Saturday, February 28, 2015

Taxes, you hurt me real(ly) bad(ly).

As far as income tax refunds go, I know most financial planners will tell you that your goal should be to get nothing back, because otherwise the government is keeping your money. I agree with that sentiment for people who have credit card debt. It does seem silly not to not pay down more of that debt each month. But my feelings have changed (and changed again) over the years. 

About seven or eight years ago, I thought the hubby and I were getting too much money back in our tax refund. I decided I would rather have a larger paycheck and then be able to put more money into savings. So I changed my withholdings (or whatever that is called) from 0 or 1 to 3, plus I even had extra taken out each month. I figured/hoped we would end up with well under 1k in a refund, and I was cool with that.

But the funny thing was that for many years, we never got anywhere close to that small of a refund. Some years we did well enough that we were able to do some home improvements (windows one year, tub surround another year, and a new AC and furnace after that). Our best year was my second year of being unemployed. This dropped us to a lower tax bracket, and because we had gotten new widows that same year, we ended up getting a really nice chunk of change back.

Oddly enough (to me) was a couple of years ago, when I had earned a decent (but less than the rate of poverty) amount of money freelancing. I had not paid any federal taxes on it, so I was penalized in my tax return, but we still ended up with a nice-sized federal return. Honestly, I thought we would owe or get only a few hundred dollars back. I was shocked!

Last year, we ended up with more money, though I had expected even more than that since I had done no freelancing. I figured this year we would end up with about the same.

I was wrong.

It turns out, we have now re-entered what I consider the silliest tax bracket. We went from the 15 percent tax bracket to the giant leap of the 25 percent bracket, because last year was my first full year of employment. We are barely at the low (income) end of this tax bracket. I am 99 percent sure we will never earn enough to make it to the next bracket of 28 percent. Nonetheless, a married couple can make about 3.5 times what the hubby and I are making and yet pay only 3 percent more in taxes than we do. Sigh. And to be clear, I am not saying that the more money you make, the more you should be taxed. I am more of a flat or fair tax kind of gal. This is kind of driving that point home.

I can't help but be disappointed. I was counting on a decent refund that would allow me to pay off the hub's truck (yes, I have clearly come back to wanting a large refund). Looks as if that won't be happening anytime soon.

I have tried to make myself feel better by reminding myself that we are finally making roughly what we made before I was laid off. But that just ends up making me sad, because 1) it took us six years to get back to that point, 2) I now work full time (I was working only 4 days per week before I was laid off), and 3) we somehow ended up with so much less of a refund than what we had gotten back then. Don't get it.

But the worrier in me knows as tenuous as my husband's job is, we may very well end up back in the 15 percent bracket next year. So I am just going to shut up. And maybe treat the family to a nice dinner with our return. You know, while we still can.

:-)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In defense of the pit bull

As regular blog readers know (and at this point, I think there might just be two of you), my family said goodbye to our beloved pit bull mix Sadie, a few months ago.

Since then, three months and almost two weeks later, I still miss her. I can honestly say that I probably have not gone more than a week without tearing up. But, to be fair, I cry over silly things.

When we adopted Sadie, we were not sure we were going to have kids, so the fact that Sadie was partially a pit bull did not concern me. And, honestly, when I first saw her, I did not know that was her dominant breed. But once we knew I was pregnant with J, I started to worry. Back then, there was not social media, but there was still the internet, so I did occasionally read about pit bull maulings.

I very clearly remember my first day home alone with J. She was a week old, and my mom, who had been staying with us, and my husband both headed back to work. I was freaking out to begin with, just being a new mother. But having a dog constantly jump on me while I was holding the baby made it even worse. And all the visions of what a pit bull could do were going through my mind.

Eventually, things calmed down, and I would let Sadie near baby J. But never alone. I repeat: Never alone. In fact, I am guessing that J was not alone with Sadie until she was at least 6, and probably even older. It really only was in the last few years, the two would snuggle on the couch, and J is 11 1/2 now. But the reality is that I rarely left my kid unattended regardless. Proof of this is when she was 5 1/2, and I was in the shower on my day off. J cut head her head, which resulted in a trip to Children's. I remember very clearly the husband asking why I had left her alone. And I remember, almost as clearly, my saying that I was in the shower, and what did he expect. But that was pretty much the only time she was out of my sight at that age. A little sad.

But to my point: Once again, I read about another pit bull attacking and killing a small child. This girl was 2. It is very tragic, and my heart breaks for the family. But, and this won't be popular with some people (luckily few people come here!), the parents have to take some responsibility. You should NEVER leave a child that young alone with a dog. Period. Even if that dog is a cocker spaniel, and even if that dog is your beloved family pet (they were at a friend's house).

Part of me thinks we were lucky that Sadie never did anything to Jordan. Another part of me knows that I have my overprotective parenting to thank for that. There is no possible way that J would have ever been alone with Sadie so young for that to have happened. But there is also this important factor: Not all pit bulls are bad. In fact, most family pit bulls are pretty good dogs: I know our Sadie sure was. I have come across people walking their pit bulls near some of the parks J and I have gone to, and I have not hesitated to ask to pet them. (But I am not going to lie: When I drive through a questionable neighborhood on my way home, one known for a high percentage of homicides, and I see men walking pit bulls, I would not want to ask to pet them, even though that is kind of contradicting what I am saying).

Pit bull ownership is not for everyone. But I would have adopted another pit bull after Sadie, had not so many people have been afraid of the breed. In fact, my older brother and his wife just did not feel comfortable coming to our house because of Sadie. I respected that, even though I knew they had nothing to worry about. But of course you never do know.

I leave you with this quote, which the Western PA Humane Society posted on its Facebook page. They said it better than I could have.
The Western PA Humane Society would like the express our sincerest condolences to the family who lost their 2-year-old daughter last evening after a tragic accident with a dog that belonged to a family member. Our thoughts are with them during this difficult time as they mourn her passing.
While we understand that there are dangerous dogs in the world, we would like to take a moment to remind the community that each dog is an individual – no matter their size, age, or breed. What does that mean? We think our friends at Animal Farm Foundation say it the best. “We owe it to all dogs to see them for who they really are, free of prejudice, stereotypes, and assumptions that are based on a known pedigree, a breed label guess, or physical appearance.” We hope that when hearing media reports of this tragic event, the public will remember that you can’t judge a book by its cover, or a dog by it’s breed. See the dog for who he/she really is; a beloved family member, a snuggle buddy, a fuzzy shoulder to cry on, a therapist with fur or just an overall best pal.
 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The hope and reminder of spring

Other than a couple of days here and there, I am convinced that snow has been on the ground for several months here in the Burgh. I am sure some statistician or weather person would tell me otherwise, but to me, it just seems as if we have had snow for a long time. However, I chose to live here; I could have moved slightly south, which was my intention about 22 years ago, so I try not to complain too much about it. And really, compared to many people around these parts, I rant very little about the weather (well, cold temps and snow, that is).

I just can't see myself living in a place where it never snows, and I particularly have no desire to live where it is hot and humid for many months. I appreciate the changing of the seasons. There is just something about the various colors and stages of growth we see throughout the year.

Sure, this time of year there is a lot of gray. Trees are bare. When you actually see the grass, most of it is brown. But a trip to Phipps, one of my favorite places, reminds me that spring is not too far away. I might not appreciate the spring and summer if it weren't for the (sometimes depressing) season we are in now. It gives me something to look forward to. And I can appreciate how beautiful snow can look.

So I leave you with a few photos of my hope springing eternally (or something like that). Stay warm and dry!

I forget what this flower is called, but it seems perfect for February.

My iPhone does not do this justice, but this was the first time I had seen mist coming off the water in this exhibit.

Hybrid azalea


During the winter show, there is a tree in the middle of the water. This was the first time I have seen this view and could appreciate the water and what is behind it.

Broderie Room

East Room (my favorite place)





Friday, February 13, 2015

On the bright side of education

So I see it has been over a month since I last blogged. As per usual, I wrote a couple of posts in my head. I am pretty sure I did not write a post after having a mini panic attack a few weeks ago. I woke up early a few Mondays ago and just started to fret about so many things. I was alternating between sobbing and something else. At one point, I was not even sure I could breath. I was quite upset. But strangely that feels like a lifetime ago, fortunately (you can't keep an optimistic down for too long, I guess).

I blame part of my blogging absence on the state of the world. There is just so much bad news. So many sad, frustrating, and/or anger-inducing stories out there. Particularly, there is too much violence and hatred. Sometimes within miles of where I live (see Monroeville Mall shooting).

But I wanted to share something that caused me to smile. Something that gives me hope.

A couple of weeks ago, a woman I went to grade school with posted on Facebook that she received a phone call from one of the teachers of her 16-year-old son. To praise him! The teacher told this woman that not only was her son doing well in class, but he was a joy to have in class due to his manners. How great for her, her husband, her son, and even the teacher. I know firsthand how much easier/nicer it is to tell a parent her child is doing well.

Then a couple of days ago, this same woman posted a picture of a letter addressed to her son from a different teacher who had equally high praise for the son.This teacher said that he saw him being inquisitive and caring about understanding how things work. Honestly, the letter almost brought tears to my eyes.

I have not seen this woman in about 30 years. I, probably obviously, don't know her son. But how great is it that teachers can take the time to praise the positive. Teachers get a lot of grief, and sometimes it is justified. But I think we should acknowledge the teachers who take the time to do this sort of thing. And, as important, let's here it for the kids who get the high praise. And behind those kids are good parents the vast majority of the time.

I took to FB this morning, to see if this was some kind of anomaly. It turns out, it actually does happen to some people. More than a dozen friends posted that they had received a call, email, or letter from a teacher acknowledging their child. A couple of teacher friends said they try (or have tried) to do it (I am not willing to give my HS French teacher as much credit since his were in the form of computerized progress reports).

That's all I have tonight. But it's enough.