Thursday, March 26, 2009


This post is in response to a writing prompt
at Mama’s Losin’ It: What are you putting off right now?

        Many years ago I saw a "Simplified Tax Form." It asked, "How much did you earn?" and then it requested that you send it all to the IRS.
        I, of course, don't want to send all of my money to the government, but I would be very happy if it said something like, "How much money did you earn?" Send us 20%. Done.

        A lot of people complain about paying taxes.  After living in Brazil for several years and seeing the totally messed up tax system (I believe it is much better now) and living at the side of the federal highway ---a dirt road ---that went through my town, I have learned to appreciate the things we receive for our taxes: highways, schools, medicare, water lines, snow plowing, police, fire, and military protection....
        My problem isn't paying the taxes, it is preparing them.

        For the last 10 years or so, when I chose vacation time, I always requested a week off near the beginning of April to prepare income taxes. I didn't need an entire week, but I did them leisurely and if something was missing, I had time to call the bank for information or the IRS with a question.
        We use Turbo Tax.  Our taxes are basically the same every year ---only the numbers are different ---so it really isn't that difficult. All year, I slip tax documents into one folder.  In April, I divide everything into categories: income, charitable donations, taxes paid, mortgage interest, interest and dividends earned. Although it is time-consuming, it is rather simple.  But, I still procrastinate. 

        My brother-in-law has been doing my mother's taxes for many years, but since I am not working now, I decided it was time for me to take over hers as well.  Tom explained that they are rather complicated because of the way some of her investments have to be handled. A few days ago, I went to his house for a tutorial on the preparation.  He showed me three spreadsheets he created to help calculate and keep track of the numbers. He was a math teacher for many years, but he told me that my mother's taxes were time-consuming and difficult. 
        I have created many spreadsheets to keep track of our mortgage balance or project the return on investments, so I thought it might be difficult, but I could handle it.  When I left Tom's house, I was sure I knew what to do. 
        That night, I decided to start on my mother's taxes while the instructions were still fresh in my head. I used the disk Tom gave me with last year's tax return, to transfer basic information: my mother's name, social security number, address....   It soon asked me for information I needed to crunch on the spreadsheets before entering it in Turbo Tax. 
        I opened the spreadsheet files and started to enter numbers from my mother's documents, and then, I couldn't remember anything Tom had taught me. I was lost, so I went to bed.
        The next night I tried again and was able to enter some information, but there was a paper copy of a spreadsheet with the same name as one on the computer, but they were different. I had no idea what to do with them.
        Those who know me, know that I stay up all night. I love working when it is dark and quiet and no one to bother me. I can't call my brother-in-law at 3:00 am to ask him questions, and I can't even wake my husband for help, so I am putting off the taxes for now. As Mark Twain said, "Never put off until tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow just as well."
        Tom told me that  after my father died, my mother took her taxes to the library where they had volunteers to help senior citizens with tax returns. But every year, she would get a letter from the IRS saying they were wrong. She would take her documents and tax forms to Tom to correct. After several years Tom decided it would be easier to do them correctly than have to correct them later. So he took on the task. 
       He posted this question to me. If the IRS can write you a letter telling you that $127.16 was missing from your return ---if they have those numbers on file ---why do we have to fill in a tax return. Why can't they feed the information into a computer and file the taxes for everyone? Then they could send everyone a refund or a bill. There could, of course, be an appeal process. 
        I would gladly have the IRS do the work for me.
        Meanwhile, I am evading taxes.  But just for a little while. I'm no Willie Nelson or Wesley Snipes. Not yet, anyway.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)
Find answers to some of your tax questions HERE.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


This post is in response to a writing prompt

at Mama’s Losin’ It: “I used to think......”

        I used to think in black or white.
My parents were very religious and extremely judgmental. Our religion was good. Everyone else’s was bad. Other people didn’t have the true religion, so they were going to hell. We, of course, were on the path to heaven.
My father often told us how lucky we were to have a mother who worked hard and was modest, not like the woman next door who, when her household chores were done, drank a beer in her lounge chair while catching some rays in her short shorts and halter top. My mother told us how lucky we were that my father didn’t drink, smoke, gamble or swear like one of the in-laws.
My parents looked down on people who were unmarried or divorced, who had no children or too many children, who wore old fashioned clothes or who were trying to be pretentious by wearing the latest fashion. This person was too liberal. Another too conservative. Moderation was everything, except in religious fervor.
The people across the street didn’t keep their house as clean as my mother would have. The neighbor with bleached blond hair must be a hussy. The eighty year old woman down the street had a coat that wasn’t long enough to cover her dress. We had to dress up to go shopping. We had to wear white gloves to church, even in ninety degree July temperatures, or people might think we didn’t have any. Appearances were important, too.
When I went away to college, the girl who was assigned to share my room was a bleached blond and a cheerleader ---a double hussy --swore freely and was a lapsed member of one of those other religions. I met students who smoked, drank, and weren’t religious at all. Gradually, I realized they were intelligent, witty, kind, generous, fun, and good people.
        I concluded that my parents had lied to me. I don’t mean they lied on purpose. They had conveyed the narrow values that they believed. Nonetheless, it angered me that they had created a narrow, biased view of the world.
        After college, I lived and worked in Brazil as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There I learned that no countries, peoples or cultures are superior or inferior to others.  They are just different.
I have a theory that each of us is much more like our parents than we like to admit, but there is always something about our parents that drove us completely bonkers, so we have rebelled and are their complete opposites. I have worked hard to shed my parents’ black and white world.
Although no one is free of judgment, I try not to be judgmental about things that aren’t important. I would be a harsh judge of someone abusing a child, but I don't care what they wear. I am concerned more with a person’s character than their religious beliefs or lack of beliefs. Swear words don’t bother me as long as they aren’t directed at me or someone else with hostility. Even when I am convinced someone is wrong in their thinking, I try to imagine where they are coming from, what advantage they see in their opinions. Unless people are abusing alcohol, drinking doesn’t bother me. Unless someone is unnecessarily hurting themselves, another person, an animal, or the environment, I prefer to live and let live.
I have, on occasion, been accused of not taking sides, of looking at things from another’s point of view instead of supporting a friend’s agenda. A writing professor once told me I look for life’s balances in my writing. For example, in a class assignment to write something from a soldier’s point of view, my soldier worried that, while he was deployed, his wife would not be able to handle the things that had always been his responsibility and, at the same time, he worried that she would be able to take care of everything very well without him.
Instead of narrowing my point of view by seeing everything in black or white, good or evil, right or wrong, I prefer to perceive and embrace diversity, to see everything in many shades of gray, and to paint the world with brushes dipped in a multitude of rainbow colors.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


        Brenda O'Malley is home making dinner, when Tim Finnegan arrives at her door.
        "Brenda, may I come in?" he asks. "I've something' to tell ya."
        "Of course you can come in. You're always welcome, Tim. But where's my husband?"
        "That's what I'm here to be tellin' ya, Brenda. There was an accident down at the Guinness brewery."
        "No!", cries Brenda. "Please don't tell me ..."
        "I must, Brenda. Your husband Shamus is dead and gone. I'm sorry."
        Brenda looks at her husband's friend. "How did it happen, Tim?"
        "It was terrible, Brenda. He fell into a vat of Guinness Stout and drowned."
        "But you must me tell me true, Tim, did he at least go quickly?"
        "Well, Brenda, no. In fact, he got out three times to pee."

Monday, March 16, 2009

THE CREATIVE PROCESS - #5 Realistic to Abstract

"Cabin Fever"
Versions 1 & 2
(©2009, C.J.Peiffer)

This post is the fifth in a series explaining how a
particular work of art or a group of works was created.

This post is in response to a challenge at
Click on the link to add your own response to the
challenge or to view those submitted by others


        There are many ways to create an abstract design. One can, of course, start with a clean canvas or sheet of paper and create something from nothing. Or one can start from a real object, then change it until it no longer looks like anything real.
        For this particular design, I started with a photograph and changed it in many steps using Photoshop.  I could have come up with something similar with paint and brush.

        I was reading the previous day's mail over breakfast one day. On the table was a catalog for a cruise that I couldn't afford and which I intended to throw away. Later, when I returned to the table, I saw a photograph in the catalog up-side-down, and at first, thought it was an abstract painting.  I had been thinking about posting a "Creative Process" post about making abstract designs, so I thought I would use that photo to make a nonobjective abstract ---that is, a design in which there are no recognizable objects.
        In a nonobjective design, the viewer might imagine that a design resembles something, but the artist had no intention of creating a recognizable image.

        The first thing I did was copy and paste the photograph several times, turning it to show different points of view, overlapping the images on top of each other to fill the available space. What this does is it repeats shapes and colors, making the design look unified, yet because the shapes and colors are sideways or up-side down, the design achieves some variety to make it interesting.

       I liked the royal blues in the original photograph, so I selected anything that was that blue shade, copied and and pasted it on top of the photo arrangement.

        I also saturated the colors, made them more intense.

        Then I tried to make the design look like it was no longer a photo by using filters to make parts look like cut out pieces of paper and giving it the appearance of rough pastels. Even after doing some of this, the fruit basket was still recognizable, so I blurred those parts.

        Next, I lightened some of the colors, created more contrast, and then saturated them even more than I had done before. 

       I thought the design needed more contrast, so I chose parts that were a dark brown and made them black. Then I chose some parts that were olive green and made them a brighter shade of dark green.

  This sounds like it took only a few short steps, but I experimented with many different changes, often rejecting them and trying something else. With Photoshop, one can add things to new layers, or copy a layer and try a certain effect. If I don't like what I  tried, I can undo it, or I can delete that layer and try something else. It probably took me about 2 hours to decide what I liked and didn't like before I settled on my final design.

        At this point, I liked the design, but I wanted to try some other possibilities, so I took the resulting design (a larger version is at the very top left of this post) and chose to invert the colors. That meant that black became white, red became light blue, royal blue became yellow. I sort of liked the result, but it seemed pale and washed out. 
  I chose all the white parts and made them black again. I didn't like the yellow, so I changed it to magenta and I made the orange parts green.

        Now I had two versions of the same design in two different color combinations. (See very top of post.) I could, of course, create many more different variations, if I chose to do so.

        If one looks at the original photograph and the final designs side-by-side, one can still see some similarities. But without the original photo, I doubt that anyone would recognize or guess what was in the original photo. 

        When I taught school, before we had computers, I had my 8th grade students draw an ordinary object, such as a pencil sharpener, a book, or a a bottle of paint. Then using carbon paper, they copied the shapes and lines several times, each time distorting the object a little. One can achieve the same results by tracing on another piece of paper while holding it on top of a drawing with the help of a light table or a window.  On the fifth or sixth change, students used colored pencils to color the result in bright colors that had nothing to do with the original object.  They were metamorphosing the objects from a realistic line drawing to a nonobjective abstract in several steps.

        Although the original photo has been changed so much, no one would recognize it, it was originally the image of a ship's cabin, so I called my design "Cabin Fever." 

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

Friday, March 13, 2009

SEDONA, AZ - Sky Watch Friday

(©2005, C.J.Peiffer)

This image is in response to
Click on the link and post your own photo
or see what others have posted.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


This is a post in response to "A Thousand Word Thursday"
Click on the link(s) to add your own response to the
challenge(s) or to view those submitted by others


        A few days ago, I noticed that the daffodils in my yard are starting to peak through the ground. So I thought I'd post one of my own pieces of art with an image of white daffodils. Let's hope this image chases the winter away.

This image and other daffodil images I designed can be found HERE 
on T-shirts, cards,  postage stamps, key chains, magnets, and mugs.

(Image ©2006 C.J. Peiffer)

Thursday, March 5, 2009


In response to a writing prompt at Mama’s Losin’ It:
“Normal is.....”


        While in college, I met a girl ---I’ll call her Rebecca --- who lived with her divorced mother in New York City. She lived in a low-rent area in a crowded apartment building. Several of her neighbors sold drugs. Many of the residents were either drunk or high most of the time. The cops were there frequently to arrest someone. Besides the smell of pot hanging in the air, the building smelled like an international cooking school. Her father, who was a Gypsy, would come around once in a while, often bringing stolen merchandise with him. Once Rebecca turned fourteen, her father brought a much-older man to the apartment to arrange her marriage to him. Rebecca’s mother threw her ex and his friend out.
        Rebecca told me that her lifestyle seemed so normal to her that characters on TV sitcoms seemed like aliens from other planets.
        My life, on the other hand, was in a stable one-family home in a suburb in the midwest, with two parents who neither drank nor smoked. If any of our neighbors smoked pot, it was a well-kept secret. My father worked while my mother was a stay-at-home mom until she took a part-time job when I was a teen. My father never stole anything in his life and would insist we return change if we were given too much. My parents didn’t allow me to date anyone until I was sixteen, and only then at well-chaperoned functions. My mother thought she was making international dishes when she added a can of tomato soup to pasta. We, of course, had problems, many of which I didn’t know about until many years later, as my parents didn’t discuss them in front of the children. And, although I was the black sheep of my family, I was only slightly out of the norm in that household. I decided to major in art, whereas my sister chose a more practical subject ---math. However, our life was much like a situation-comedy family, albeit without a lot of comedy.
        Rebecca thought my life was sheltered while I thought hers was bizarre. From that I learned that, like everything else in life, normal is in the eye of the beholder.

        Living in another country also helped me realize “normal” is not universal. Although people worldwide are very much alike, in Brazil it was “normal” to eat a big meal at noon which always included rice and black beans, then take a siesta until two o’clock. It was “normal” to be afraid of mixing hot and cold things, so a person who had just sipped hot coffee would not open a refrigerator. It was "normal" to arrive at the beach at seven or eight in the morning and be gone by ten, because the tropical sun was too hot to bear in the middle of the day.

        Even things that can be measured with instruments can give us a normal range, but nothing is exactly normal. My temperature is always a little low, but that is "normal" for me.

        Every family that I know well enough to be aware of some of its family skeletons could star in its own true-life soap opera. Every family has experienced love, hate, birth, death, comedy, tragedy, marriage, divorce, in-laws, outlaws, obedient offspring, wayward children, success, failure, law -abiders, lawbreakers, good fortune, bad luck, and/or a crazy family member or two.
        Each family is unique. Each family member is an original, but not one of them is NORMAL.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)