Austin Feed

Batter up!

Thank the sporting gods! Baseball is back! Don't get me wrong. I'm a native Texan and cut my teeth on football. I think there might even be something in the state constitution about required early childhood lessons on the game. But Texas is a big state, and there's plenty of room here for the more deliberative game of baseball. The two are the yin and yang of spectator sports, as comedian George Carlin so wonderfully noted in this stand-up routine. And today the safe-at-home season begins anew. Yeah, I know a game was played last night. In case you couldn't... Read more →

Where's my refund?

Through mid-March, the IRS has sent out more than 56 million refunds. The average refund amount is $2,379. Both the number of refunds and the average check amount are slightly higher than last year. Electronic filing continues to be popular, especially when done from the comfort of the taxpayer's home. The number of those e-filed returns is more than 13 million, an almost 17% increase from last filing season. Also, more people than ever are opting for refund direct deposit. So far this year, the IRS has sent almost 40 million refunds, or 70% of this season's refunds to date,... Read more →

Stormy weather

Spring sprang violently in Central Texas last night. Classic thunderstorms rolled through the area, bringing heavy rain, lots of lightning, hail and even a tornado touchdown (thankfully, without casualties) far southwest of Austin's city limits. This is our first spring as Texas residents in many, many years. Weatherwise, now is not the best time to be in the state. Here at the southern end of Tornado Alley, you have to be on high alert March through May. We had a few violent storms come through my West Texas hometown while I was growing up. But my old stomping grounds are... Read more →

Feeding frenzy

The Festival of Frugality #14, which includes the Don't Mess With Taxes item on unusual -- and usually ill-advised -- tax deductions that people try to slip past IRS examiners, is now available. Thanks to Neo's Nest Egg for hosting this week. As I perused this latest frugal fest, several entries caught my eye, but Money and Investing's resolution to clear out an overstocked pantry really hit home. "Hi, my name is Kay and I'm a food hoarder." No, I don't have an eating disorder (unless you count wanting to eat ice cream as the main course of every meal... Read more →

Historic Texas dance hall tour, Part 3

This weekend, Austin's premier annual event, the South by Southwest Festival began. So what did we do? Left town. Last year, when we returned to Texas in May and missed out on SXSW by just a few weeks, we bemoaned our bad timing. Next year, we said, we'll hit the festival next year. Then we realized just how big this sucker is! Tens of thousands of people pile into the city for 10 days to observe, participate and enjoy the many aspects of music, film and interactive media. The 4,000 admission wristbands made available in advance for purchase by locals... Read more →

IRS and debt collectors, a partnership made in …

Do you want your friends, neighbors and family to know you're a tax deadbeat? Some fear that such disclosures could soon happen, now that three private firms have been awarded federal contracts to collect tax debts. Yes, the IRS has joined the outsourcing ranks. The debt collector deals were announced Thursday afternoon. The new IRS contractors are the CBE Group Inc. of Waterloo, Iowa; Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc. of Arcade, N.Y.; and, from right here in Austin, the heart of Texas, my new hometown, comes Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP. In making the announcement, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson specifically... Read more →

Putting up with crap

We've all been there. Your boss or coworkers do stupid things that make your job harder. Your family makes demands of you, financially or emotionally or physically, that, because they are family, you tolerate. We even have to put up with crap from strangers. The idiot that cuts you off on the highway. The moron who takes 23 items to the express checkout line. The bozo at the Post Office who wants to look at every available stamp design before buying one to put on a single letter. Crap, crap, crap! It's a handy euphemism. Just a hint of scatology... Read more →

Independence Day

On March 2, 1836, the Republic of Texas was born. Four days later the Mexican army answered the rebellion by kicking our butts at the Alamo. That was just the beginning. For 170 years now, Texans have been fighting -- good causes, seemingly lost causes, each other and everyone else. Every time my husband shakes his head at my righteous indignation and decision to keep battling, I tell him that it's just my Texan coming out. He's a native Lone Star Stater, too, but if he'd been around in 1836, he'd more likely been a diplomat. I'd have been one... Read more →

Artful unpacking

The North American truck dropped off our stuff here at our suburban Austin home on July 1, 2005. Now, eight months later, we're still unpacking. Well, technically, I guess we were still partially packed. All of our artwork has remained in its moving boxes, stacked in our dining room. I guess it's a good thing we decided to donate that old table, chairs and breakfront to Goodwill before we headed westward, or it would be really crowded in there! This last weekend, though, I got energized. I opened up the 18 mirror boxes and started pulling out the 45 large... Read more →

We're #45!

I live in the 45th most livable state. Think I can get a foam finger with that on it? Personally, I think I live in the best state, but my opinion differs from the latest livability assessment by Morgan Quitno Press. And that leads to two questions. What is a Morgan Quitno? And how exactly did it determine the livability of Texas and the other 49 states (Washington, D.C. wasn't included)? Let's take the second question first. In announcing its 2005 rankings, the publishing company compared states in more than 550 categories. Then it averaged each state's rankings for 44... Read more →

Monkey business

Are you ready for some commercials? OK, it doesn’t have quite the same ring as Hank Jr.’s musical query of Monday Night Football fans, but on Sunday the question is as important as which team you’re rooting for. Even non-football fans (yes, Virginia, they really do exist, even down here in Texas, although I don’t know why we let them stay!) hunker down in front of the TV to see what sales-pitch diamonds and disasters are sandwiched between plays from scrimmage. At ABC’s asking rate of up to $2.5 million for half a minute, almost five times the cost of... Read more →

Our own personal Wild Kingdom

A bird got in our house Monday night. It was quite an adventure for us all. It began when the poor little thing, a house sparrow, flew into our den window. We were trying to read our backlog of newspapers with the Sugar Bowl game on the TV as background (our own "talking lamp," so to speak), so our attention was somewhat divided. At first, the noise sounded distant, like something had happened toward the back of our backyard. Being curious, we (and by we, I mean my husband) went to check it out. He opened the back door and... Read more →

Our house is a very, very, very taxed house

My bank account took a hit today. Nope, not from Christmas gift charges finally showing up on credit card bills. And nope, not from post-Christmas bargain hunting. It seems, according to the New York Times, that I and lots of other nonshoppers didn’t head to the malls yesterday to load up on marked-down merchandise, although the Washington Post found folks there streaming back to malls in search of deep discounts. This time my money -- a whole lot of it -- went to the Travis County Tax Assessor Collector. Home appreciation. It’s great when you’re selling. A challenge when you’re... Read more →

Keeping perfect moments

My family left today after spending the holidays here in Austin. We shared fond memories, ate way too much good food and made it through four-plus days (and nights) without a single fight. In fact, I was the one this time who proposed they stay a bit longer. I think my mother and I both are finally growing up! But it was time for them to hit the road. We had a very mini-parade, my car leading theirs out of our twisty, hilly neighborhood. Once we got to the highway, they knew the rest of the route and passed me.... Read more →

Miles and miles of Texas … and taxes

Just a few weeks ago here on the ol’ blog, I bemoaned the fact that I had only been able to see Ray Benson, lead singer of Asleep at the Wheel, on video at an exhibit at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum here in Austin. Well, that has changed! On Dec. 16 we moseyed on out to the Broken Spoke to chow down on some chicken fried steak (billed as “the best in Texas and that means the world to us”) and listen to the best in Texas swing music. The Broken Spoke is a local -- hell,... Read more →