Category Archives: Musings

The IRS Needs Help–Now!

I know that “Governmental Accountability” is an oxymoron. The bureaucracy is so massive, and the incentive for excellence so small, the public is simply in the position of being at their mercy.

But today’s government “screwup” would seem to beg for upper-level management to consult someone in the trenches who actually knows what the H*** is going on!!!

I’ve been hearing on the news about the money going out to taxpayers to help out during this current COVID-19 pandemic. We won’t get into how it’s being handled or to the lack of safeguards attached. This is, strangely, more elemental than that.

When a US citizen dies, especially if that citizen is receiving Social Security and Medicare, they absolutely MUST–on pain of–what? (I’m not sure about what, but there must be a great deal of pain involved!) notify the Social Security office IMMEDIATELY! I think you’re okay calling the undertaker first, but certainly after that, your next call must be to Social Security. I’ve known that forever, and during the years I took care of my mother’s financial and banking chores, I already knew to whom my first call would go.

So when my mom died in 2018, even though it was Sunday, I called Social Security. They immediately stopped further SS payments to Mom’s bank account (good for them–that’s efficient.) They also canceled her Medicare portion of insurance (again, an excellent thing.) Her other health insurance was through my father’s FBI service retirement insurance, and that was canceled immediately as well. Everyone at the government level understood my mother was no longer a living entity involved as a recipient of federal monies.

Flash forward to the Coronavirus (some call it “The Novel Coronavirus,” and as a writer I resent that!) Anyway, right after the payments were announced, I first heard some “oh-by-the-way” announcements that if you, as a person related to a deceased person, happened to receive a check from IRS made out to that person, by all means, please mark the envelope “Deceased” and return it to IRS. Okay, sometimes “things” (my polite way of saying this) happen.

I receive a daily e-mail (including photos of most of my mail for that day) showing me what mail I should expect to see after my postman delivers that day. It helps in amazing ways. If I’m expecting a certain piece of mail, I have a heads up first thing in the morning. I know I can depend on that being in the mail that day. It’s comforting if nothing else. So today when I opened my e-mail from the US Postal service, I saw my first piece of mail was this:

You will note that on the outside of the envelope, in the upper right-hand corner of the cellophane window is a good-sized “check” box. If my mom is deceased, I’m supposed to check that and return it back through the mail system.

The other thing I want you to note is that on the first line of the address, (showing my Mom’s name) is this: Ruby E Smith DECD. Now, I would take that to mean she’s been marked in the records as “deceased” wouldn’t you? Otherwise, why do that, right?

So by the next step of logic, wouldn’t the Treasury department or the IRS or SOMEBODY in that massive mess, get the idea to program the machine that spits out checks to NOT SPIT ONE OUT when it has their “DECD” code on it??? I mean, how difficult could that be? It’s a programming thing, folks!! Lots and lots of computer programmers would know how to do that. But apparently either the US Government doesn’t have one (odd, to say the least), or nobody in a supervisory position thought of that solution.

Wouldn’t it save gobs of money (and US Post Office time and trouble) by NOT sending those designated checks out in the first place?? Obviously, somebody knows ahead of time this is going to happen. Why not plan and intercept the entire stupid system? I’m at a loss–how about you??

You’ve heard the old saying, “We can send a man to the moon, but we can’t. . . .” (fill in the blank here with your favorite stupid thing the government bureaucracy doesn’t do.)

Maybe the federal government doesn’t pay any fees for postage. In the old days, I know they didn’t. But my understanding for a long time has been they turned that over to someone else, and they were no longer responsible for the postal service. If that’s the case, they should be paying for all the postage they use (especially the needless postage) each day. And if they are paying for it, they shouldn’t be wasting their money–NO–let me correct that. They shouldn’t be wasting OUR money, because it is OUR money they waste all the time.

Well, I think I just heard the postman (in our case it’s a postwoman) and I need to go out there, retrieve my deceased mother’s check, put a checkmark in the proper box, and stick it back in the mailbox.

What a waste!!! Thanks for listening. I feel MUCH better for getting that off my chest!

Book Cover for Petroglyphs

That Awkward Interval

When I’m working on a project–in this case, let’s say writing a book (which is the project I just finished)–my world becomes that project. The characters in my books talk to me, hoping I’ll give them more screen time. When I’m soaping up in the shower, ideas pop into my head. If I’ve stalled out on a chapter, and they aren’t telling me what they’re doing next, I try to interview them. “So, what’s up? Did you guys find the clue you were looking for?”

Then you finish the book and start the editing. It’s not all that much fun, but you know it has to be done. You bring in both experts and friends to let you know what’s missing, or maybe just what doesn’t make sense. It’s a long slog, but then that part of the process is over too.

Comes the day you send it off to the publisher. It’s like sending your first child off to school in first grade. Will she get along with the teacher? Will the other kids like her? Will she like the other kids? Will you ever feel comfortable letting her go out there without you?

Come to think of it, maybe it’s more like watching your child walk into the world to get married. Have you prepared her properly? Will she be able to handle all life’s lessons and problems as they show up?

But I digress. Going to the publisher isn’t at all like entering first grade or getting married. It’s more like turning your life over to some unknown force. Your baby, your book, now must stand on its own. But first, it needs to complete the birthing event. People can’t read it and love it until they get a copy in their hands. How long will all that take? What mystical thing happens to turn that story you’ve been living with for three years into a book people can hold in their hands and read?

I firmly believe there’s magic involved. We can’t see it happening, we just know that in this process, the printer is in charge. Things happen or don’t because the printer magic is working or not working.

Perhaps it’s occurred to you by now, I’m not what you might call a “patient” person. I get teased about it all the time. I try–I’ve even undergone brain training for it. The adult part of me steps in, reminding the child part of me to relax and let things happen. But usually, the child is having none of that. The heart wants what it wants, and it wants it now!

Right now, I’ve been informed the printer magic is NOT currently working. If I could, I’d hop on a plane, rush to the printing plant, and take over. It’s not that I have any clue how to run such an operation, because I can assure you I don’t. That’s not really the point.

The point is my life feels like it’s on hold until all the pieces come together, and I have that book in my hands. Murder at the Petroglyphs needs to be born. If any of you out there understand what I’m talking about, please send me an email to commiserate. I’m currently driving my poor husband batty!

Odds & Ends

Cleaning up cluttered surfaces is hard work. It’s not so much physical as mental.

Clutter

I see articles, emails, or programs from something I attended. Do I really need to keep them? Why don’t I just toss them when I come in the door from the event. Good questions.

I pick up something out of a stack of “stuff” and look at it. What am I supposed to do with it? It occurs to me if I’d known what to do with it at the time I put it on top of the pile, I could have put it there instead of the pile. But seriously. I don’t always have any ideas about where to stash an ever-growing number of “things” which have found their way into my life.

I’m making another stab at clearing my desk and work area. This is an ongoing thing on my to-do list. Why? Because when I do finally get it all cleaned up and things put away or trashed, life brings me more “stuff” to entice me. So here’s a gem I found today:

Things Writers Google

  • Last name ideas
  • What’s the real word for that thingie thing
  • How much blood can a person lose without dying
  • mURDER MURDER MURDER
  • Where do commas go?
  • Types of croissants
  • Am I sleep deprived or is it ok to see the void physically manifesting?

I obviously thought I might need this as some point. Maybe I just saw my own brain at work in that list. It made me wonder if other people spend their time thinking about such things? Does is brand them mentally suspect?

Oh, I hope not! Because now that I’ve included this wry wisdom into a post, I can trash one more piece of paper!

Time Passes–So Do People

Back in May 2019 I experienced an unusual day. It was notable for the number of people I knew who died.

I know, I know. Across the world, many people die every day. But I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more often it happens to those I know. Sometimes, we’re not even talking about people I’ve met in real life. But celebrities and such you’ve seen in movies or on television. They become like pseudo family or friends for us. They are so familiar, and we’re so used to sharing this world with them, it’s a shock when we discovered they’ve left–and we’re still here.

One of those people was In my local circle of “writing people” I’m used to seeing each month. We weren’t close, but she was part of my world. Her passing jolted me, as most of them do now. There’s a relatively new song I really like called “Don’t Let The Old Man In” by Toby Keith. There are several favorite lines in it.

One of them is: “I knew all of my life, that some day it would end.”

But do we really?

Intellectually we do. But viscerally, it takes more than that. Maybe it’s when you realize that all your relatives who were older than you are now gone. You’re standing on the top of the hill. That’s a pretty scary thought.

Then on the same day my writing acquaintance passed, I heard that Doris Day (way up there in her 90s) had also died. The next day, comedian and talented actor Tim Conway left us. It began to feel like an epidemic.

Part of this, I know, is because I lost my mother a little more than a year ago. At age 98, she had slipped into dementia and didn’t remember much anymore. But she knew me when I went to see her. She still knew (most of the time) that I was her daughter. Occasionally she thought I was her sister, but mostly she knew our relationship. With her now gone, there’s no anchor left connecting me to my childhood.

I have some younger cousins. I was the oldest on both sides of the family for the first seven years of my life. But I live more than 600 miles away from all of them. I appreciate our email connection, and occasional phone calls. My much younger brother lives 2,000 miles away. I wish we all lived in the same town (or at least in the same state!)

I treasure my immediate family, which I get to see all the time because they live in the same town with me–my amazing husband, my wonderful daughter and her husband, and my fantastic friends. I learned long ago to count friends in with your family. They are a much needed support system when you’re feeling down and need to talk. I hope I can do the same for them.

I suppose the point of this post is to urge you not to waste time. Learn to use it to its full advantage. Keep in touch with family and friends. You never know when you will lose one of them.

Or when they might lose you.

The Bullis Babes

The Bullis Babes – June 28, 2019
Margaret Tessler, Paula High-Young, Patricia Smith Wood, Ruthie Francis


Several years ago, way before I was a published writer, I did the smart thing. I started attending writers’ conferences as often as I could.

I was lucky. I connected with a very talented woman who had already been published several times over. Margaret Tessler invited me to join her writers’ critique group and suggested I attend a writers conference the next year. I readily agreed, and I’m forever grateful to her for taking me under her wing as she did.

In 2005 I signed up and attended the Tony Hillerman Mystery Writers Conference being held in Albuquerque that fall. Margaret and I carpooled together. It was my first big writers’ conference, and it was amazing. Meeting and talking with so many published writers was the best. Thankfully, Margaret already knew all these people, and she introduced me to them. That’s how I met Don Bullis.

Don Bullis is a tall, lanky cowboy, who has been a writer for many years. He mostly writes non-fiction and he’s the best source I know of when it comes to New Mexico history. He’s won more awards than I can count, and he keeps chugging along, writing what he knows–the West.

Several years ago Margaret and her husband happened into a small restaurant just north of our town. Don Bullis was there with friends, and Margaret and her husband went over to his table to greet him. Don told his friends Margaret was his “Groupie.” It got a big laugh and a seed was planted.

After I had met Don and his wife Gloria several times, I told him I was one of his groupies. He was thrilled because he said he now had two groupies. More time went by and I became friends with another woman, Ruth, and she’d known Don much longer than I had. I told her I was one of his groupies, and she said she was too.

An idea was born. We must organize and get T-Shirts!

What you see in the photo above is the result of that effort. Five T-Shirts (including one for Gloria) were made and distributed. Our little group decided to wear them together at the June 2019 meeting of the NM Book Co-Op. When Don walked into the room, he grinned when he saw our shirts.

Someone in the crowd dubbed us The Bullis Babes, and there it all is!

From Whence Did Thou Come?

(Author’s Note: I’m appalled that I left this post in the ‘draft’ file! While it was composed almost two years ago, the content is still very relevant!)

Yes, that sounds stilted, and yet how else would you say it and not dangle your preposition. Of course these days, it’s no longer a problem (according to the Chicago Manual of Style) to dangle your preposition. But choosing to use this arcane rule does cause people to wonder where I’m going with the post, and that’s always a good thing when searching for a blog post title. But I digress (which often happens with me.)

The study of DNA and genealogy is where I’m going.

A few months ago, I decided to get as many members of my family as possible to submit to a DNA test. They are available through Ancestry.com (among many others) and I thought it would be interesting to see where it took me.I submitted tests for myself, my husband, my daughter, my brother, my mother, and my father’s only remaining full brother. My father died in 2002, and I’m not aware any of these easy-to-use tests were available back then. The results of these test have provided an endless stream of education, enlightenment, and excitement.

For example, I’ve discovered something many of you probably already knew—namely that DNA gets distributed randomly and not at all equally amongst siblings. I’ve always believed I was 25% Greek because my paternal grandfather came from Greece whMy Greek Grandfatheren he was 17 years old. He married a non-Greek girl and had five sons with her. So my assumption was those boys were 50% Greek and passed along to their children a 25% share.

Wrong! It turns out my Greek genes add up to 12%, while my brother, with the same parents as me, is only 2% Greek. Even stranger is that my father’s younger brother certainly doesn’t show 50% but only a trace amount of Greek. Most of his ethnicity seems to come from his mother’s family.

I have discovered many distant cousins I never knew I had. It doesn’t surprise me that I didn’t know about them, because when you think about it, how many of us really know that much about all our distant ancestors. The really intriguing results have come from my two great-grandmothers. I’m now in contact with 3rd and 4th cousins from both sides of my tree and we’ve shared emails back and forth, exchanged photos of our families, and some of our distant relatives. It’s amazing to see the shared interests we have, some of us have the same pursuits, and all of us are interested in where we came from.

Along the way, I was able to share with one cousin the story of how my paternal great-grandmother traveled on a wagon train from Missouri to Texas in 1879. She was a child of eight or nine (depending on the birth year you believe she had.) During that grueling journey, her father died and one of her brothers also died. The father was buried in Smackover County—which I think is a terrific name for a county—Arkansas and was buried beside a creek. I’m not sure how exactly where the little boy was buried. My new-found cousin from this side of the family is related to me because his great-grandfather was a brother to my great-grandmother.

I think those of us whose roots are in the west or the deep south are more apt to have our distant relatives scattered about the country. It was the wanderers, after all, who worked to settle the western United States, and they often wound up far from their original homes.

I’ve recently met (through email) another cousin from my mother’s side of the family. He is more directly related to my mother but is much closer to my age. He has invited me to a family reunion of his branch of the family that descended from my great-great-grandfather, who is my cousin’s great-grandfather. It’s all pretty difficult to keep straight at this point. I have hope that by getting to know these people better, perhaps meeting some of them, I can better understand my closer relatives and the quirks passed down to all of us from long ago people.

 

A Review of Murder on Frequency

Murder on Frequency

 

I received this wonderful review from writer Amber Foxx a few weeks ago. At last, I have time to share it with you.

Amber Foxx is a mystery writer herself, and someone whose opinion I respect. It’s always such a joy to have her read my work and review it. She has a lovely website of her own and here is the link to get there and read the review: Murder on Frequency.

If you can, please leave a comment on her site.

 

Why I’m Not Ordering Today

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been receiving offers from Publishers Clearing House for at least forty-five years. I used to order magazines through them and enter the sweepstakes. Later on they started offering other “items” for purchase when the bottom seemed to fall out of the magazine ordering business. I’ve ordered a few things from that over the years.

But lately it’s gotten completely ridiculous, and today when I opened the 50th sweepstakes envelope I’ve received this year,  I snapped. If you don’t buy something, they often don’t want you to use the order form to enter the contest. Instead, your are required to jump through other hoops. Lately, they’ve also included a flimsy slip of paper on which you are asked to explain your decision NOT to purchase something when you enter. WhyI'mNotOrdering

Since I’m older now, I often find reasons to send out letters, telling a company how I feel about the way they operate. Today is one of those days, and I’m including the “attachment” I’m sending in with my sweepstakes entry. I hope some of you agree with me.

Why I’m Not Ordering

By Patricia Smith Wood

You want to know why I’m not ordering today, but the slip you sent me to outline that information for you is too small. So here’s the story.

I’m a member of the older generation of Americans, much as that pains me to admit to you. Because of that I have decades of experience and wisdom about purchasing and spending money. Yes, I have purchased items from you in the past. Sometimes a gee gaw reaches the childlike portions of my brain and says, “Oh, look at the interesting toy! Buy me!”

I’ve gone years at a time without even opening your sweepstakes mail because I know: 1) I don’t need anything you are offering; 2) I’m strapped financially and am watching my expenditures; 3) I resent the concept that I can enter the sweepstakes “free” but often I’m told I can only do it online or by sending in an empty envelope with my forty-seven cent stamp.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to buy stuff, but I’ve become more selective in that process over the years. Plus, as most Americans my age, I’m trying to downsize and get rid of the “junk” purchases I’ve collected during my lifetime. I’m in the process right now of cleaning out my elderly mother’s home after forty-one years of occupancy. I don’t want that same sort of burden to fall to my daughter.

You want to know why I’m not ordering today? Please don’t send me two sweepstake offers a week—it cheapens the entire process. What a waste of postage on your part, and a definite landfill glut for the public. If I send in an entry once, that should be enough. Either you draw my number or you don’t. Please avoid implying that multiple entries matter in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

Be clearer on how many of these “sweepstakes” you are running at once. Eventually it becomes suspect, and we think there is NO sweepstake at all! I’ve never seen the “announcement” on television you are always touting. All I see are commercials about Publishers Clearing House and people who may or may not be real people notified that they have won.

Now you know why I’m not ordering today, and perhaps never again. I hope someone in charge reads this. I suspect, instead, this will go into the same trash I’ve been tossing the majority of the entry letters all these years.

An Extraordinary Farewell

They say that amateur radio is an old man’s hobby. While not strictly true, we do have a large number of senior citizens engaged in the activity. We strive to bring in young people, and we’ve done pretty well with that. Perhaps it isn’t as fast as we’d like to see it happening, but great strides are being made all the time.

Still, when attending an event like I did Saturday morning, December 19, the sad evidence of the average age of the typical ham is brought home rather dramatically.

We officially said, “Goodbye” to one of our favorite ham radio operators. Don Witschger, KC5VLV, passed away peacefully on November 24, 2015, at age 90, after a valiant battle with multiple cancers. Don had been a bright spot on the ham radio scene since before I became licensed in 2005. We looked forward to seeing his smiling face at ham radio events, and hearing is cheery voice when he checked in on the various ham frequencies.

As usual, when we become part of the ham community, we often don’t know a fellow ham’s last name, or much about where he came from or who he was before becoming a ham. For some strange reason that I’ve never understood, most of our relationships with other hams are built strictly around the hobby. For example, I didn’t know until quite recently that Don Witschger had been part of the amazing D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, and that he was a Navy Seabee. I also didn’t know he was very involved with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Lobo Wing at the Moriarty Airport, and that he enjoyed helping them restore vintage WWII aircraft.

We heard about Don’s passing on the amateur radio bands, as is frequently the case among hams. We learned that his best friend, also a ham, went to check on him that morning (Don had been a widower for a few years) and found he’d passed away in his easy chair. Not a bad way to go, I suppose, if any comfort can be found in that. Still, the first thought I had was remembering his recognizable voice as he’d checked in with me on the early morning SCAT Net just a couple of weeks before. I wouldn’t know until attending his memorial service on Saturday how much of an amazing man he had been.

IMG_0158

I’d heard that the tiny town of Moriarty, New Mexico, just thirty-five miles east of Albuquerque, had it’s own small airport, but I’d never had occasion to visit it. That’s where we headed for Don’s memorial service early on Saturday morning. The town of Moriarty is laid out on the flat plains east of the Sandia mountain range we know so well in Albuquerque. The Moriarty airport is on the far eastern side of the town, and it is surprisingly active. The area is home to folks who love the sport of gliding. By the time we arrived at about 9:15 a.m., we saw one intrepid soul already up in the air, being pulled behind a small aircraft.

There are a large number of hangers laid out over the large area the airport occupies, and the CAF hanger was on the far eastern edge of the complex. We had very concise directions and easily found our destination. Inside the CAF hangar, we were greeted with the sight of an old World War II plane badly in need of restoration. It’s already underway, and we were to learn as the morning unfolded that our ham buddy Don had been instrumental in getting that old vintage plane transported from what had been its final resting place somewhere in Michigan to the CAF hangar in Moriarty for loving restoration.

My husband (also named Don) and I were the first guests to arrive, and the CAF meIMG_0163mbers were welcoming and hospitable. We found dozens of white lawn chairs neatly laid out in the area of the hanger, south of the restoration project. In front of the chairs, tables were being set up to showcase an amazing array of interesting photos of Don during significant parts of his life. Also on hand were big speakers that would soon fill the room with the sounds of music from the 1940s World War II era. Behind the chairs they were arranging tables displaying an impressive array of food for the attendees.

As the other guests filtered in, we recognized many of our ham friends. Almost all of them could be said to definitely fit the category of senior citizens. Before long, the rest of the guests, along with Don Witschger’s family members, had all arrived and the service began.

Each of the family members took turns speaking about their father and grandfather, and we learned the details of this man’s rich, full life. We learned that in addition to flying and ham radio, he loved shooting, reloading, tinkering with various building projects, and many years spent RVing and traveling all around the country. We also learned that his final wish was to have his ashes spread over the airfield where we sat.

So, at the end of the wonderful tributes and sharing of happy stories, we heard the vintage plane’s engines roar to life out on the field and taxi out for his takeoff. We all filed out, stopped at the edge of the taxi strip, and watched the plane rise into the air, sharing air space with another plane towing a glider behind it. Our plane flew out a little distance to attain his appropiate altitude, then slowly circled back. As we watched, the pilot made his approach and started his final path for delivery of the precious cargo. When he was still several hundred yards to the west of us, he released the ashes, and we watched them slowly drift to earth. As the plane flew on east to make his eventual landing, a lone bugler played Taps. There weren’t many dry eyes after that.

On the drive back to Albuquerque, Don and I were pensive, as you might expect. It’s never easy saying “Goodbye” to an old friend. But we both agreed that Don Witschger’s farewell was a tender tribute, and a beautiful sendoff to a spirit so full of love and life.