I was qualified to receive a payment but didn’t?

    Most taxpayers are qualified to receive all or part of the stimulus payment.  The Income limit is $75,000 for a single individual, $112,500 for someone who files head of household, and $150,000 if married filing joint.  The payment doesn’t go away at the limit, but it is reduced by $50 for each $1000 over. This is actually stated as a 5% reduction of the amount of your AGI which exceeds the limit.

    As an example, if you are a married couple, filing joint and your adjusted gross income is $154,000 you will receive $2,400 less ($4,000 x 5%) $200. Your payment will be $2,200. If you are a married couple filing joint and your AGI is $198,000, you will receive $2,400 less ($48,000 x 5%) $2,400. Your payment will be $0. As you can see, in the case of a married couple filing joint, it is at $198,000 that the payment phases out completely

    If you were qualified to receive a payment but did not for any reason other than unpaid child support, you will receive your payment as a credit on your 2020 tax return.  This ensures that all persons who are qualified to receive a payment do so. For those of you that do not file income tax returns because you have no taxable income or some other non-filer requirement, the IRS has tools on the website to help you get the information submitted to receive your stimulus payment.

    The next question is this: What if I received more money in my stimulus payment than I was entitled to based on my AGI for 2020.  Will I need to pay it back?

    The answer here is again, no.  Taxpayers received stimulus payments based on their 2018 or 2019 returns.  My understanding from the IRS website and my company’s training is this; If the taxpayer received too much money, they would not have to pay it back.  In order for the IRS to require the taxpayer to return an overpayment, it would have been written into the law that authorized the payments in the first place.  It is not in the law; therefore, recipients will not have to return any overpayment.  

    The answer to the final question is more good news. The question being asked is what if I was not paid enough money based on my 2018 or 2019 return?

    Once again, if the taxpayer did not receive enough money, and it was not reduced or held because of unpaid child support, they will receive the difference as a credit on their 2020 rturn.

  • Do The Right Thing

    I’m a registered Independent, not affiliated with any political party.  I have listened to the news every day since COVID 19 appeared on our radar.  At first, I was only worried about a team member that was visiting family in China. Is she in danger of contracting the disease? Would she be able to come home?  How long will she need to quarantine when she returns? This was back in February.  She returned home to the US and was able to return to work after a self-quarantine of two weeks.  She did, however, choose to voluntarily talk a leave of absence for the rest of the tax season over fears of contracting the virus here in the US. 

    I continued to work throughout tax season and to the end of the extended season (July 15).  I only stopped working to take a mandatory two-month furlough required by my employer.  If it were up to me, I would continue to work, not because I need the money, but because I have worked since I was 15 years old and I feel out of sorts when I’m home every day, especially now since I can’t really get out of the house except for essential shopping and doctor appointments and stuff.  I am careful when dealing with others because I would rather not contract COVID 19.  However, I am not scared.  I know that we need to protect our Seniors and others who are immune compromised, but this is nothing new.  There are other diseases such as the ever-evolving flu virus they must be protected from.  Where the rest of us will get ill and recover, chances are, they will not. They could die.

    My family has been extremely lucky to not have any loss of jobs or wages during the current “crisis”.  We received the stimulus payment but didn’t need it.  We are fine.  Other families have been hit hard and need help.  The best way we can help them is to let them get back to work.  However, this is not the point of this article.  The point of this article is, whatever political party we are affiliated with, we need to be able to trust our news agencies to tell us the truth.  We need to be able to hear and read all news from the beginning to the end.  We do not need censorship to do the right thing.  We need truth.  We need to be informed, not brainwashed.  We are, for the most part, intelligent human beings and need to be able to make our own decisions and have our own opinions. 

    My advice to you, my readers, during this pandemic and this election year, is to get your news from multiple sources. When you feel there is a discrepancy in what you are being told, research, research, research.  If they don’t tell the truth, discover it for yourself.  Do not trust everything you hear from a network television reporter or a cable network reporter, just because you have been listening to that person for years.  Everyone in this political climate seems to have an agenda.  The only agenda you need to listen to is yours.  I’ll say it again.  Research, research, research.  The internet is a wonderful thing.  Search and read everything you can find on a specific subject.  Find out what stories are being censored and read them. What do they not want us to know?  Why do they not want us to know it?  What is the truth?

    Once you know the truth, research all of the candidates to determine who shares the most opinions with you.  Who is most likely to do what you think they should do.  Who is most likely to work for the people of this county and not for some political agenda that you may or may not agree with.  Do the right thing. Vote for the person who is most likely to do the right thing.  Of course, the right thing, is just an opinion.  Even if it is your opinion and not my opinion, it is still the right thing.  We all have different goals and challenges in life.  Thankfully, when most of us agree, its typically good for our county.  We are happier and we thrive. 

  • Lighthouse Obsession

    As a child in approximately the 2nd grade, I remember seeing a film. Yes, remember when teachers actually showed films in class? It was called “Paddle to the Sea” and was based on a book by Holling C Holling. It begins when a lighthouse keeper finds a tiny wooden boat that had washed ashore.  He pulls it from the water and decides it would go great in his collection of boat models.  As he is working on restoring his find, he notices on the bottom, the words carved into the hull,” I am paddle to the sea, please put me back in the water”.  The story goes on to show the small boy carving the figure and tells a story of his dream to travel to the sea.  He does not see a possibility of that happening, so he creates the figure in the boat and sends him on the journey for him. 

    “Paddle to the Sea” is besought by various hazards on his journey.  He is bothered by sea gulls, checked out by a snake, used as refuge by a frog being chased by a large fish and endangered by a raging fire on the shore.  Once out into the open lake, he encounters his first ship, and is then frozen for the winter in the ice and under a blanket of snow.  After the spring thaw, he continues on his journey, through the spillway of a dam and is caught by a fisherman and pulled into a small boat.  He is released once the fisherman reads the message on the bottom and continues on to Detroit where the water is dirty and slushy from all of the garbage being pumped into the great lake.

    The next danger turns out to be Niagara Falls.  Paddle to the Sea successfully navigates the great falls, avoids being used for building material by a beaver and is caught again, this time by a small child who loses him when he decides to play with him in the lake.  As he continues on his journey he comes to the last obstacle where he must make it through the great locks at the same time avoiding the engines of the large ships that accompany him on this part of the voyage.  Once in the sea, he is again captured, this time in a fishing net and again released when the fisherman sees the inscription on the underbelly of the boat. 

    It is at this point in his journey, having now reached the sea, that he his pulled out of the waves by the lighthouse keeper.  The keeper takes him inside the residence and begins to restore him back to his former beauty before he sees the inscription asking to be put back into the water.  Even knowing that Paddle to the Sea has reached his ultimate destination, the keeper is intrigued at the possibilities and puts him once again back into the water.  No one will know how far he will travel but he has piqued the imagination of each of his captors including the keeper of the lighthouse by the sea.

    This story, although not specifically about lighthouses, is what awakened my love for the guiding lights.  It is second, only to my love of the ocean and the beauty that surrounds it.  Over the years, I have found that the lighthouse has become a symbol of the dedication and solitude of the keepers, a phallic symbol that is, mighty, erect and powerful, a safe haven guiding travelers into port and a religious symbol as a light or beacon guiding the lost to faith in more than one religion. For me, its fascination is in its history and in its beauty.  What other structure is valued for both its unique visual appeal, and its usefulness.    

    I was well into my Thirties when I started to collect “lighthouses”.  My first was a candleholder made by a direct marketing candle company.  I started searching stores and online for examples of these magnificent structures in whatever form was available.  I bought lamps, figurines, ornaments, pictures, jewelry, and any other items decorated by any lighthouse.  After a few years, I became a bit more discerning in my quest to own the fascinating beacons and bought only collectibles and no longer just anything with a lighthouse decoration.

    I also began planning trips and side trips to actually see real historic lighthouses.  My husband was born and raised in Rhode Island, so we frequently traveled there from our home in California and later Colorado.  It is there that I started to photograph them, any chance that I was able.  Today, I have photos of about 30 lighthouses.  These don’t even represent a fraction of the number of lighthouses that exist throughout the world.  All but one of my photos was taken in the United States.  The other is in Italy and probably not the best example but the only one I encountered on a trip I took in 2019 with my Mother. 




    This lighthouse was photographed at a tour bus stop in Southern Italy.  It is probably not the best example of an Italian Lighthouse, but it was the only one we encountered on this trip.










    Many of the photos in my collection were taken during the wintertime on a trip to northern Michigan.  I accompanied my husband on a work trip and we spent a few days exploring lakes Huron and Michigan and photographing these glorious structures in the cold. 





    This photo is Forty Mile Point Light located in Rogers Township, Michigan.  It was built in 1897 and is one of my favorites.  I used this photo to create a diamond painting that hangs in home.  It is spectacular and very special since it was printed on canvas in grid format. The colors were applied by myself and my family by attaching tiny crystals into the grid.










    This is the Cheboygan Crib Light on Lake Huron, in the town of Cheboygan. It was originally constructed in 1884. A small keepers house was added in 1897 but was removed when the crib was demolished.  The lighthouse was restored in 2001.











    This one  is Point aux Barques Light in Port   Hope, Michigan, built in 1848 and re-built after a fire in 1857. 









    And the unassuming Charlevoix South Pierhead  light, built in 1948 in Charlevoix, Michigan.












    This is the Mission Point Light built in 1870, also in Michigan.






    And another favorite, Old Mackinac Point Light in Mackinaw City, Michigan.  The one was built from 1889 to 1892. This was one of the first lighthouses we were able to view on our trip to Northern Michigan.  I was impressed  by its beauty as well as its accessibility. 








    As I mentioned above, my husband’s family is from the Providence Rhode Island area.  I have been able to photograph many of the Rhode Island lighthouses during our frequent trips to the area. The most recent are from two boat tours during June of 2019 that I enjoyed with my sister’s in law during a trip without my husband.  The others are from trips with Bob over the years.



    The Ponham Rocks Lighthouse was built in 1871.  I was able to photograph it from the East Bay Bike Path in East Providence








    Best seen by boat, the Conimicut lighthouse, built in 1883 can also be seen from Conimicut Point Park in Warwick, Rhode Island.  I love this view across the sand with the birds in the foreground.







    Beavertail Lighthouse protects the entrance to Narragansett Bay from the southernmost point of Conanicut Island.  It was built in Jamestown in 1856. 










    The Castle Hill Light is near the Castle Hill Inn.  Although the lighthouse is not open to the public, the grounds are.  The lighthouse can be viewed from the grounds, but it is much better to view this one from a boat. It was built in 1890.







    Rose Island is your chance to spend the night in a lighthouse built in 1870.  It is reached by a short ferry ride from Newport or Jamestown.  Rose Island Lighthouse is privately owned and maintained by the Rose Island Lighthouse foundation. 






    Another Rhode Island Lighthouse that is best seen by boat is the privately owned Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse in Portsmouth.  It is located in Narragansett Bay, west of the entrance to Mount Hope Bay. That is the Mount Hope Bridge in the background.







    Goat Island Light or Newport Harbor Light was built in 1842.  It is maintained by the American Lighthouse Foundation. 







    Over the years, I have traveled many times to Chicago on work trips, both mine and Bob’s. This is the Chicago Harbor Light built in 1893.  It was photographed from a harbor cruise boat.










    On a driving trip from New York to Rhode Island in 2015, we discovered and visited two easily accessible lighthouses in Connecticut.  The first is Stratford Point and Lighthouse in Stratford, established in 1822. 








    The second is a bit of a mystery.  We remember visiting but cannot find this one on the internet to identify it.  Perhaps you can help?







    Of course, who could miss the most recognized Lighthouse in the United States, also known as the Statue of Liberty.  She was gifted to the United States by France in the late 1800s and dedicated on October 28, 1886. 









    Last, but not least, we traveled to Canada, through Michigan in September of 2018.  On the way home, we were able to visit and photograph three lighthouses, two in Canada and one in Michigan.  The first is the Kincardine Lighthouse built in 1880 in Kincardine, Ontario, Canada. 










    The Point Clark Lighthouse was our last Canadian Stop.  This one was built in 1855 in Huron-Kinlass,Ontario, Canada.









    And finally, here is Michigan’s oldest lighthouse, the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse at Port Huron.  This one was built between 1825 and 1829. 








    Not only does my obsession with lighthouses manifest in the photos that I take while on vacation but its also evident in the way my home is furnished and decorated.  The walls have lighthouse photos and paintings.  The décor consists of many figurines and lighthouse collectibles and my Christmas ornaments are all lighthouses.  Some of the Christmas ornaments even attach to the string of tree lights and light up themselves when the others are turned on. 

    By the way, this is not my only obsession.  Maybe someday I’ll tell you about one of the others.  My love for lighthouses is the easiest to illustrate since I have all of these photos.  I am not the best at picture taking but I am prolific.  I take a lot of photos.  That way I am sure to get a few good ones.  I hope you have enjoyed them. 


  • Understanding your delivery service tax return

    Simple Tax Advice, Volume 2

    I’m a tax professional working for a large multinational tax service. Every day I work with clients that have decided to supplement their income by being a delivery driver for one of the exceedingly popular food delivery services. I’m talking about Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber and Lyft for example. There are others but these are the ones I see the most. With the Covid 19 pandemic, many more consumers are using these services and opportunities for delivery drivers are numerous.

    What my clients don’t understand is this; Working with one of these businesses makes them self-employed. A self-employed person must file a Schedule C and a Schedule SE when they file their income taxes. The cost of the tax return with a Schedule C with my employer is increased by at least $150.00. In addition, if you only list the amount of money the service reports you earned, you will pay SE tax (about 15%) on the total. Many of my clients come to me unprepared. They bring the statement issued by the service and nothing else.

    The SE tax (Self-Employment) is the equivalent of the amount you and your employer combined would pay for your Medicare and Social Security Tax if you were an employee. The IRS gives you a deduction for 1/2 of the SE tax if you are self-employed but that only reduces your total taxable income, not your tax. In effect, you are paying SE tax plus income tax on your earnings. If you are in the lowest tax bracket of 10%, you are paying about 25% of your earnings. The positive aspect of this is your Social Security and Medicare accounts are still being funded even though you are not receiving a paycheck from an employer. To make sure you are calculating the correct amount of tax on your earnings, you need to limit the amount you are reporting as profit, thereby limiting the amount of SE tax you are paying as well as income tax.

    We calculate the profit by reporting all the expenses of the self-employment activity. The service usually reports to you the number of miles you drove for them and the required fees. However, there are a lot more expenses involved in performing this business. I tell my clients to close their eyes and think about what expenses they must pay only because they are doing this job. Most people, at a minimum, will list their cell phones, auto expense, gas, tolls, maintenance, snacks, and drinks if they are a transportation service, and additional mileage that is not reported by the company. The IRS gives you the option of reporting all the auto expenses including depreciation on the automobile or just the mileage at the current mileage rate which is 57.5 cents per mile for 2020. We typically do the math both ways and use the best option for the return.

    If you are working as a driver for one of these delivery or transportation companies, I always advise you to use a mileage tracker. There are quite a few out there that work with your cell phone. Also, use a separate cell phone for your business or take the time to analyze at least a few bills to determine how much of the usage is business and how much is personal. Set up a separate bank account for the business. You can put all income into that account and pay all expenses from it. This will help you to capture All of your expenses and, as your tax preparer, I can calculate your correct profit and legally limit your tax liability.

    Lastly, if you have questions about what is deductible and what is not, see your tax preparer and ask. Don’t make assumptions and don’t plan to do this first return on your own. Leave this one to the professionals. After you learn the ins and outs of preparing a return (Schedule C) for your business, then you can try doing it yourself.


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