Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dear Women, How Did We Plan Weddings Before Pinterest?

Dear Women,

I heard this sentiment recently..."How did we ever plan weddings before Pinterest??" an iPhone was passed around showing pinned ideas for centerpieces and corsages.   I don't know how to work an iPhone and I don't know how to work Pinterest so I just let it pass me by with a quick glance.  The ideas were gorgeous.

How in the world did we ever put together a wedding without the aid of this "Pinspiration"? (That was a new one on me, oh lordy.)   How did we come up with centerpiece ideas or find diagrams of crafty card receptacles or cute cake toppers?  It must have been like a creativity desert, a desert I tell you, in this land of yore when Pinterest did not exist.  You know...a whole five years ago...

So I thought about this.  And I decided that the answer to the question "How did we ever plan weddings before Pinterest?" is either a) you paid an event planner/designer big bucks, b) you have craftiness in your veins instead of blood or c) you ended up with a wedding like mine.

You see, my wedding was not Pinterest-worthy, not "Pinspired" (oh lordy).  An accountant planned it, for goodness sake.  The total cost of the thing came in well under ten grand, much to my Dad's delight.  It was a mix of way-too-bright green and "coral" that, let's by honest, was really just light pink.

My major splurge was to rent white chairs instead of using the church's maroon, metal-legged, plastic potluck chairs with the hole in the back.  Yeah, you know the ones.

There was a basketball hoop at the reception...

...and my hairdo was...wait, I was supposed to come up with a hairdo?

I randomly checked boxes on the caterer's finger food menu and basically threw it back at them saying "I don't know how to do this!" and we ended up with way too much food that included a super cool fruit volcano that I did not have time to partake of but will never ever forget.  

My version of an event planner was my friend Sonya who helped with day-of people herding and who I paid by purchasing $50 of chickens or goats or something via Heifer International in her honor.  Also by returning the favor five years later and helping run her wedding.  

The closest I got to something Pinterest worthy were my centerpieces, which I conjured up in my brain and created by wrapping ribbon around candles, securing it with a straight pin jammed into said candle, plopping said candles onto cheap, silver charger plates from Hobby Lobby, throwing some fake ivy on it for good measure and calling it a day.  

Oh and the cake matched, which seemed like a logical, orderly thing to arrange...

We left the wedding in jeans and Caleb drove us away sitting on the toolbox of Trent's old truck.  

Was it a Pinspired wedding day?  Nope.   Did we get ourselves married?  Yep. 

Here's the thing ladies...people have been getting married for centuries without the aid of Pinterest.  There have been gorgeous weddings and tacky weddings, church weddings, country club weddings, courthouse weddings, weddings that are "timeless" and weddings that even just a few years later make you say "oof, what was I thinking?"   You know what they all have in common?  Not the centerpieces or the bridesmaid dresses or the nice white chairs.  No, what they all have in common is that somebody got married and began a new life together.  

Now, I don't intend to bash Pinterest.   But, in the words of, which I follow instead of the actual Pinterest, "Y'all are going a bit overboard over there."    To those of you who planned or are planning a wedding with the aid of Pinterest, I want you to ask yourselves a couple questions.  

How many minutes a day do I spend with my phone screen, pinning, pinning, pinning ideas, that could have been spent with my fiance? 

How often do I flash my phone screen in my fiance's face to show him possible ideas that, honestly, he doesn't really care about until they are something I am set on and want to follow through on?

How many of my or my fiance's own unique ideas ended up sacrificed because I found something cooler/fancier/trendier/pinterestier?  (See, I can invent words too!)

How much of this wedding is ours and how much is the internet's?

How sick is my fiance of hearing the words pinned, Pinterest, pinspiration, etc?

On that note, have I said the word "pinspiration" and my fiance said "What? Perspiration? Are we giving out little monogrammed deodorants as favors?"

You get my point.  I hope.  Are you using this online idea community in a healthy way or are you going overboard over there and pinning your wedding to death?  In all your planning and pinning, is your goal just to have some magazine worthy party, or to marry the love of your life, regardless of how that event takes place?  

Happy pinning!  I think that's what y'all say.....



Monday, January 26, 2015

Takeaways & Tidbits Vol. 10

Everyone's journey is different and I have nothing to say about how and when someone decides to become a mother.  The legacy of my generation will be that we have truly expanded the idea of what "family" means.  It is no longer unusual for people who choose surrogacy, gay adoption, IVF, international and domestic adoption, fostering and childlessness to live side by side and quietly judge each other.  We can all live in peace thinking our way is the best way and everything else is cuckoo.

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler


Riding in the car with Trent driving...

Me: Oh my gosh, I'm so hungry, I can't stand it.
(Pause. Spy a pizza delivery vehicle)
Me: There's pizza in that car!! Chase it!!


Trent: The Disney Channel is very white.


Trent: You know what's the first thing I'll do after we don't have to follow CPS rules anymore?  Buy Nerf guns.


My mom: Volkswagen has a minivan?
Me:  Yeah, the Routan.
Mom:  The Crouton?!?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Foster Care And Your Tax Return

I start tax season overtime next week.    ............WHAT??   So of course I've had tax returns on the brain, including our own.  It's gonna be quite a bit different.  In figuring out how to navigate our own tax return now that foster care came into our life, I thought I'd provide some answers to the question "How does foster care factor into our tax return?"  First, you may want to revisit my post about the money side of foster care.  So, from a foster parent who also happens to be a CPA, here are some ways that foster care might affect (or not affect) your tax return.

Monthly Reimbursement Payments
These are nontaxable and do not need to be reported anywhere on your tax return.  It truly is considered a reimbursement from the State, not a paycheck or some form of income.

Daycare Subsidy
Also a nontaxable benefit.  Nowhere to be found on your tax return.

WIC Program

Dependency Exemption
This is slightly more involved, but if it applies to you, it can have a humongous effect on your tax return on its own and because the next two items kick in then too.    Did you know that if your situation meets certain criteria, you can claim the foster kids in your care on your tax return?  

Here are the general requirements for claiming a child as a dependent: 
1) they must be a qualifying child, which includes a child by birth, adoption or a qualifying foster child, meaning a child placed in your home through an approved agency, 
2) lives in your home for more than half the year, 
3) they must not have provided over one half of their own financial support, 
4) they must be under the age of 19, or 24 if a student.

If your situation meets all those criteria, you can claim your foster kids on your tax return as your own dependents.  It doesn't matter if you intend to adopt them or not.  This triggers the dependency exemption and the next couple items below.  

I'd recommend talking about this with your kids' caseworker since it might produce an iffy situation if not handled with some awareness.  Our situation is very clear that we can claim our kids since we had them 11 months out of last year but some other situations may be more borderline and the biological parents may not realize that if the foster parents meet the criteria to claim the child, they themselves do not and legally should not claim the child.  If both sets of parents file a return with that child listed, whoever filed first will get the dependency exemption and the other will get an IRS notice saying someone else claimed the child and telling them to send back some of that refund you likely already got and spent.   Yipes.  The truth is, a lot of parents that are involved with CPS have bigger fish to fry than duking it out over who gets to claim their kid on a tax return and honestly, a lot of them may just not even file a tax return.  I didn't want to bank on that though and end up causing trouble for our kids' mom if we claimed the kids, then she tried to and ended up with a mess.  We talked to our kids' caseworker about it and decided that she would simply tell their mom "You are not legally allowed to claim the kids on your tax return if you are filing one" and leave it at that.  She won't necessarily know that we intend to, there's no chance of that knowledge creating malicious intentions to "get to the kids first" in tax return world, etc.  You just never know in these situations.  Simply looking at which family housed the kid for more than half the year is your main kicker and perhaps the caseworker informing the biological parent that they simply are not allowed to claim the child (if they indeed cannot) is the best answer.

Child Tax Credit
Can't include this unless you qualify for the dependency exemption.  This one is easy.  For every dependent you claim on your tax return under the age of 17, you get $1000.  (Unless you are a certain amount of rich, then it may be reduced.)  So if you are able to claim the children that are in foster care with you, bam, child tax credit.

Dependent Care Expenses Tax Credit
Also can't include this unless you qualify for the dependency exemption.  These last three here go hand in hand.  This tax credit is available if you had any out of pocket childcare expenses for kids under age 13, while you worked.  So for us, we've got the daycare subsidy, but that didn't kick in for almost two months (normally it's supposed to be two weeks but the investigative social work didn't complete the paperwork) so we wrote a hefty check to our daycare in the spring for the chunk of time before the subsidy began.  So we're claiming that amount which translates to a few hundred extra dollars of tax credit, aka money in our pocket.  This could also include, for other folks, day camps in the summer for school age kids, a regular after school program, etc.  Just keep in mind that it has to be childcare you paid for out of pocket.  Since you're not taxed on the daycare subsidy, you can't then double dip and also get a tax credit on your free subsidy benefit. you may have gathered, with all these benefits available to us by adding the kids to our tax return as dependents, we're staring at a nice chunk of refund, especially once you throw in Trent's education tax credits for being in college.   Lest all you parents out there who had your kids the old fashioned way think you are missing out on something here, you're not.  Those last three items are available to you in exactly the same ways for your biological children.  

Hope this was helpful.  Happy tax season everyone!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

That Time My Birthday Got Lost In My Kids' Puke

I turned 28 this past week.  I got wonderful well wishes from facebook friends, family members and real life friends.  Trent and I got to go out to a nice dinner, Home Depot and Pep Boys.  But overall my birthday got a little buried in other priorities this week, namely our kids puking and making diapers that occasionally required me to fetch the rubber kitchen gloves to remedy.

Our kids went to a total of 45 minutes of daycare this week.  We sent them Monday morning only to get two separate, subsequent phone calls shortly thereafter saying they had reached their legal limit of diarrhea diapers for the day already and needed to be sent home.  Cue craziness for the rest of the week.  Any other week and Trent and I could have sufficiently tag teamed staying home with the kids, but I had two days of new hire training to lead, a two day seminar I couldn't miss and Trent began classes for this semester. We also were supposed to have a court hearing, but it was postponed. The kids continued to be ill with enough frequency that they clearly could not go to daycare the next day...and the next day...and the next day...   To quote my mother, "This is a job for OmieJean" but alas, she is far away and a busy bee herself.

Our solution was some tag teaming, some classes missed, and our one available, CPS approved, rockstar babysitter who saved our booty.  (P.S. If you do not pay big bucks to a babysitter for a) short notice, b) risk of getting sick herself, and c) mopping up your kids' puke, then you are a scrooge, a scrooge I tell ya.) Meanwhile we fielded texts, phone calls and emails Friday for a last minute flurry of activity with CPS related to our Mediated Settlement Agreement for post-adoption contact.

We survived.  The kids appear to be better now.

I did a lot of reflection, comparing and pouting this week.

A lot of comparing our current poopy week to our life a year ago when we didn't have kids yet.  Man, that was easy back then.  And so far away now.  And that's ok.  I think parents need to be given permission to occasionally miss their pre-children life, a time when you could come and go as you please, no missing work for sickees at home, you could be outside of the four walls of your house after 7:30 pm without arranging for someone to be inside those four walls, the only poo and puke you had to worry about was your own.  Good times.  Gone times.  Gotta get over it and do our best in the now, but I think a little reminiscence here and there is a-ok..

A lot of comparing to a few months ahead of us when CPS babysitter rules and last minute approval of court documents won't cramp our style anymore.  Turns out our case will be wrapped up sooner than we thought, which is great.   Once adoption is final, CPS rules for babysitter approval will go out the window and we could have grabbed any available, brave soul to help us this week on the days our babysitter couldn't.  We also won't have frantic correspondence with CPS on their routinely last minute time frame about important documents related to our future.  We can just be "normal parents", whatever that means.

A lot of worrying about being a bad employee.  "I have to bug out of new hire training for a bit next week for our court hearing.....oh just kidding, it's postponed to next week so I'll have to be absent for it later, but I still have to leave training to Kristin for a bit until our babysitter gets out of her 8 am class...I have to be home with sick kids tomorrow but will be in at 2:30 when Trent gets out of class...just kidding, we're taking them both to the doctor so I won't be in at all actually...uh...I'm asking for a friend........what is the policy on missing part of a CPE seminar that is already registered and paid for?.........."   I am beyond thankful that the responses to our CPS related stuff are generally "This is important for your family. Do what you need to do" and the responses to our week-o-sick-kids were generally "There is no easy answer when it comes to sick kids" and "Been there" and "Do what you need to do...but please try not to skip the seminar."   (Trent skipped class so I did not skip any of the seminar.)  I think the one particular boss who fields most of these family related notifications from me is probably sick of hearing them, but the good news is soon at least the CPS related stuff won't be a part of it anymore.  Sick kids?  No tellin' on that one.

A lot of just not really wanting to deal with diarrhea diapers on my flippin birthday.  I mean, ok, right?  Who's with me?  A lot of people on facebook said "I hope you have a great day!" and I thought "Well, Trent is the one at home with day #4 of puking children, not me, so that's a pretty good day."  Oh life.  How you change.

Big shout out to my husband for handling the bulk of the time at home this week and Carlie for risking her own health to come over and nonchalantly clean up grossness with a chill response to my apologies of "It's ok, it happens!"   Yes indeed. Puke happens.  Life happens.  Just gotta roll with it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

State String Art In 15 Easy Steps

I made this for my parents for Christmas:

Dad's from Texas and Mom is from Pennsylvania so I weaved them together.

And I made this for Trent's mom for Christmas:

Here's how:

1. Gather materials: a board, hammer, pencil, small nails, embroidery thread.

2. Have husband put a coat of polyurethane on board. Or paint it yoself.

3. Hang out with Google for a bit to find an outline of the state(s) you want to use.

4. Run approximately a bazillion attempts of enlarging said outline on your home printer to get it the right size.

5. Cut out your state(s) and tape to your board where you want them.

6. Draw dots around the perimeter where you want to have nails.

7. Realize you made waaaay too many dots and don't want to hammer that many nails that close together.  Furiously erase half the dots.

8. Stand back and look at your progress.  Realize this might actually be a WIN in the DIY department so you should probably take pictures of your process to blog about later.  Pull used materials out of the trash and stage photos of the steps you already completed.

9.  Locate the city of the recipient on a map.  Attempt to locate on your blank dot outlined state.  Draw a heart shape of dots where the city maybe kinda sorta is.  If connecting two states like this one for my parents, draw dots making a beeline or winding path between the two city hearts.

10. Seclude yourself in a remote corner of your bedroom with the door closed so your incessant hammering at 8 pm does not wake up your sleeping babies.

11. Hammer nails into all the dots you drew.  Try to refrain from cursing when you repeatedly whack your fingers.  Try to refrain from obsessing over all the nails being straight or hammered in to the same height.

11. Wind embroidery thread to and from the city heart to the border as you see fit until the state is filled in.

12. Wind thread around and across the city heart to fill it in.

13.  Wind thread around the nails that form the connecting line between the states.  Do this last so it is above the regular state string and visible.

14.  Tie off your thread, tuck the ends under the city hearts.

15.  Text everyone you know, except the recipient of the gift, a picture of your result along with "LOOK WHAT I MADE!"

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015 New Year's Resolution Or Lack Therof

Me:  You know, I normally do a blog post around now about my New Year's resolutions for the upcoming year.   But I just don't really have any coming to mind this time.

Trent: Then don't have any.  You don't need to force some just to have something to blog about.

Me: Right. Ok. Good idea.

So there.  I will remained unresolved in 2015.  Watch out.

Friday, January 2, 2015

We Bought A Minivan

"Here babe, take my picture."

"Is this going in a blog post?"

"Of course."

Yep, this happened.  Funny thing about us and buying cars.  It seems when we begin to "do homework" about a certain type of car or start to "just look around to see what's out there"...we end up with a new car within about ten days...  It happened with our swagger wagon and it happened last week.  I guess we Trent is just that good at finding deals that would be stupid to pass up.   And that is what this one was.  We were starting to tip into the Time-For-A-Bigger-Car-For-Mama zone but were hung up on adding another car payment (translation: we couldn't).   Then we found a 2006 Honda Odyssey in great shape, with stellar carfax, for $4K less than the Kelly Blue Book value, for which we could pay cash after trade in we are.   Turns out buying a car when financing is not involved is sooooo muuuuuch faaaaasterrrrr.  You just write a check, hand over your trade in's keys and drive away in your new ride.  There were abundant high fives over the fact that we didn't incur more debt and a few "WE WIN AT LIFE!" texts were sent to our Dave Ramsey Financial Peace teacher.

I am one of those stories.  You know, about the mom who gives up her sporty pre-children car for some terribly unsexy but also terribly practical family car, while the husband promises her that "one day" she'll once again have a sporty little car of her choosing?   Yeah, that story.

I cried when I drove away from my little red Volvo.

I cried some more later that day because, well, minivan haters gonna hate, which didn't help my psychological turmoil.  It's not so much the acquisition of a minivan that got to me.  I'm fine with the van, it was a super deal and it was the right choice for our family.  I was even stoked to remove a bunch of post-100K miles Volvo related problems from our to-do list and expense list upon trade in (I got 99 problems but a Volvo ain't one).  Oh and I was ecstatic about all the space I had just gained.  Apparently cars physically shrink when you suddenly acquire two children.

No, what got to me more was that in handing over my little red car I was essentially saying goodbye to a stage of my life, a really, really great one.  Blah blah about a new chapter of life, yeah yeah.  I'm a different person now and a good one, exactly where I should be, including the driver's seat of a minivan that is paid for free and clear.  I'm not the 21 year old newlywed whose criteria for car buying were "it is red" and "it is cute".  Who cared that it was expensive to buy, expensive to fix, we had no down payment, no trade in and no credit?  Not me.  It was a foolish car. But it was good to me.  And dang, it was cute.

So, we've got a station wagon and a minivan.  Y'all better WATCH OUT because we are waaaaaaaaay too cool for school now.  Holla.

Peace out.