Thursday, April 16, 2009

What Happened To Hats?

Oftentimes I wish I could return to an earlier lifestyle, one with convention and dignity as everyday principles in society. There are a lot of roads I could traverse out of that complicated sentence, but today I want to cover just one aspect - why don't more people wear hats today?

I'm not talking about baseball caps. I've surrendered to that habit at times, I'll admit, but I really don't consider those hats. (I usually throw one on my head to run an errand when I don't have time to do my hair properly.) And besides, I hate that many who wear baseball caps never see fit to remove them indoors, at the dinner table, or even when our Stars and Stripes parade past. No, I'm talking about proper hats: fedoras, bowlers, porkpies, newsboy caps and Irish golf caps for men, and berets, tams, cloches, sunhats, and what can only be described as Easter finery for women.

I love the Kentucky Derby tradition of women wearing all manner of outlandish millinery to celebrate their attendance of a horse race. Ascot is the English equivalent, with men as well as women sporting the best head finery.

Sadly, our current society seems to have lost the love of hats. It's difficult to find hat shops anymore, and the small selection of hats in department and specialty stores is woefully lacking in quality or variety.

My lament about this trend stems from my love for hats, and wanting any excuse to wear one. In my closet are several hat boxes filled with chapeaus. I am lucky enough to be married to a man who owns several fedoras, a homburg, and an Irish golf cap, among others, and wears them proudly. Our son has adopted this habit as well and I think they both look so smart when they dress up and include a hat with their outfit.

As a child, I remember Easter as the premier hat holiday. No woman would have been seen in their Easter outfit without a hat on her head to match. It was a big deal to choose the perfect chapeau, and they were worn with pride. I cling to that tradition still, and this past Sunday, I coordinated my Easter suit with an appropriate Spring cloche to attend church services. I was the only one, in a large congregation, to wear a hat at all.

The myriad of comments I received, from the youngest to the oldest, confirmed my conviction that hats are still appreciated. I heard: "I love your hat", "you look so Springlike in your hat", "I remember when I wore a hat; wish I still did", and my favorite (from a senior male), "thanks for keeping the tradition; you look wonderful - I love a woman in a hat!"

So, based on the reaction I received - and it happens everytime and anywhere I wear a hat - I am firmly convinced that hats could, and should, make a comeback among society in general. Not that I expect that to happen, but I can dream. And I'm sure the milliners of the world, who still possess the talent to create these wonderful adornments to our physical presence, would cheer.

Hats serve useful purposes, too. Here in Chicago, especially in winter, they protect from the windy climate and the chill winter storms. They shade your face from the harmful rays of the sun. And I totally subscribe to the motto: "A hat hides a multitude of sins."

So, seriously, go buy a hat and let me know how you fare when you wear it in public. I guarantee you'll feel special, and I'm betting you'll love what happens!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tax Time Tedium

I don't think I've ever met anyone who likes the annual tax deadline - that is, except for a couple of our friends who are accountants. I become the all-time procrastinator in the early months of the year. I always have more important things to do and, even though I vow that "this year I'll be done by early February", in reality, the date I write after my signature on our 1040 is usually April something.

The largest part of my dislike for this task is the tedium of gathering all the evidence needed to be able to put a proper number on each line of the myriad of forms that must accompany the 1040. Being self-employed, as my husband and I both are, we are not allowed the luxury of the EZ form. I must wade through every receipt we've kept the previous year, for every business-related expense, organize them, total them and, finally, read all the IRS instructions to be certain I'm entering each total in a legally correct manner.

Once all that is accomplished, I begin punching numbers with my calculator, checking and re-checking my figures as I imagine some IRS auditor gleefully finding a mistake and scheduling us for an audit. I admit it; even though I am as honest as the mind-boggling tax code allows me to be, I still worry that I'm making some terrible error that will come back to haunt me. But this is an undertaking that I cannot assign to a stranger - better known as an accountant - to handle. The only time in our life that I did that resulted in a nightmare defying description. Even though it's hateful, I still prefer to tackle it myself. After all, I'm a college graduate (I tell myself each year), I can do this. So I do - hating every minute, but ultimately successful and fairly confident about the result.

My final aggravation involves the typical end result. We either have to pay the government more money, or we are rewarded with some small pittance that hardly seems adequate given our constant labors which result in nothing added to our savings coffer. Those who are self-employed will identify with this complaint. You see, we have no employer to pay part of our withholding taxes; we get to do that all on our own. We are denied what we consider logical and fair deductions while aware that really rich people are allowed more deductions than we have money. Most vexing is seeing all those figures in black and white; it never ceases to depress.

But, when the job is complete, all the receipts, copies and substantiated paperwork filed away in a safe place (in case that auditor comes looking!), I try to wax philosophical about it. After all, my husband and I both pursue careers that we love. We wake up each morning with new and unique challenges, and we stay young as we figure out ways to deal with them all. And, though we know we could get salaried jobs that would simplify our financial lives, we both know we wouldn't be happy so we persevere. I'll remind myself of that when I mail my 1040 today - mission accomplished, and I have to admit, I'm proud of the effort it took. I'm also resigned to the tiny reward we'll receive in a few weeks from the government; a bonus for taking a loss on our business in 2008. Happy Tax deadline one and all; may your refunds be huge!

Monday, April 6, 2009

My View - It's Just Weird!

I love the fact that, as I work at my computer, I face a large window that gives me a view of my front yard and the neighborhood. This morning, what I behold through that portal can only be described as weird.

The towering pine tree, and the large ash tree beyond it near the street, have branches laden with snow. The same is true for the lantern at the edge of the drive, the roofs of the houses , the bushes, and the cars parked in driveways. That Spring green ground carpet I observed yesterday is now covered in a couple of inches of the white, wet stuff.

This is Chicago, where an occurrence like this is taken in stride. Our weather is never predictable, and it's part of the ambience of living here. However, I still contend it's bizarre that I'm being greeted with this sight a few days before Easter. There's a robin hopping around on the sidewalk and on the street, where the snow has either melted a bit or been cleared away. The bird must definitely be wondering where his green grass and worms are hiding. (He just flew off with a mate; perhaps in search of warmer climes.)

As stated in previous blogs, I am a snow lover. It's part of the winter season that I look forward to, but Winter is over. I'm ready for crocuses - which have already made their appearance - and tulips, and daffodils, and all the other colorful signs of warmer weather and a new season. Yes, the sight of pine branches bending from the white weight is still beautiful, the entire landscape enveloped in snow is a beautiful result of nature's whim, but I'm wishing for strong sun that will melt it quickly, and give me back my view of Springtime. 'Till that happens, I must admit, I may be a bit cranky as I survey the view from my window.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

112 Hours

In just about every writing publication, website, blog or conversation with other writers, I can usually read or hear about the dilemma of not having enough time to devote to writing. I am guilty of this complaint as well. It seems that, if you are a freelancer, there just aren't enough hours in the day to allow you to set aside at least two or three to devote to work.

Frustrated and whining about this problem recently, I decided to sit down and calculate just how many hours I must spend on everyday, necessary tasks that keep me from accomplishing what I really want to do. I started with the number of hours in a week, 168, and subtracted 56 hours for sleeping (8 hours a day; I actually sleep 7 at night, but I nap for an hour each day); that left me with 112 hours for the purpose of my assessment.

112 hours; sounded like a lot. So, next came meals, both preparing and eating. I enjoy cooking, but I don't like any recipe that requires more than 30 minutes prep time. Multiply 3 hours by 7. So, there went 21 more hours, now down to 91.

Time spent showering, dressing and preparing to face the world each day I judged took about 45 minutes; I rounded it to an hour for easy subtraction. Again, times 7; I have 84.

Routine household tasks like vacuuming, dusting, mopping floors, doing laundry, etc. Since I'm not keen on housework, this is not a daily priority, so I worked out an average for the week of 15 hours. Then there were phone calls, mail and bill paying; 2 hours a day for those, and that included calls to my children which can eat up an hour or more easily. So, daily routine tasks equalled 29, reducing my total available hours to 55.

As regular readers know, I home school my two older grandsons, so I have to spend 2 hours a week on preparation, instruction and grading. Approximately 12 hours a week are spent babysitting my youngest grandson (that varies, so it's an average), and I included 5 hours for running errands, 3 hours for exercise, and 21 spent watching TV (mostly evenings). After adding that up - total of 43, I was left with 12 hours. Divide that by seven and see, only 1.7 hours a day to write!

But wait a minute; let's get real, here. Breakfast and lunch seldom take more than 30 minutes each, not an hour. And dinner on one or two nights is just heating up leftovers, so I knocked off 5 hours from that total. And I certainly don't clean house, do laundry, run errands or chatter on the phone every day, and, if we're being honest, I don't exercise every day, certainly not on weekends. When I deducted all those "in a perfect world" hours, I gained another 18 hours. Adding that to the 12 I originally calculated, and I had 30 hours.

It's rare for me to write on Saturday or Sunday; I devote those days to household projects, family, fun, church, relaxation - all the things that get pushed aside during my working week. So, if being truthful, I only need to divide that 30 hours by 5: there you go, six hours a day for writing! Whoo-hoo!

That easily gives me the three hours I spend creating, and another three to research, surf the Web for new markets and other writing info., send out queries, etc. So, if you're a writer, do the calculations. It doesn't take long and it's an eye-opener. The hours are what you make them. This isn't a lecture; just a fact.