Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sanibel Island Photojournal

Well ... a little later than promised, but here are some pics from the vacation last week ...

[All photos taken by Mrs. Hopper on her iPhone 6]

The view of the interior of the Inn ... just ahead is the pool, 
and a hundred yards beyond, the Gulf of Mexico.

A fifty yard boardwalk leads from the inn to the beach ... 
this is the view of the foliage immediately to one side.

And this is the view from the beach back to the Inn ...
Our room was the top right one on the building to the left.

An artsy pic from the Mrs.

And another one ... this was the sky over the Gulf taken
by the wife on one of her morning beach walks.

It's what Sanibel is famous for ...

Five minutes past sunset Friday night at the beach where 
Sanibel links with Captiva Island.

On our 16th anniversary ... and this is before we 
started drinking!

An early evening shot on the last clear day ...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sanibel Island

Ahhh, this time last week the Mrs. and I were in the thick of a sorta spontaneous jaunt a thousand miles south to Sanibel Island, Florida.

It was the first vacation we’ve had sans children in five years.

It was absolutely fantastic!

And like all vacations, too short. Way, way too short. We were only down there for four days, but really it should’ve been a solid week. At least.

It came about sometime in February. Fresh in from shoveling some fresh snow, I shucked off my gloves and hat and puffy winter jacket and said, “Man, I just want to be somewhere warm.”

The wife took it as her cue to book us a vacation.

Now, I’m the sort that has to build up to these things. I’m adventurous in a lot of ways, just not in the traditional ways. For example, traveling makes me a little anxious. So I nixed any trips out of the country and anything within that might tear our bank account asunder.

The trip was also her way of rewarding my first year as a tax pro. Thus she scheduled the flight out for Wednesday, April 19, the day after tax season, and my seasonal employment, ended.

I was in the office that Tuesday until 9:30. I was also basically unpacked. I celebrated the death of Tax Season 17 with my coworkers, then rushed home, nuked a tortellini dinner, packed with the Mrs. and went to bed by 11:30.

To wake up at 3:30, drive to Newark Airport, to catch a 7:30 am flight.

I’m kind of a nervous flyer, so I need to be distracted. And I adequately was. I brought The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz, succinctly summarized by its subtitle, Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics. In fact, I couldn’t put it down, reading it during the next few days while the wife shopped, while lounging under an umbrella on the beach, and while out on the balcony of our room overlooking the pool and the Gulf of Mexico.

We arrived at Fort Myers airport at 11, grabbed our bags, picked up the rental car, and got to the resort, the Sanibel Inn, by 1, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. At the cabana I sharked down a salmon sandwich and savored – alright, chugged – two of the most delicious beers I’ve ever drank. The wife had a salad with all sorts of seafood mixed in, and chased it with a piña colada.

Suffice it to say the entire four days we ate like royalty. If I were to rank the eight meals we consumed (lunch and dinners; we hit a grocery store for breakfast food to keep in the fridge in the room) the worst would still be one of the best dishes ever proffered me. Despite that, though, we didn’t gain any weight. The wife did a three-mile walk on the beach every day and I, uh, well, I read a lot.

My balcony ... top right, just round the corner!

The most exciting part of the vacation for me was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, something I had never done before. More specifically, something that happened five minutes after I exited the waters: a dolphin surfaced ten yards off the surf, waving a fin, dove back under and up again, delighting those still swimming and a horde of beachcombers. The Mrs. grabbed her cellphone and chased it a hundred yards down the beach, trying unsuccessfully to snap a photo. At the time I said I was disappointed I wasn’t in the water with it, but in retrospect, recalling the large amorphous black shape shooting beneath the waves, it’s probably best I wasn’t.

There was a lot of chillin’ in the 85 degree sun (it only drizzled a bit on Saturday and sporadically thunderstormed on Sunday). We listened to a lot of Eagles on the balcony, sipping cocktails. The wife convinced me to put some shades for my glasses. Another afternoon I listened from the cozy balcony chair to a live singer (performing over a soundtrack at the cabana) warble greatest hits of the 70s. I scoped out the island’s only bookstore, a bookstore crazily devoted solely to mysteries. It was divided by geographical location. Though America and England had the lengthiest stacks of paperbacks, I had no idea the huge mystery market in Scandinavia and Africa.

The big thing down there is “shelling,” i.e., hunting for shells at low tide. We went to a local hot spot, the bridge that adjoins Sanibel with Captiva Island, and found enough quality shells to fill a small bag for the little ones. We returned later to that spot to walk on the beach at sunset, and to eat later that night at an Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter themed restaurant.

So, overall, a great, if too short, respite for recharging and recovering from a very tough winter. If the wife’s family didn’t live in similar-climated Hilton Head, we’d definitely return to Sanibel year after year.

Some pictures in tomorrow’s post …

Readers note: I also put away a hundred pages of Larry Niven’s sci-fi classic The Mote in God’s Eye, to be reviewed here once completed, as well as a hundred pages in a newly-released hardcover on modern-day physics and its history thereof, entitled Quantum Fuzz.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Taxing Experience

But also an enjoyable and rewarding one.

A little over a year ago, pondering what the hell I could do to earn some money without getting laid off every two or three years, I walked into my local tax office. Way back in ’15, the lady who regularly did our tax returns noted my interest in the software she used and what qualified for a deduction or credit, why certain deductions or credits phased out, and how I could better adjust my family finances tax-wise. She said, “Why don’t you consider going on this side of the desk,” referring to her chair and implying that I might find doing other people’s taxes fulfilling.

The idea intrigued me but I let it lay dormant until necessity demanded otherwise.

I signed up for a course on the federal income tax in the Fall, attended the dozen or so classes, passed the mid-term and the final (90 percent and 98 percent), and aced the interview with the company’s district manager for a part-time evening position. December was hectic with classes on the company’s products and the selling of them thereof, as well as a pair of advanced classes. I did a lot of virtual learning online in my basement while the family enjoyed traditional Christmas-season festivities.

They started me early January in one of the higher-earning offices in our district. Thus, a lot of highly experienced tax preparers operated there, a dozen older men and women with 15, 20, even 30 years’ experience, client bases in the multiple-hundreds, and not a heck of a lot of incentive to mentor a newbie. In fact, there was none. I spent my evenings working on case studies and learning the appointment software. I became quickly discouraged and stopped showing up for two consecutive Mondays. No one noticed.

I did my first return three weeks later. A blue-collar dad brought his blue-collar son in for the youngster’s first tax return. Simple and straightforward. Yet it took me close to an hour. I was uncertain in responding to their questions. I did not know how to move from screen to screen with the software. I didn’t know how to assemble the return once everything was printed out. I didn’t know how to take payment. I sweated it out but survived. Then, nothing again for ten days.

Another office had an unexpected emergency opening, so they moved me there. I had three clients in three days. Then, the lead there started giving me more complicated returns to work on. These were drop-offs of previous years’ returns where we’d search for either higher refunds or lower liabilities via overlooked or incorrect deductions and credits. There were only five of us at this office, so I also got a lot of walk-ins.

I soon decided that instead of mere survival, my personal goal would be 26 clients and $5,000 worth of business. 26 was the number of clients one of the guys I worked with managed to attain his rookie year, five years ago. $5,000 just seemed a nice even target. To my surprise, I finished tax season with 44 clients and $8,464 business.  And as you might have guessed, the business is definitely exponential, culminating the week leading up to April 18. I did about 25 clients in the eleven weeks leading up to April, and 19 in the 16 days I worked in April. The last two nights I had three clients each night.

Turns out I really enjoyed the experience. I was kinda sad to leave the office Tuesday night. I said to one of my co-workers, “Once I actually figured out what I was doing [computer-wise and technique-wise, not tax-wise], I actually got excited to sit with a new client.”

Next season I go on commission instead of straight salary. That’ll be the test whether I stick with this. The pay plan is a bit complicated. It’s based on your skill level; we range from levels 1-6. I was a 1 for this first year, though I did some returns that probably fell in the 2 or 3 category. Skill level depends on your tax education level, i.e., the courses you’ve taken and passed in the off-season. That determines how much you’re paid per return plus the percentage of what a client is charged (which is based on the forms used, not on the refund received or client’s income level). And you get a few dollars for every product you sell and there’s a good survey bonus of some sort.

Goal next year is 75-80 clients (based on a 75 percent retention rate plus new clients from a retiring tax pro there plus walk-ins) and $20,000 brought in.

We’ll see ….

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


As I find myself approaching the half-century mark, I’m coming to several epiphanies about my life and how I’m living it.

Like this one, for instance.

I’m a movie buff, and I watch a lot of flicks. Probably three or four a week, maybe more if you count the ones I watch with the little ones for their science fiction cinematic homeschooled education. I watch a lot of quality movies and a lot of crap movies. Classic, oldies, science fiction, horror, comedy. I’m picky in certain areas, surprisingly carefree in others.

But rethinking my life, I’ve realized I see way too much:

Slimy gross alien body horror

and way too much:

Bullets to the head.

On a weekly, almost daily, basis.

God, I must see ten characters a week killed by head shots. The Walking Dead, Narcos, any of the alphabet soup of SVU and CSI teevee shows. Bullets to the head. Blood spatter patterns. Just about any Hollywood (notoriously anti-Second Amendment Hollywood) flick coming into my Optimum Online for a small fee. I’m waiting for Sheldon to place a Glock against Leonard’s temple and squeeze the trigger.

And slimy alien body horror. Beginning with Alien, why does just about every Hollywood alien flick have to feature something slimy slithering into or out of somebody’s orifice with murderous intent? Latest case in point is Life. Other case in points are the Alien franchise films (good), and just about every made-for-Syfy Syfy movie (bad).

I don’t want to see any more slimy gross alien body horror, and I don’t want to watch anyone else graphically get his brains blown out.

Moratorium now in place.

Let’s see if it lasts past the weekend …

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Invasion of the Turkeys

No, this is not a post related to today’s date.

This happened a half-hour ago, as me and Patch arrived back home after some errands.

Walking out of my across-the-street neighbor’s backyard, marching in single file, one by one, across the street and into my adjacent neighbor’s property, a platoon of ten turkeys.

This, in my suburban town, not a hundred yards from one of the nation’s busiest highways.

Nonchalant and defiant, they strolled past me, the little one, and a third neighbor, also recording the event.

Led and flanked by massive toms, the squadron held four or five medium sized birds and a trio of younglings. And those big males were … big. Three feet tall and must’ve weighed forty or fifty pounds. Or am I exaggerating? I honestly did not want to get too close. I thought they could fly away with Patch in their talons.

Oh, and do turkeys fly?

Anyway, after ten minutes they disappeared, on a mission known only to them and Turkey High Command. I pray that the invasion is thwarted before real damage is done.

And how do I know that an invasion is underway?

Because I nearly ran down two of them three or four days ago, up the road, on my way to work. Advance scouting patrol. They sauntered out in front of my car, blissfully unaware of the danger (which makes them the most feared of nature’s warriors), causing me to nearly swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid a premature Thanksgiving dinner.

The invasion has commenced!