Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chopping the "Block"

H&R Block. Gotta hate 'em.

OK, maybe "hate" is a strong word.

H&R Block. Gotta avoid them like the plague. There. That's more like it.

I'm trying to recall if I told you guys about them doing our taxes last year. Not because I wanted them to but because Mr. T just went all on his own without consulting wifey. His brothers are accountants and one of them had been doing our taxes when we first got married but I think this stuff is best done outside of the family and after awhile bro-in-law's life got too hectic to deal with our finances anyway so it all worked out for the best, I say. That's when Mr. T. went to H&R Block and I was happy to let him just to get away from family. Now I knew then we needed an accountant but hadn't made serious efforts to get one.

After we bought the house in December 2006, I knew it was time to get that accountant but in February 2007, Mr. T. once again paid a visit to H&R Block and that was before I had a chance to find someone. I had been asking around, kind of waiting for the perfect one to land in my lap. But it didn't happen in time. Next thing I knew the taxes were done and Mr. T had something for me to sign.

"You may not like it," he warned. We had paid taxes every single year since we had been married so I wasn't going to be surprised to find we'd have to pay again. If we had an accountant, we might have gotten this whole thing figured out by now and been able to keep our money.

"How bad is it," I asked, stiffening for the reply.

"4 G."

"What?! You'd better be kidding, Mr. Jokester." Mr. T is known for his constant pranks. I had hoped he gave me a crazy figure to lighten the blow for the real number which was much less. My hopes were dashed. We owed over $4,000 and he was swearing up and down it was because I borrowed from my IRA to buy the house.

"No way. You can take up to $10,000 for a first-time home purchase. I told my adviser to factor in taxes so I ended up with a little over $11,000. That's about $1,000 taxable. That's NOT $4,000."

Mr. T shrugged. "I'm not signing that," I told him. "She's wrong." He shrugged again. "You call that woman and make an appointment. She needs to prove her math."

So off we went to look over her shoulder. According to her figures, my IRA withdrawal cost me about $150 in taxes. I gave Mr. T. my told-you-so nod. The culprit, it turned out, was his second job. Hardly any taxes were taken out at all. We're talking two figures here. Crazy. I could have smacked him. "Why didn't you have any taxes taken out of this money? I know it's barely $5,000 but still!" On top of that, he didn't have enough taken out of his primary job either. Great day. But this isn't why H&R Block sucks.

I have an FSA - flexible spending account - and that money is taken out pre-tax, which means your taxable income is less. H&R Blockhead, now known as HRB, didn't know what it was. "You do taxes and don't know what an FSA is? Or an HSA? What the heck?!" So HRB called over a co-blockhead and together they proceeded to tell me that yes, you add that income back in afterward. All I could do was shake my head because I knew it couldn't be right but I couldn't prove it. "After a certain income level, FSA hurts you, not helps you," they told me. I just never heard of such a thing. Could they be right? All I knew is we had over $4,000 to find, mostly because of Mr. T. but the FSA wasn't helping either.

I asked the HR people at my job. They hadn't heard such a thing.
I asked my parents. They were just as confused.
I asked friends. They were perplexed. FSA was good, they thought. Yeah, so did I.

Enter Mr. Accountant in 2008. He had come to speak to one of my business groups and I liked the vibe I got from him. I emailed him and it still felt right. I had my partner go with me to meet him and it was wonderful. "We want you to do our business and personal taxes, since they go hand-in-hand."

Mr. T and I went this past Saturday and you know what I had in tow.

"You see this, Mr. Accountant? This is last year's taxes. I just know HRB fouled them up. Can you check?"

"Of course!" He started to fiddle with the papers. "Hmm. Why did she add the FSA money back in?"


He shook his head. "No, no. She didn't do this right. That's not supposed to be added back in. Look at this."

He showed me a piece of paper where the preschool expenses should have been reflected. Even if FSA didn't count all of a sudden, Mr. T had paid his half in cash and had receipts for them. You can claim up to $5,000 in childcare expenses. The line read $0. "I knew it," I muttered.

"When did you buy your house? 2006? Let me see your closing papers. They don't always do that right either." He shook his head again. "Yeah, see this?" He showed me two lines on the closing papers. One was over $3,000 in costs we had incurred. The other was about $584. "She put in this $500 figure but she didn't factor in the $3,000 plus. This is supposed to go in too."

Mr. Accountant thinks we've got about $1,000 coming back to us from HRB's screwup. I'm hoping more but it will be a minute before we get it since these taxes have to be re-filed and for that you have to use the good old U.S. Post Office.

We left our new accountant content in the knowledge that not only would we finally have our first married year in 6 years where we don't owe a thing but we know we'll get money back to boot. And I get vindication. My plan is to take this baby back to HRB and show her the error of her ways. I just want to say, "Go back for more training," but I'll try to make it a positive thing for her. "Hey just wanted you to be aware..." So you don't screw anyone else up in the future.

Do not use H&R Block once your life gets complicated. Pass the green square or you may not be able to collect $200 or any other amount. It's worth the investment to get someone who is on your side and will listen about your life and ask you questions to figure out what you could be deducting and aren't. Or warn you about potential trouble down the road if you don't make changes. My guy is really sweet on top of all this so it's a pleasure to work with him. And after a year of fuming, it's nice to finally have sweet financial relief.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Erractic Cling

I am livid right now and it will seem so small you'll wonder why.

You see, Son is super affectionate. I know he was born this way. For as long as he's been able to control his movements, he has fallen asleep by clinging to someone. As a baby, he'd palm my face and drift off. Even if he moved, his hand didn't. I let him sleep with me until he was three. Not always recommended, I know, but he was mine and I liked watching him sleep. By the time he was three, though, Daughter had settled herself in for entrance into the world 8 months later so it was time to transition the first-born to his own bed.

He made the change faster than expected but his clinginess never changed. He had a pacifier early on but I tossed that thing by the time he was two. Nevertheless, the sucking habit sticks with him too and I know he's not even aware he does it. To this day, when he's in that baby mode and wants to cling to me, his lips spontaneously purse like he's sucking on something and he strokes my face or my arm or my hand. or my back. Now, I don't mind affection generally speaking, but after almost 8 years of this, it is wearing thin. I know this is him yet I roll my eyes ever time I see him sneaking up and I brace myself. Oh boy, free me already! And in case you're wondering, yes, he does this to Mr. T. also.

The problem for me, however, is he does this to just about anyone. Family members seem OK with it but we try to intercept before he wears out his welcome. I am always telling him to give people their space. I keep trying to explain to him that not everyone wants to be touched. Still, he does it. My big problem is he's forever hugging on his sister and kissing some part of her out of the blue like he does with us. I know he doesn't mean any harm but it's enough already.

I've told him repeatedly that he has to keep his hands to himself. I can't impress it upon him enough that this overzelous affection of his is going to land him in trouble one day and it would be unnecessary trouble. The wrong girl. The wrong place. Anything could be misconstrued.

"No one should ever have to say no or stop to you more than once, Son. Never."

He doesn't get it. I know he doesn't. It's not serious to him. It's meaningless the things I say. He keeps coming up out of the blue, hugging us and kissing us. I say quit it and he smiles like it's a challenge. I'll bet it just doesn't seem that big a deal yet, huh?

Well, really it's all about learning to respect other people's space. That's all I want from him. But how many times has Daughter come to tell me how he kissed her cheek yet again. Or he's hugging her and not letting her go. I've told him repeatedly to leave her alone. "She's your sister. Not your girlfriend. Stop touching her when she doesn't want to be touched." I have said this. I have snorted this. I have yelled this. But just about daily I have to say the same thing and I am beyond annoyed with it.

He sits in his room now while I calm down because I have had to scream it yet again. "I'm sorry," is all he can say to me but I'm still mad. "Why? Why can't you keep your hands to herself? Can't you understand that outside of here there are going to be people less tolerant of your unwillingness to listen and take no for no? Someone is going to hurt you one day. The wrong person and you could end up in jail, Son. Or worse, dead. What do I need to say to get you to see this?"

Yeah, I talk in extremes when I do this but for me it's the same as getting it through his head that he has to do well in school and he has to be the leader or stand alone but to be careful whom he follows. He doesn't understand it yet that he is a black male and that society is not yet there when it comes to not jumping to conclusions about him and his behavior. The last thing I want to hear down the road is that he was silly with the wrong person.

I don't know. Maybe I need to hug this out of him, huh? Maybe if I let him hug me all day likes he wants to, he can get this clinginess out of his system. Maybe he's just not getting enough affection from me. Maybe I'm blowing this up bigger than I need to. Yet, I don't think so. I think he needs to learn self-control. He'll be 8 soon and these things get less cute as time goes on.

I think I'm calm now so thank you for listening.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What Time Is It?

It's our first REAL snow in The Nutmeg State. Since Son is on school break and Daughter's preschool is closed and Mr. T. said he had to work overtime, I find myself working from home - sorta. I'm online with my job but really I wasn't thinking before I left last night so I'm not as prepared to work from home as I could be. But work actually had me trolling blogs and I was checking out this blogger and reading through some of her stuff when I came across an interesting little quiz.

I took it twice, first answering the way I wanted to for most and the best answer for the rest, though I was torn. Then I went back and stuck with the sure-thing answers and then for the rest answered the way I kinda wanted to answer the first time around but ummm, ohh maybe that other answer fits better? I got the same results both times. Hmm. I'm a little surprised but then again, kids really do change one's ways, I think. Spouses have a harder time pulling that off but kids? Yeah, we might change a little for them.

See what time YOU are.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Plastic Perspective

So I've been too busy / tired / lazy / dazed and confused to hang out in the blogosphere lately. So I haven't been visiting my friends. I do have a little something I can say today but before I did so, I thought I'd go check in with everyone.

You see this morning, I helped Son respond to some email from a friend of his because I had just remembered to look at some cards Mr. T. (aka Teddy Bear) had emailed me yesterday but I couldn't see on my Mac. So he sent Teddy Bear-themed cards, I took a read and I saw Son had email. But before I let him respond so I could go get dressed for work, I noticed Lynn had stopped by! Well, lookey there! I know she's in deeper than I am so I was pleased. "Gotta go see what's going on in her world today," I promised myself. You see Lynn, and a certain someone else who knows who she is, has one of those lives you couldn't make up if you tried. It's not a slight against her at all. She's simply got a bloggable life and it makes fantastic reading but hearing it in person is way better. So I know it will be something good when I get there.

Knowing I need to catch up on Lynn and the certain-someone-else reminded me that Theresa had visited not too long ago and wished me a Happy Valentine's Day and I hadn't had a chance to stop back by her place too. Hey Theresa, got any suggestions for what I can do to entertain 4 8-year-old boys? I'm letting Son have a sleepover for his birthday next month - maybe - if I can stomach the thought. Should be a bloggable moment. I don't really have a ton of those, you know.

So at lunch today, I tore myself away from the millions of things I needed to do, and stopped in on Liz first. As usual her blog was looking super spiffy. (She did mine too, you know. Still grateful and loving it.) My poor Liz is having major back issues and they have been going on far too long. I know and I know she knows God has His timing but man, it just seems He's not always thinking about how WE see His timing, you know? As my pastor says, straight talk makes straight understanding and there is no sense in faking the funk as if being a Christian means you understand what God is doing at all times or feel the need to pretend like it's all right when it really isn't. I don't mince words with Him and I know He does the same for me. So Lord, I understand - in my limited ability - why people suffer and sometimes have to but I'll always yearn for you to give certain people a break sooner rather than later. Liz is one of those people.


So off to Theresa's place I go, where she mentioned the dinner she cooked for the love of her life and it made me laugh because his favorite part of the meal was, well, go see for yourself! And I can attest to the slight chagrin she felt. But hey, we do the best we can. Thank God people still love us for it, eh? Theresa had also talked about what BooMama was up to and man it had been too long since I visited her. BooMama's latest exploits are truly life-altering. Makes mine pale in comparison. But I thought about that.

Liz had mentioned on her blog about having a pretty quiet life (aside from the back pains) and not making too great a read lately but I told her I thought she and I were of a different sort for the most part. Liz has mega-family so she has way more interesting things going on daily, I'm sure. But I think her role in the blogosphere is probably a great part encouragement and inspiration and simply letting people know she's supporting them, you know? And I think I'm more like that as well.

So while I'll try to be mildly entertaining, I'll happily settle into my role as voyeur and soapbox resident and tell you what I was going to blog about for a brief moment - plastic surgery. Yep, didn't see that coming, did you?

Well, I may have mentioned that about 3 years ago I had a major eczema breakout during the time we were moving from my apartment of 10 years in with Mr. T's mother so we could save and look for our first house. I was also taking a 16-week business course so my partner and I could take things to another level. My daughter was also about 9 months at the time and walking around getting into things. I also HATED MY JOB with a passion I never knew I could muster, so I was looking to leave but knowing I would have had to give a work history to someone soon enough regarding a mortgage application. I was stressed to the max, my friends, and stress is a major issue for my skin. On top of that, I wasn't completely back to myself anyway since I had had Daughter a mere 9 months previously and pregnancy ain't good for my skin either. (My new doctor ought to be more accommodating than my previous ones were, however, so if I go for round 3, I'm a little more confident about keeping myself together.)

Anyway, things got REALLY bad to the point where I couldn't walk for two days. After 5 months of this, Mr. T's co-worker recommended someone and that is the man who God used to make a difference - and fast. So now, three years later I have one lingering, visible reminder of that breakout (I can live with the invisible and moderately invisible ones). I wasn't thrilled with it but I can deal, you know? With what, you wonder? My little friend there. See her? Of course you do, how can you miss her! But please excuse me if I don't blow her up for you, eh?

Anyway, one day the amazing dermatological doctor said to me, "Oh, a plastic surgeon should be able to take care of that easily."

Almost got whiplash but don't have time for a chiropractor right now. "I'm sorry, what did you say? Really? I had never even thought of that!" All those episodes of Nip/Tuck that I salivate over and it honestly never crossed my mind.

Because Amazing Doc said it was so, I trusted him and sought out one of the two people he recommended. I liked her website and I liked the fact that she was a woman. My Amazing Gyno is a male, so it's not a feeling of invasion or anything, but for this one, I thought a woman's touch may be in order. She was younger than I expected, pretty, great bedside manner and glancing me over while I pretended she wasn't. I told her how I never thought of this alternative until Amazing Doc said something and hopefully that told her indirectly, "You don't have an ongoing patient in me, my dear."

She sounded promising - until they did an insurance check. They weren't listed as an approved provider. Darn. Mr. T has great insurance but gotta run into a wall sometimes. So I checked up on Doc 2 and saw he was on the list. Whew. Made my appointment and he was less pleasing in the bedside manner - only slightly, though. There was some dry humor in there. He was also mega forthright when I asked questions. "I am going to tell the insurance company this is reconstructive surgery, not cosmetic. And most likely they will cover everything, I haven't had a problem yet, but it's always their choice to not cover it." Ah, sweet insurance ambiguity. On top of all that: "I can understand your hesitation," he says. "It's a risk for me too! They don't even tell me if they are going to cover it until AFTER it's done!"

What?! How can that be? But I can't go into insurance nonsense right now.
The potential hit if they say no? $750.
My self-esteem if I say yes? Priceless.

I had already made up my mind to do it. Plastic Doc took a look at my c-section scar to see how I'd heal and he was pleased with it. "Did it twice too. You ought to hear my Gyno," I told him. "He's amazed every time he looks at it." Despite the eczema, I am a fast, thorough healer and I don't keloid, like many African-Americans do, so it seemed I should be good to go. I just had to check on Mr. T's schedule because Plastic Doc said while it's an in-office procedure, someone should drive me there. About 5 days with however many stitches it takes and he should be able to remove them after that. "I go after them sooner when it's on the face," he explained. Hmm. Lady Plastic Doc would have let it stay longer. Interesting but he better be right.

So, I'm set for March 21st. How's that for a bloggable moment?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Marital Musings

It's after midnight. I should be going to bed but this is my podium so I must speak - yet again.

I started tonight, on my way home from work, talking to a girlfriend about the business she is in in an effort to figure out a new program my partner and I want to introduce in our business. But we didn't get to talk about that right away. My question of how she was doing was answered with a less-than-enthusiastic response. My business side stepped aside and my encouraging/counseling instincts kicked in. I asked her what was up, suspecting what it could be because we had discussed it many times before and I was right - marriage issues.

I have happily married friends. I have delusionally married friends. I have newly married friends. I have divorced friends. I have friends in longtime marriages that have hit a rough patch. I have single friends with live-in partners and those with no partners at all. And oh, yes, I have engaged friends too. This marriage thing never ceases to amaze me because you can never hear it all. Sometimes there seems to be no limit to the patience some people have and shouldn't. At times there seems to be no depth to the lows people will sink to to hurt their loved one and when I say loved one, you know what I mean? I mean S-P-O-U-S-E. Yeah, yeah. I can be judgmental. Yeah, yeah. I act like I know it all. I know this. But my stance is clear - life is different after marriage. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule so pull out all the examples of other couples you want. It doesn't change my mind on this. I simply KNOW this because I've crossed that threshold.

Before I got married people asked me, "Are you SURE you want to do this?" I think I may have said it here before that before I got married, it seemed that married folk were part of this strange secret club that they alluded to but never confirmed directly. They weren't telling me not to join but they weren't encouraging me either. And it wasn't necessarily a club you felt you wanted to join anyway after all that. In this case, reservations wouldn't get you into this club. They kept you out. But once you joined, oh boy! The tome of MARITAL TRUTH came out and people's real issues were freely shared because now you were a member. You were hit with a strange reality about the whole thing. Now, that reality could hit immediately, gradually or just suddenly after some time passed but it will hit. I promise you that. But again, that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

You know, no one could really explain this to me then and I can't fully explain it now. I can only say THINGS WILL CHANGE. Maybe for the better. Maybe not. And yet THINGS WILL STAY THE SAME AND INTENSIFY. You can only hope and pray that intensity is for the better.

It's so cliche. "Marriage is work." But I believe this is another truism that can only be deeply understood after experiencing it. I have friends who have been experiencing their lion's share of marital issues and I feel for them because it's hard to listen to them and hear their pain and not be able to help beyond that listening role. But you can't. Because no one can work your marriage for you. You have to invest that time yourself. But I do pray for them and ask God to give them wisdom and more patience and the energy they need to do whatever they need to or the ability to walk away and cool off - or even walk away for good.

My friends call me because they know I am the counselor. They know I am the encourager. They know I won't just take their side but I will try to listen and if I think I can see some point from the husband's perspective, I'll tell them. They know I will never suggest divorce. That can never be my decision but my job is to support them and if I have to, defend them because that's what I do. But this is one battle where everyone loses if the big guns are pulled out so we all must be gentle. Marriage is fragile and strong. It is energizing and life draining. It is time consuming and freeing. There is great potential for great achievement if everyone works together but working together isn't always instantly accomplished.

You see how rambly this post is? That's marriage for you. Just a jumble of words sometimes. But we know some things for sure:

1 - speak slowly, speak carefully because words hurled in anger are trapped in the mind forever, even after forgiveness is given.

2 - a person will change if they choose to but YOU can't change them no matter how cold your shoulder is or how much you try to bribe them. You can only change you and how you choose to react.

3 - counseling is not a sign of failure but a show of love and care for your relationship. (oh, but for goodness sake, don't seek the counsel of people who already told you not to marry that loser. There's no unbiased opinion to be found there.)

4 - in the beginning, amazingly enough, simply being married can be a time consuming activity.

5 - you can't have it all in one person. That's what friends (and God) are for.

There's other stuff too but that's not my frame of mind. I'm simply musing on the intricacies of this union of souls. For me, it's a pleasure - over all. The details can get muddy sometimes but I knew who I was marrying (as much as anyone can know someone they haven't literally known their entire life) and I still chose to deal with his idiosyncracies. I have some friends who would not say the same thing. It does make me appreciate what I have all the more.

As they used to say in the ceremony, marriage is not something to be entered into lightly (or darkly, for that matter). It's a very big deal. A HUGE deal. I mean to sound scary and ominous and mysterious when I say this because I want it to be understood that married life is serious business but you can't fully prepare for it no matter how hard you try. Knowing YOURSELF, getting some counseling beforehand and as you need it, and having faith - whether it is in God or whatever nurtures your soul - will help you get far. Success, I think, comes from being as selfish as you are selfless.

I need to rest. Tomorrow I have to call my girlfriend back and encourage her some more and I should probably check up on another sometimes-troubled one while I'm at it and remind her she's not alone either because marriage can be a very lonely place. But I still highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Politicial Science Class in Session

Oh, the political intrigue. My business partner and I were talking this morning about some financials for Village Works. "I heard Denise Nappier giving a speech," she said, "and she said that the business entity tax is no more!" What?! That is truly good news, though we haven't been able to get a confirmation on that yet. Still, if she heard it, then it should be out there somewhere and for small businesses, this is a gigantic deal. The thought is that crazy taxes like this is part of what is keeping business out of Connecticut or driving it out. We're currently talking about $250 we could be putting to other use. I don't know if larger corps foot a larger bill or not but it's the small businesses that employ most Americans, believe it or not. That Denise Nappier rocks, by the way, in case you didn't already know it. She is moving and grooving with the Connecticut state budget and making strides. Hate to lose her but Barack and Hillary ought to take notice.

And speaking of, I am no poly sci fan so my knowledge is limited about the whys and wherefores of our questionable system. So it was nice to see this explanation of superdelegates on ABC News recently.

Oh, those super delegates! Now you can see there truly is power in the single vote. Watch and learn.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

History in the Making

Did you vote? You'd better! I am normally unaffiliated but I had to register myself in a party because I could not let the opportunity to help put a black man in office get away from me. Mind you, if a white woman makes it, I'll be thrilled. Not AS thrilled, but thrilled.

Daughter and I got out early enough to go vote this morning. No one was in there, surprisingly, so I sailed through. As I took Daughter to school afterward, I gushed about the history she was living right now and didn't know it. Hopefully it will be old hat by the time she's old enough to vote.

There ought to be equally history-making voting going on this year. If you are a woman and never voted before, you ought to get your lazy butt registered and get out there. If you are a so-called minority, same goes for you - ANY minority. Don't you see we can actually put one of these two in power if we ALL vote? Not going to be home? There is such thing as an absentee ballot.

There is no excuse for us not banning together to make this happen. White men with money will always be around and there will always be the "powerful" ones looking to buy an election. Let's not give them the satisfaction this time around.

When it's your state's turn to primary, VOTE! When the general election hits, VOTE! Only then will you be able to take credit when history is made this year.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I Have a Newwwww Phone

And it is puuuurple.

I love this phone simply because it is.