Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sports Figures!

Here's something for you sports fans:

As if the mall wasn't already jam-packed on a Saturday. Nothing like former OU footballers to bring out the true-believers.

Since I didn't want an autograph, I was free to wander to the front of the line and grab a shot of the principals:

They seemed like good guys and the crowd was orderly and well-behaved. A good way to celebrate the holiday season.

The Dogs Visit Santa

Emily found out that Saturday was the last day to get your dogs' picture taken with Santa at Petsmart. Well, then, off to Petsmart we went.

I don't know what Pepper and Lucky told Santa they wanted for Christmas but they seemed glad to see him:

They took a couple of pictures so one had to choose carefully:

The dogs were well behaved and Emily was glad they had their chance with Santa. I'd say that made for a pretty good outing, wouldn't you?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Emily and Pepper's 7th - And Last - Obedience Training Class

It's time for final semester tests at school so why should obedience training be any different? Emily and Pepper will be faced with the challenge of showing off all of the commands they've learned over the last eight - okay, for Emily and Pepper it's just been seven - weeks. But they're up for it.

First, we have to make our way through one of the dreariest nights of the season:

Fog, mist, just general wetness. The halos around the streetlights aren't an effect of the my cell phone's camera. They're just that halo-y:

Inside, it's warm and dry. Emily and Pepper are ready to get down to business:

And get down to business they do:

Heeling, staying, lying down, sitting - you name it, they did it. Nearly flawlessly.

That's the instructor at the far left and the black blur is his dog, Josey, a standard poodle. He asked me to look after Josey while he took a quick bathroom break and I gladly did. An opportunity to show off to Emily just how things were done. I called my command over the dog awesome; Emily called it bogus.

Emily and Pepper passed with flying colors and earned their certificate. Yay!

Next up: more classes? Maybe. Emily's booked with some other things in the next few weeks so it might be hard to make time. But these last eight weeks have been a tremendous learning experience. Emily did very well. Pepper, too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rachel's Christmas Concert

Rachel had her Christmas concert with the Westmoore Band and, boy, did they sound good. (And, of course, Rachel sounded the goodest.) They were joined by the two junior high bands - Brink and Moore-West - though not on the stage at the same time but, rather, following the younger bands. The other two bands sounded great as well. All of them played a showpiece from their competition repertoire and then a Christmas-themed piece. Great stuff.

Video? Yep, I've got video. The format just won't upload to Blogger or Youtube.

Still pictures? Clara worked that and I haven't uploaded them, yet. I think they're post-concert anyway. I did have my cell phone camera and both pictures are awful. See?

That's Rachel yawning in the middle.

And that's Rachel all washed out in the stage light.

Well, the best I can do for now. Take my word for it: it was a wonderful evening.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Shopping 2008

We spent the day Saturday Christmas shopping. Did we get it finished? Ha! We barely scratched the surface. But if someone tells you the economy is in the tank, I invite them to come out to the mall parking lot and hike with me from the hinterlands of where I had to park. Good and crowded and that's, well, good.

The reward for putting in a hard day? Lunch at The Cheesecake Factory! Great idea! Too bad everyone else thought it as well. The wait could be long:

Well, it wasn't that long. Besides, no matter how long the wait, it's always worth it at The Cheesecake Factory, isn't it? And this time was no exception. We all had our favorites with Clara actually trying something new: Taquitos! A violation of the cardinal rule of restaurants to never try anything new. Doesn't prove the rule wrong. Just a lucky break.

The perfect end to a great day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rachel and I Saw a Shooting Star!

On our way home from Winter Guard, Rachel and I saw a shooting star! We both whooped with surprise! A glowing blue arc across the sky that began out of nowhere and ended the same way.

Rachel says it's her third. It's my second with her in the car and headed in the same direction - South. I guess she's kinda lucky. Me, too.

Nope, no pictures. It was there and gone just that fast. Incredible.

Emily and Pepper's 6th Obedience Training Class

Sure, it's Emily and Pepper's 6th class but you'll recall we missed one and it's actually the 7th class, which means there's only this evening and next week's lesson to go. Game face: on!

Pepper's excited herself to a blur:

It's best get yourselves composed before the session starts. Let's put ourselves in the right mind to receive training. It's Zen-like:

Time to gather:

Since it's the penultimate session, they worked on a lot of things they'd worked on before, so nothing really new. Pepper had a bit of a time paying attention but after the break she got more into her stride. Overall, Emily and Pepper did very well.

On to the next lesson. Next week is graduation. I imagine they'll have caps and gowns for the dogs, don't you?

(The training sessions take place in the Oklahoma National Guard's Armory, near the capitol. Where else can you find a wide, open space where it's sort of okay if your dog poops or pees? But I don't know if I've been able to capture the sense of openness about the place. Here's a slightly different shot that might give you the sense of it. Me, I like the wooden roof.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Emily's Christmas Concert

Emily had her junior high Christmas band concert this evening - the first concert of many to come, if Rachel's career-arc tells us anything. A big occasion. She's been practicing hard though we're clueless of what we exactly we can expect.

The weather turned off bitter - temperatures in the mid-20s with wind speeds at least twice that number, and a needling of snow, just for good measure. Which meant no Grandma and Grandpa. Rachel had too much end-of-the-semester homework to contend with so that meant only me and Clara in attendance. That was okay. We carried the Emily fan-club load.

Let's start with some embarrassing photos, shall we?

Since it's just the one junior high - usually these things are held jointly with another school - we're in the Brink gymnasium. Not bad seats. We've got a good view of Emily:

That's her right behind the girl in the red. Can't see her? I'll get closer:


Ah. See her now?

Note for next time: Emily should wear red.

They were under the guiding hand of the ever-patient Mr. Ortega, who addresses the crowd here:

Mr Ortega's been teaching these kids a long time - he taught Rachel and his wife gives private lessons to the girls. We love both of them and tonight was another fine example of just what Mr. Ortega can do with these kids. (I liked him from the minute he addressed the parents of Rachel's sixth grade class when he said that any child who wanted to play an instrument could learn to play an instrument. And he's proven himself right ever since.) He trotted them through some of the lessons they'd learned this semester - some Christmas-themed, others not - and then finished with an amazingly good rendition of Winter Wonderland. The perfect sendoff to a chilly night.

Emily was very good and it was thrilling to see her perform. She's got quite a future ahead of her.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Post-Election Tax Advice

OKC Business contacted me the other day about what to expect, tax-wise, from an Obama presidency. The link should work but in case it doesn't, here's the whole thing:

"President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on the need for change. Now that the election is over, one way or another, business owners will likely see just that.

“I don’t know if it’s first on everyone’s mind, but that was one of the big differences between him and (Sen. John) McCain was their tax plans,” said Oklahoma City CPA Peter Terranova. “With Obama’s [tax plan] in place, I guess there may be some changes coming down the road. [People] think taxes will go up, and I think they will.”

Terranova said one of the first ways taxes are expected to rise is by allowing President George W. Bush’s tax cuts to expire and revert to prior rates. The cuts were part of this summer’s stimulus package.

With the national debt of the United States increasing approximately $4 billion per day to more than $10 trillion in November, the federal government will have to do something to back off the slippery slope.

“We know that our country will be looking for dollars,” said Nancy Hyde, CPA. “I think everyone is agreeing that is going to happen and that it has to happen.”

Currently, tax experts agree businesses enjoy a relatively low 15 percent capital gains rate. The rate is applied to profits arising from the sale of things such as stock and other appreciable (generally) assets.

Hyde said the rate is expected to go higher.

Another issue the new administration will be forced to deal with is the federal estate tax.

The federal estate tax is a tax on the right to transfer property at death and is reported on Form 706. The tax is applied to estates exceeding $2 million at death in 2008 and $3.5 million in 2009, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

With a top-bracket rate of 45 percent, taxable items in estates include real estate, cash, stocks, bonds, businesses and decedent-owned life insurance policies.

The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 reduced death tax rates and has increased the exemption every year, and will until the tax is repealed entirely in 2010. However, the repeal wasn’t permanent; the tax will be restored to its full 55 percent rate in 2011.

Some 90 businesses have come together to form the Family Business Estate Tax Coalition with the sole purpose of doing away with the so-called “death tax.”

Before 2009, Terranova said businesses should be taking advantage of Section 179 depreciation limits.

There is good news, however: Historically, the maximum depreciation on capital purchases – such as equipment, furniture and computers –was $150,000. In 2008, that figure has been doubled, but will expire for 2009.

“If businesses are out there contemplating purchasing new assets, they ought to be taking advantage of them by the end of the year,” Terranova sald.

The future is uncertain, but Hyde says she always has a good rule of thumb for her clients: “Taxes are always subject to change.”"

Whoops. That's not quite right about Section 179 depreciation. The limit was $125,000, increase to twice that and due to expire in 2009. I've e-mailed the reporter about it. The print version has a picture of me at my desk. If I can get a copy, I'll be sure to post it.

Christmas Lights

On my way to pick up Emily from Winter Guard, I saw the Christmas lights were on at Chatenay Square. A burst of joyful color in the night. I stopped for a quick picture:

Yeah, those're raindrops on the window. Some light rain, possibly turning to snow later this evening but not anything to worry about. The evening's warm for now. We'll enjoy it while we can.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rachel Rides The Range

Clara and I were recounting our first date to the girls - we were supposed to go horseback riding but the weather turned off bad so, instead, I ended up cooking her something and the rest, as they say, is history. With that in mind, and with a sign posted at a stoplight about horseback riding, Rachel thought she'd like to go sometime. Why not? Emily politely declined so I booked Rachel and me for an outing on Saturday.

Not the stables that Clara and I had intended to use so many years ago but Thunderbird Stables, which right outside the state park at Lake Thunderbird, some miles east of Norman. A slow day - I think we were the only riders out - but a beautiful one and warm and a great way to spend an hour from the hustle and bustle of the holiday. Also, I couldn't beat the company.

Rachel rode Banjo; I had Buzz. The wranglers - both girls about Rachel's age - took good care of the horses and getting us on them without any trouble. A long drink of water for the horses and the wranglers led us to the trailhead. We were on our own from there on out.

Only the cell phone camera on me. I lead the way so it was difficult to turn and get a good shot of Rachel. Why not just turn the camera around and hold it over my head and see what I get? Great idea!


Okay, okay, let's turn around and see what I can do:

Ah, much better. And this one:

Not a soul on the lake but then why would they? I can't imagine the fishing's any good this time of year:

We saw some deer. See 'em?

Almost tame.

No shots of me, thankfully. Oh, all right. Here's proof I was there:

We were back at the stables in an hour and the friendly folks there took care of Buzz and Banjo. We waved goodbye and headed back on civilization. A wonderful time!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Emily and Pepper's 5th Obedience Training Class

I say it's Emily's and Pepper's 5th lesson but the instructor says it's their 7th. (With two more to go.) Hmmm. I know we missed one so we could go to Career Night so I've lost count somewhere. Well, whatever lesson this is, it's Obedience Training Night and Emily and Pepper were there and ready to go.

Man, the pictures are getting worse:

That's because Emily doesn't like me taking her picture so I have to do it without her knowing. That means using the zoom. On my camera phone. Without flash. So there.

They worked on turning circles and staying and coming on command. Pepper was a little distracted though so after the break, one of the trainer's suggested a change in collars: a smaller choker with prongs. Prongs! Yikes! Not needle sharp but enough to get Pepper's attention and get it the collar did. Much better the second half of the session.

Emily's a good trainer. She worked hard this session and so did Pepper.