Turks and Caicos - View of the ocean

Wednesday, 27 April 2011
We are enjoying our time. I attempted to take a steady video of the view from our villa. Bit of a failure on the "steady" part but at least it recorded. Bonus!

Turks and Caicos - Da Conch Shack

Tuesday, 26 April 2011
We had a fabulous lunch on Sunday at Da Conch Shack. Mom and I researched a few of the local eateries and found this little gem on the north side of the island on Blue Hills Road.

The conch fritters are recommended and the seafood is very fresh...so fresh in fact, a guy paddle-boards, collects conchs, brings them to the shore and they're prepared almost in front of you. I snapped a shot of him bringing in his catch.

The weather was slightly overcast on Sunday but we chose a great little blue picnic table on the white sand. We were close to where two artisans were selling conch shells and even Queen conchs. Kingsley checked it out and later bought a shell for mom.

Kingsley and I even took a picture together. We're happy!

On the island, a local brewery makes the Turks Head beer. There's a lager and an amber. The guys favor the lager.

Mom loves her shell. :)

Turks and Caicos - arranging

Mom and I like to "play" by selecting and buying fresh flowers and making our own arrangements for the villa.

We picked out magenta calla lillies, white spider mums, tiny yellow poms and added our own greenery and drift wood. Mom placed a sort of drying bark from a palm tree inside the vase for a more textural look. We even added the conch shells to help support the arrangement. 

The boys played golf, we arranged flowers and laid by the pool. :)

Turks and Caicos - arrival

Sunday, 24 April 2011

This is our lovely view from the palapa at the base of the villa. We have a short walk down to the ocean and snorkeled under gorgeous sunshine and in clear water this morning. 

Kingsley made it safely onto the island last night and we are all having a wonderful time. 

We celebrated Easter morning with a nice breakfast with eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, toast, mimosas and fresh fruit. Best wishes to your family on the holiday weekend. 

Turks and Caicos

Friday, 22 April 2011
Image from Wallstreetsecrets.com

I am so lucky to be invited to my father's 60th birthday party. Here's why - my mother has planned the party on the Caribbean island of Turks and Caicos! Kingsley is flying over from London. Mom and dad will be there. I'm flying from Knoxville and my little (he's not little at all, just younger) brother Dannen is also coming along.

We are thrilled to, first of all, be together for the week, and secsond of all, celebrate the successes of my father's life over a span of 60 years. I do hope I'll live to be 60 and have family surrounding me on my special day. He is not only a successful President and COO of his company, he is an excellent golfer and can pose as a professional grade plumber, wood worker, masonry man and electrician. He also plays the guitar very well and is not bad at the piano - after stepping away from it for 20 years. He can also sing. (Now you see where I get part of my drive and determination.)

My mother is quite successful at her endeavors in business as well (she is owner and CFO of Beltone Hearing Care Centers in Columbus) and is generous enough to financially assist with the birthday celebration. [Read: I can only afford a camping trip to the Smokies. Haha!] We will all meet in paradise tomorrow. Wish you could be there with us but count on me to post pictures and updates.

This will be the first time I've seen my husband, Kingsley since January. I am so happy I could cry.

Happy Easter to you and your family. May God's blessings bring you peace and joy. 

Tiling DIY After Pictures

Wednesday, 20 April 2011
I finally caulked and scrubbed the back splash and it appears to be finished. You can read about the process and see my DIY grouting video here. My mom and dad know how to do these things from their days of upgrading their own homes and they helped me during their last visit. I think the job turned out pretty nicely.

Saturday Night Bar Scene

Sunday, 17 April 2011
Top 10 reasons why I'm too old to go to a college town bar on a Saturday night:

1. Walking to the bar from my car after work, two different men yell to me, "Girl in hoodie, HAWT!" and I feel like making a rude gesture (but don't).

2. Bouncer at the door of Carleos sees my age on my ID and says "Thanks, ma'am" when he hands it back.

3. Music is so loud I worry that I should have protective ear plugs in.

4. Guy acts like he recognizes me and wants to hug me when I quickly duck under his embrace and he
shouts, "WHOA!" like I've done something wrong. Think about turning around and leaving (but don't).

5. Bartenders seem horribly rude. Who can blame them? There are 500 college kids swarming around begging for more alcohol when they should be ordering waters.

6. When dancing with girlfriends to let off some steam, random, overweight youngsters insist on repeatedly bumping into you. Mr. Fredy Astaire clearly accepts this behavoir in his mind as a form of dancing. I want to give him a hip bump that will send him sprawling into the kids next to him (but don't).

7. I wear heels to feel "girly" but find out that all of the inebriated guys and girls in the bar are intent on knocking me down because they can't walk straight. I'd be better suited in steel-toe, military boots.

8. The ladies room is not only out of toilet paper by 12am but someone is either passed out in the corner of one of the stalls or you have to endure the stench of vomit while you use the bathroom.

9. Want to order a drink? Be prepared to stand in line and suit up in imaginary football pads to elbow your way past the people throwing all manners to the wind to fight tooth and nail to get to the bartender before you do, even if you are next in line.

10. While leaving the bar, young women begin hobbling out in the street (on 5" heels) without even noticing cars driving by. It is a tragedy waiting to happen, especially if you are sober and consider taking one of the bar patrons out on the principal that she didn't look left or right before crossing in front of your car (but don't).

Disclaimer: I really enjoyed South Beach nightclub LIV last month but Snoop was the DJ. There's give and take in these situations...

Shed DIY Part 4, Finale

Saturday, 16 April 2011
This past week on my days off, I was able to build a shed door and hang it. I also sealed the wood with Thompson's Waterseal. We had strong winds and rain last night and the thing is somehow still standing. Woohoo! Thanks for watching the progress. I'm ready for a new project.

Government Efficiency - Taxes

Friday, 15 April 2011

Since this has happened to me two years in a row, I felt compelled to blog about it. The IRS seems to be incredibly talented at losing documents. I sent in my Oregon return in February last year, well before the tax deadline. I calculated that I had a refund of somewhere close to $100 so I didn't send in any payments.

An agent sent it back, saying my accounting was being checked and I didn't need to send in a payment or expect a refund. They gave me a telephone number which I called to follow up. The agent told me I would receive a letter in the mail about my account. I did receive a letter saying that I owed $3,800 plus late penalties and interest payments since I didn't send in my return on time (which I did and could prove). I wrote a letter stating all of this and explaining they didn't include my state payments (on my W2) which are removed from my paycheck every month.

They sent me a letter back saying I never sent in my W2 (which I did and could prove but it didn't matter). Guess what? During this entire time... the INTEREST was adding up even though the account mistakes were because of the IRS, not me. I sent in my W2 again via fax and mail. 30 days later, I started getting bills for the $3,800 plus interest. They claimed, again, I had never sent in a W2 form so could not give credit for the tax I'd paid throughout the year. (Doesn't the IRS have internal record of that anyway?)

Long story short, I had to pay $100 to the IRS. No problem, my bad - although I could never figure out how they got that. When I paid it, they refunded the late fee and interest after I sent letter(s) begging. Guess what -- this year they sent a taxable income form saying the $37 was a TAX REFUND. I let it all fade away as a bad dream until the same thing happened this year.

The IRS sent my return back asking for the documents that proved I was a 1st time homebuyer and qualified for the tax credit. I had sent it in the first time, following all directions to the letter. They apparently had misplaced it. Okay, rather than losing it, I sent it all in again. Guess what I got in the mail today? A long letter saying that I need to send in form 5405 for the Homebuyer tax credit and now 1040X to amend my tax return since I was adding "new information." What??? I SENT IN 5405 THE FIRST TIME. This is not new information. Wowser. Plus, after the IRS sent the letter asking for more information, they deposited the tax credit into my checking account. What does that mean!?

I have this vision of the IRS office in Austin, Texas as a sort of McDonald's indoor playground. All of our papers come in and are thrown in a pile in the middle of the gymnasium-like floor. Employees take off their shoes and swim through the piles smiling and talking about their plans from the weekend. In a moment of abandonment, perhaps someone grabs a few papers and throws them in the air, laughing. There's a good, warm vibe. Then, after everyone has 2 or 3 cups of coffee, someone rings a bell and agents work through the piles at random to match docs up to last names. It is a game of skill and when an agent scores by locating two papers with the same social security number they get passed on to the mail department. That's where I imagine someone painstakingly folding new forms, stapling them nicely in the top right corner and lovingly printing out mailing labels to send them back to the taxpayer who may just have a nervous breakdown when she's asked for the same documents for the third time.

I've been on hold waiting to talk to a representative for 28 minutes and I will not give up. :( Hopefully your tax season is going better than mine.

UPDATE - After waiting on hold for 32 minutes, an agent looked at my account and said, "What about it? This has already been processed. You have the credit in your account." I said, "Yes, but I got a long letter today asking for five more documents from the IRS." "Oh, just ignore that. Bad timing systematically, I guess." "Okay, I'm just taking notes, what is your name and ID number? (He gives it.) And your advice is to ignore the 916c letter from the IRS?" (Silence.) "Well, ma'am, if you'd like to respond to it by mail, stating that you've already sent in the required documents and have received the credit, that might be best." "I see."

127 Hours Review (spoiler alert)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

I am fairly critical of movies because they can be a big waste of time and money when they aren't very good. Too many directors, writers and producers are trying to make a buck by propping up an A-lister on a weak plot and boring dialoge.

Of the movies I've seen lately, 127 Hours tops them all. It has impressively precise pacing, creative editing and a directing style that makes the viewer feel like she's with the main character.

The movie centers on Aron Ralston, a hiker that goes for a day trip to a canyon in Utah. He doesn't tell anyone where he is going and seems to be distant with his family (never answers their calls). While hiking and doing some dare-devil moves over the canyon, he slips. When he comes to rest after falling several feet, a boulder that was knocked lose crashes down on top of him, crushing his arm and trapping him.

The main actor who plays Ralston (James Franco) convincingly captured the desperation, decline of mental facilities and dehydration that ulitmately comes during the 127 hours he's trapped. After 5 days, and realizing he will die in the canyon, Ralston gets the courage to break his own arm on the boulder. He then uses his dull pocket knife to cut off his arm below the elbow. *Yes, really.*

Not only does he survive the amputation, the hiker has to climb about 10 miles until he runs into a family that gives him water and rushes ahead to alert emergency crews. The ending (when the viewer and character together finally realize he survived) is such a successful cinematic climax that I cried (the last movie I cried in was probably The Last of the Mochicans, 1992).

I came away entertained, in awe of the human will to survive and highly inspired to succeed with goals and dreams. The movie is based on the true story, Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. I'm also on the lookout for the book. I also want the soundtrack from the movie. Great music!

P.S. The movie is now available on Netflix

Cornish hen angel hair pasta with parsley and spring onions

Sunday, 10 April 2011
My grandmother taught me how to roast Cornish hens years ago. You wash and pat the bird dry. Add salt and pepper, inside and out. Add fresh Rosemary springs to the cavity of the bird and sprinkle on top. Truss the bird (tie the legs together or cut skin and thread through).

I roasted it at 350F for an hour and 20 minutes (times vary with different ovens). Cut into the breast and if the juices run clear, take the bird out to settle. Once it cools, tear apart meat into bite-size pieces.

Prepare angel hair pasta. Don't forget to salt the water.

I picked parsley from my herb garden, washed and cut it with kitchen shears over the poultry. I also sliced four spring onions and added it to the meat with olive oil and salt and pepper to marinate. Drain the pasta, add a small amount of butter while it is still hot, then toss all of together in the hot pasta pot.

Delicious for spring.

Social Media Saturday - Twitter Happy Tennesee

Saturday, 9 April 2011
A study by a PhD student at Cambridge University shows Tennessee has the happiest tweeters. What does that mean exactly?

The student monitored tweets from different states and found that those from people living in Tennessee were the most positive. Germany is the happiest country when it comes to Twitter.

Go Tennessee!

Shed DIY Part 3

I was able to put the roof on my shed today and line it with black plastic for a moisture barrier.

Shed DIY - part 2

Friday, 8 April 2011
I don't have a roof on it or a door yet but the shed continues to materialize. Here's part 2:

Shed DIY

Wednesday, 6 April 2011
I have a "mud room." That's a tiny room that leads to the back deck from the kitchen. It's great because if you are outside doing yard work, you can stop in the mud room and take off your boots and work gloves and have a place to put them. Unless you have all of your tools and junk in the mud room because you don't have any other storage outside. That's my situation. So I really, really want a shed.

Have you ever priced a new shed? Medium wood sheds are almost $4,000. (!!) Who in the world can afford that? Not me.

Begin: Project Shed. I just figured I'd build a very simple one myself. My pole shed will be 4x6 and the walls will be constructed out of six foot pine pickets, wood from the cull bin at Home Depot and reclaimed posts.

I have already dug the holes, poured the fast-set concrete and set the posts. After not finding many how-to videos on YouTube concerning pole sheds and certainly not many with women as the builder, I made my own video. Here's part 1 of How to Build a Pole Shed (disclaimer - I'm just learning here):

Compost Bin DIY

Sunday, 3 April 2011
I've wanted an extra large compost bin but didn't want to spend $149 on something that is meant to hold rotting plant material. So, I collected some of the lumber that the last homeowner dumped in the back lot and laid out a basic frame.

I plugged in my screwdriver on the 100 ft extension cord (which has a fancy wind-up recoil) and got started. Problem was, the screws weren't really going into the boards and it was raining. I gave up, went in and called Daddio.

He suggested I get different screws (drywall 3") and pre-drill the holes. I was using 3" wood to wood screws but they weren't driving.

After getting what I needed, I got back to work. It was still raining but the job started going much better with the right tools.

Ta da! It is very ugly but I'm proud of the first thing I've ever build. Now, does anyone know if it needs a cover in order for the materials to decompose properly? Thanks for any advice.

P.S. I truly reached eco-Wonder Woman status today when, while digging post holes for another project, I picked up worms along the way and threw them into the compost bin.

Social Media Saturday - Tweeting Cobra

Saturday, 2 April 2011
From @BronxZooCobra 's Twitter page

A cobra got out of his encloure at the Bronx Zoo and began tweeting in March. Okay, I know, the snake wasn't really tweeting but a very clever public relations person had the idea to start a Twitter account for the snake to update his "followers" on his whereabouts around town. This was a great move for several reasons. (The snake's tweets are italicized.)

1. The cobra's tweets were humorous and that helped to aleviate fear among the public. "Got a bagel at H & H Bagels on upper west side. When I ordered I said, 'I'll have the snakes on a PLAIN.' He did not laugh. Tough crowd."

2. The zoo earned some savy public relations points. The snake gained more than 200 thousand (!!) followers since March 2011. "I want to thank those animals from the movie "Madagascar." They were a real inspiration."

3. People are learning about reptiles. The snake that got out was an Egyptian cobra. "Want to clear up a misconception. I'm not poisonous as has been reported. I'm venomous. Super venomous, but not poisonous so don't worry."

The snake was found a couple of days ago. It was still in the reptile house. I'll admit, I was a little bummed that he didn't get to go out on the town and take in a Broadway play.