American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I haven’t written a book review in quite some time, opting instead for slices of life in the time of a pandemic. Not sure which you like reading about more but in the case of this particular book, American Dirt, I simply couldn’t not write about it.

Our country is divided these days on many fronts, and American Dirt, focuses on immigration and the migrants coming across the border with Mexico. For me, this is the most important book I will read this year.

Lydia has witnessed the murder of her entire family at the hands of a cartel. Everything she lived for is gone. Except for her son, Luca. Her fierce protection of him drives her to keep them both alive at all costs. The journey they now face to safety is far more than simply dangerous. Their lives will be forever changed no matter how the story ends.

Their journey to the United States is one that will keep the reader on the edge of her seat and the blood pounding through her veins. The things that are revealed on these pages with forever alter the way you view our immigration crises. American Dirt is a beautifully crafted story and one you won’t be able to put down or soon forget.

An Ode to Masks

I have a love hate relationship with my mask. I think we probably all do. Even after a year of wearing one when I go out, I still often forget it when I get out of the car and have to run back to the parking lot to get it. Once I walked right into Starbucks with out thinking and the kind barista behind the counter gave me a new one to put on. I was so embarrassed and I apologized to her profusely. And then I went outside to enjoy my veinte peppermint mocha frappe, maskless.

Since this is an ode, I thought about making it rhyme but then gave up.

I love my mask.

Sometimes.

It’s hard to breathe through it’s many protective layers.

But it protects me from the dreaded Covid,

Along with many other things.

I enjoyed garlic for lunch, no one can smell my bad breath,

I ate a spinach salad, no one can see if some is still stuck in my teeth.

I have a boogar in my nose, no one can offer me a tissue.

The list of wonderful things a mask can do for us can go on for miles.

I love my mask, sometimes.

I’ve worn it for so long, I think I may miss it when it’s gone.

Why do you love yours?

It’s Tax Time!

The other day on Facebook was a post about how life has changed lately featuring the Jetsons. Jane sat Elroy down in front of a large screen for his doctor’s visit. George had a virtual meeting with the boss, Mr. Spacely, with his feet up on the desk. Jane took an exercise class from the comfort of her own home. The only thing we are missing these days is the flying car.

I now sit in front of a laptop in my own home reviewing tax returns. No need to visit anyone in an office to have your taxes done. With a cell phone and paperless documents, it can all be done virtually. In fact the IRS prefers you file online and not mail any paper. Many states require online filing too.

Filing a tax return has been made easy but as a tax professional, don’t confuse easy with a having a solid financial plan. The pandemic has throw just about everyone’s financial well being into a blender. The government is throwing money at us, which money is good, but is it really getting to those who need it most?

As a tax preparer, I get to see the real deal when it comes to how many Americans live outside of my own bubble. This year I’m seeing unemployment amounts in figures higher than I ever seen before. But that amount is taxable income and without that knowledge many people who can least afford it are facing a tax bill instead of what is usually a hefty refund. If Biden’s relief bill passes hopefully it includes some relief for taxes on unemployment but that remains to be seen.

If you needed to take a distribution from a retirement account due to Covid, you may be able to get relief from the 10% early distribution penalty. That is a good thing. But think long and hard about the option to spread that distribution over three years as is now allowed for disaster relief. The withholding taken out on the full amount is applied to the 2020 return. In 2021 a third will be added to your income and the same in 2022 without any benefit of that withholding.

I hope I gave you all something to think about. That’s the only point I’m trying to make. Don’t rush to drink what looks like a very tasty drink without thinking it through very carefully to find what makes the best financial sense for you. Because virtual is faster doesn’t mean it is always better for you. For right now you have until April 15th to press that file button. Take a deep breath and ask a trusted advisor for help if you need it. Once everything is mixed in that blender, it’s not easy to get it back to its original self.

First Vaccine Dose Done

I’m happy to announce that my first Covid 19 vaccine dose in now safely in my arm and working its way around my immune system. I am one of the lucky ones.

The governor of Florida went against the CDC guidelines and lowered the eligible age to 65. I just squeaked in. But that doesn’t mean it was easy to snag the appointment for the shot while also getting one for my 78 year old husband.

I live in a 55 community and the one and only topic of conversation for the past few weeks has been where and how to get an appointment, somewhere, anywhere. The Department of Health filled up in 20 minutes. Another medical group has a system where I called and called and hit redial 100 more times before someone took my phone number to call me back. I’m still waiting.

The medical group I go to sent an email at around 8 pm on Thursday night. It was a fluke that I even opened my email at that time. I’m usually getting ready for bed. I clicked on the link, filled out the information for Richard and hit save. Nothing. So I did it again and again and again until it finally took. Then I started the process again to try to secure my own appointment.

While I’m fiddling with the laptop, I’m also texting two of my friends to alert them. They log in and start doing the same thing I am and are thus my competition for the same limited amount of vaccines. I was told I was being altruistic by alerting others to their availability. Thankfully they got appointments too.

I have friends in other states who are still waiting patiently but with great anticipation for their vaccine. The age limits and distributions are different everywhere. They are all happy for me but nervous for themselves and their families. I truly am one of the lucky ones and because I am, I will pray that we can figure this all out and get shots into arms so I can give all my friends a HUG! You are important to me and I can’t wait for us all to be together again.

Hang in there! Your turn is coming soon.

Things That Changed Forever in 2020

At the end of a year or the start of a new one, I usually write about books I’ve read or places I visited. We all had time to read a lot of books this past year. I’m sure you have all had the opportunity to hone your book finding skills without me joining into the fray.

So I thought long and hard on what to write about until I uncovered an article that I found interesting and amusing. It was concerning dogs and computers. In February, long before we knew a pandemic was lurking, Pepper came to our home. He was 8 weeks old and cute as a button. Little did we know how he would keep us moving in the coming months when we were afraid to do so for fear of becoming sick at the hands of the corona virus.

I was fortunate to be working from home. Pepper being a curious guy wanted to know who I was talking to in that black box on top of my desk. I started him small, bringing him to meetings for the whole group to see and also one on one conversations with co-workers and managers. He loved siting on my lap looking at the people on my computer screen.

Based on that article I read, he is not alone. Dogs of all kinds have developed a relationships with their parent’s computers. They are a hit on Zoom meetings of all kinds. Dogs are becoming virtual fixtures in the business world. Pepper is no different.

Pepper tugs at my arm until I allow him to climb on my lap anytime I’m sitting in front of my computer. He loves to come not only to business meetings but also book club and my writer’s group. He has become such a regular at these events that he is often asked for his opinion which always results in a glob of dog snot across my computer screen.

If we’re looking for something good that came out of last year, his name is Pepper. While just simply being a puppy, he found a unique way to share his love and cuteness with others and bring a smile to anyone’s face. And Lord knows, we all needed to smile a little bit more. As we give ourselves a fresh start in 2021, Pepper’s participation in the workings of the world will continue to spread happiness wherever he goes. Via the Internet that is!

An Overdose of Stupid

I think this lock down combined with the pandemic is making us stupid. We are watching endless hours of television which has been doing its best to numb our minds since its arrival in our living rooms many years ago. It once had a nickname of the”boob tube” if you’re old enough to remember.

I could write about stupid people refusing to wear masks or denying that the coronavirus even exists. Don’t get me started on all the politicians on both sides of the aisle who swallow down their dose of stupid pills with regularity. I really want to discuss something that has entered our lives in order to make us smarter. Alexa.

“Alexa. What’s the weather?” I asked.

“The weather in Melbourne, Australia is 62 degrees and raining,” she answers.

Alexa has lived in my home in Melbourne, Florida for the past 5 years. I never had to clarify the city, state or country for her before. Suddenly she believes I moved to Australia which is an interesting idea but I’m grounded until I get vaccinated.

“Alexa. When did Les Miserables debut on Broadway?” Richard asked.

“1862,” she replied.

“Am I really that old?” Richard asked. “I guess Alexa thinks so.”

I think Alexa has taken an overdose dose of stupid pills today too. Even the digital world is not exempt from its addictive qualities. She answers all of our questions with such certainty, if I didn’t know any better, I’d find her very believable.

This next one is my all time favorite. I like watching Schitt’s Creek. The Rose’s daughter is named Alexis, so often when her name is said on the show, Alexa will spew some nonsensical banter out of the blue to interrupt the comedic dialogue.

The other night the dialogue from the show was this: “Alexis. Do you have a mind?”

Alexa’s response was as follows: “I don’t have a brain like you do. My smarts live in the cloud.”

We have become dependent on on all the information that lives in the cloud. True or not, if it comes out of the cloud we believe it. I can’t even trust Alexa with the weather so why should I believe anything else she says? The only thing she’s really good at is setting a timer and letting me know when my roast is done. Let’s put our brains back to work. What’s happening up in the clouds is pretty scary stuff these days.

Kindle Challenge Update

I haven’t paid much attention to my Kindle lately. What I mean by that is during my time in the hospital, I read all day until the battery finally died. I didn’t pay any attention to how many books where still waiting to be read, I just picked on and dove in head first. It was the only thing I had to pass the time in between the nurse handing me my little cup of pills.

I finished my December book club pick, Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. It’s historical fiction about Maud Baum, the wife of the author L. Frank Baum of The Wizard of Oz fame. One night the 1939 movie popped up on tv and I watched it. It never gets old.

Next I read The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristen Harmel. I’ve read other books by her and they are all enjoyable and are about the French resistance during World War II. Then I read the first Harry Potter book again. I didn’t find it nearly as captivating as I did the first time around.

I selected a book called Spellbreaker by Charlie Holmberg. I have no idea where I picked this book up but I loved it! It’s historical fiction with a magical twist but trust me, nothing like Harry Potter and his wizarding world. The sequel is not coming out until March of next year and I already pre-ordered it. That’s how much I loved the story and its characters.

And when I finished all those my Kindle still said I had 7 pages of books to go. I turned to page 7 however and low and behold I gasped! Only 2 entries remain before I’m down to only 6 pages. I am making progress but let’s hope I can keep up this same pace while out of the hospital. That’s my plan for sure!

The Wrath of 2020

As we enter December, the final month of what has been a year to remember, I can’t help but think we are all expecting January 1, 2021 to turn the page making all things wonderful and rosy again. I’m an optimist, a glass half full kind of person but a gnawing in my gut says, ” Not so fast”.

Up until about 2 weeks ago, I believed that the year 2020 would leave me unscathed. I was careful, wore a mask, limited my time in stores and cancelled trips long and short that I thought might bring me some relief from the monotony. I was however, feeling I was safe from the wrath the year dished out with fury since the year was soon coming to a close.

How wrong I was. I ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection and had to stay there for several days while my cultures grew. Sitting there reading books and watching bad television; there’s no Netfilx in the hospital, I had a lot to reflect on.

For those of you who think a mask isn’t necessary, please think again. While in the hospital a mask is required 24 / 7. Yes, even while I was sleeping, or trying to on that uncomfortable bed. No exceptions. If it slipped down, every nurse and doctor asked me to pull it up before they entered the room. Think about that for a moment when you want to resist the mask for any reason. We all hate it. You are not special.

If you think getting a COVID test every couple of days is going to save you, think again. Since I came into the hospital with a fever, the test was required. That swab up the nose is the most painful thing. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank goodness it was negative but I have no burning desire to do that again anytime soon.

If you think COVID is the only disease you can catch in 2020, you’re wrong. But the presence of COVID in our world will affect how all other things are treated. Take care of your body and your mind. Don’t be afraid to call the doctor or the dentist or a good friend for support. The simplest thing you can do for yourself and those around you is wear a mask and wash your hands. Those two simple acts will help protect you from a multitude of things we hope and pray will miraculously disappear in 2021.

Things I Love About 2020

Today I treated myself to a lovely massage and while I try to turn off my monkey mind while being rolled into a rag doll, it’s not always possible. I thought I should do my part to dispel all the negativity in the world and talk about good things.

Pepper, my sweet little pandemic dog, came into our lives in February. While he’s clueless about what a pandemic is, he forced us to get outside every single day. There’s no moping around the house with a puppy. He’s happy and healthy and I love sloppy Pepper kisses.

My book club dove right in and figured out how to meet online. We’re not expert at online meeting and probably never will be but it’s so much fun just to see their smiling faces and hear their laughter once a month. It keeps us all reading and our minds off other things.

As corny as this my sound, I’m grateful for my Facebook friends. The other day I had a good laugh with my college sorority sisters over singing the Greek alphabet. I played the plunger in our hokey washboard band. So if I had told them I used the toilet plunger as an instrumental accompaniment, we would have laughed together even harder.

My work friends now live all over and most, like me, don’t work where we originally met. As co-workers became friends we found so many other things about our lives that we had in common. I love keeping in touch with their accomplishments.

I especially love my high school friends. I don’t know what else to call them since most of them I’ve known since first grade. This group loves the throw back stuff like the Beatles, long hair rolled on orange juice cans and Mickey Mantle. They share their kids and grandkids and various orthopedic surgeries.

I didn’t lose my human connections in 2020, I simply connected with lots of different people in a virtual way. The love and friendship we found in each other many years ago was reignited digitally in these uncertain times. When the mask can finally come off for good, I’ll be waiting with open arms to give everyone a hug and have a few more good hearty laughs with all of them.