April 2009


The 2008 tax season is over. Now is the time to start preparing for next year’s taxes. Here are some helpful links to get you tax-inspired:

It’s Deductible by TurboTax – Free deduction tracking software allows you track your charitable contributions, including cash contributions, items, stock, and mileage. If you use TurboTax to file your taxes, ItsDeductible will automatically transfer your info when you start your filing preparations next spring. If you tend to donate lots of items to charity, ItsDeductible has a handy little section that incorporates the IRS’ item worth tables so that you can easily enter items and see their tax worth come next spring. Make a list of the items you are donating, and staple that list to your donation receipt for ease in claiming the items come tax time.

IRS Withholding Calculator – This calculator can give you a rough idea if you need to change the amount you’re having withheld in order to keep from paying taxes (or loaning money to the government) next year. Just make sure you enter as accurate figures as possible, and if you use the calculator, consider re-calculating every few months to make sure you’re still on track.

Record Keeping Tips from about.com – with regards to length of time a taxpayer should keep their tax records:

Although legally you need only keep tax records for three years from the date you filed the related income tax return, you should keep a copy of your actual tax returns, W-2s, 1099s, etc., indefinitely. The IRS destroys original tax returns after three years, and you or your heirs may need information from the returns at some point, or you may need to prove your earnings for Social Security purposes.

3 tips to Maximize Deductions – this article includes a paragraph on bundling medical expenses to maximize your deduction. You can deduct qualifying expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. The author of this article recommends determining an estimate of 7.5% of your AGI at the beginning of the year, then keeping a running tally of medical expenses and if you near that amount, consider if there are any expenses that could be brought into the current year. For example, a household that makes $55,000 would realize a deduction after $4,125 of medical expenses are incurred. If, in December, a household is at $3,900 of costs, it may be a good idea to reschedule a couple appointments back into December (well-child checks, dental cleanings, chiropractic appointments, etc.) in order to realize a tax benefit.

We just had a minor power outage (1 hour), and I loved it! It would have been even more enjoyable if we had our wood stove installed (just purchased), but it was a great experience nonetheless. After a few minutes of “what in the world am I supposed to do?” I set out to FINALLY update the boys’ journals, and do some reading. I even lit one of our oil lamps just for kicks.

<<side note: those oil burning lamps are really stinkin’ handy, consider picking up a couple, they’re easy to find in the decor or candle section of many stores. Oh, and if you know where to find some wicks for them, let me know, I have extra oil but can’t seem to find any wick material>>

It was only an hour, but I felt like time slowed down. I’m probably just being melodromatic, but it was really relaxing. As the lights kicked back on and I heard the rushing hum of appliances and equipment starting back up, I realized how great the silence was. Not that I’m planning on getting rid of my refrigerator or anything; you bet yer buns I appreciate technology! This night simply served as a reminder that sometimes the activities that require the least technology are the most rewarding 🙂

Oh, and this to show that I am still human: I missed the office. Argh!!

Yesterday I was listening to a certain radio show where the host interviewed students at a college campus. Approaching the students, the host asked their areas of study, and finding that one student was planning on entering ministry, the host asked the student to witness to him in 30 seconds. After pleading for more time to build a relationship, the student finally began to explain to the host that he needed to fill his life with the unshakeable love of God in order to truly live. The host then explained that he felt plenty of love from his wife, kids, and dog, and didn’t feel the need for any more love. The student kept trying to explain why the host needed to experience this love, but he wasn’t able to answer the question “Why do I need God when I already feel plenty of love? I don’t feel like there’s anything missing in my life.”

This is a common approach (one I’m guilty of using) to witnessing that fails to bring to focus the reason we NEED God: that we were born sinful and cannot escape that sin nature no matter how hard we try (or what we do). Our perfect God abhors sin, and thus we are separated from him, with our only hope being through our acceptance of his scape-goat sacrifice of his own perfect son (the only worthy sacrifice) on our behalf so that we might experience a relationship with him.

Beginning with the “God shaped hole” approach does such a disservice to those who don’t know God. They are let down by feel-good answers like “You need to let God fill up your life” and “I just felt so different and wonderful when I gave my life to Jesus”. Laying the gospel down flat-out, and including the “S” word isn’t always the most popular or trendy way to spread the news about humanity’s need for Jesus, but it’s the approach that will stand the test of time.

Now I just need to remember to take my own advice from my internet soap box to the real world 😉


Search & Win

If you know Elizabeth, make sure to check out her post on Swagbucks here, and if signing up please use her referral link. If not, read on:

Nearly a year ago I started using a search engine called Swagbucks. This search engine offers “swagbucks” for searching through their site. The swagbucks are won, not earned straight up. For me I usually earn at least one swagbuck on my first three searches of the day, and then I switch back to google. Swagbucks uses technology that senses when a user is just searching repeatedly to try to win, so it’s really only worth searching until your first win.

Swagbucks can be redeemed for prizes ranging from sports and music memorabilia to gift cards and t-shirts. I always wait until I have 45 swagbucks and redeem them for a $5 Amazon gift card (the most versatile prize). I earn, on average, one of these gift cards per month. I’m saving up the gift cards for a mom toy. You know: knitting needles, baby carrier, cloth diapers, that type of thing…

If you have the time and are interested in swagbucks, here’s a link with my referral code embedded. Whichever browser you use, make sure to download the swagbucks plug-in so that you can easily search swagbucks and then switch to google when you’ve won. Happy shopping 🙂


The post below was originally dated April of 2008. I don’t use disposable email addresses as often anymore because I’ve cut down on my online offers/coupons/freebies etc. I made a separate “offers” email address through yahoo, and I just check it every couple of weeks. I will occasionally use a disposable addy, as they’re just nice to have around 🙂

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Spend much time on the ‘net? Ever visit a page where you’re required to put in your email address, but feel a little unsure about whose hands your address will wind up in? <<Side note: you’re never supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but sometimes I can’t help it!>> Several years ago my brother turned me on to SpamGourmet, a website where you can register for disposable email addresses. You just pick a username, and then any time you need an email address and you’re not sure if you’ll end up with a bunch of spam, you just give out one of these disposable addys. Then, when the company tries to contact you, you still receive their email (SpamGourmet forwards the email on to your regular address), but only for a set number of contacts. Then, after that number is reached the emails will no longer be forwarded on to you.

From SpamGourmet’s website:

The disposable addresses are like:

someword.x.user@spamgourmet.com

where someword is a word you have never used before, x (optional) is the number of email messages you want to receive at this address (up to 20, and the number 3 will be used if you leave it out), and user is your username.

For example, if your user name is “spamcowboy”, and BigCorp wants you to give them your email address (on the web, on the phone, at a store – it doesn’t matter), instead of giving them your protected address, give them this one:

frombigcorp.3.spamcowboy@spamgourmet.com
(and frombigcorp.spamcowboy@spamgourmet.com will work the same way)

This disposable email address will be created here the first time BigCorp uses it (you don’t have to do anything to create it), and you’ll receive at most 3 messages, forwarded to your protected address. The rest will be indelicately consumed.

Since I print out a lot of coupons, I always use disposable addresses at sites that require me to register in order to get what I want. So far my regular inbox has stayed fairly clean from spam, and I’ve given out over 20 disposable addresses, so I think it’s working!

Thanks for the tag, Amanda. But first, a photo from this past week:

Jimmy & Jakey in a basket

5 things I was doing 5 years ago

  • Enjoying my second year of marriage
  • Finishing my degree
  • Commuting into Anchorage
  • Working as a clerk at a small construction company
  • Dreaming of babies 🙂

5 things on my to do list for today

  • Clean toilets and sweep (well, ya wanted to know!)
  • Blog (check that off!)
  • email my youth group girls
  • Call my insurance agent
  • Youth group tonight

5 things I would do with a million dollars

  • pay off my mortgage (freedom!)
  • Go to a marriage conference to prepare for the fun “discussions” this new found money would bring to our marriage
  • Invest so as to create a steady stream of income (a million dollars wouldn’t provide a large annuity, but it would be decent)
  • Pray bunches and bunches and hopefully bless the socks off people randomly and secretly
  • Go to restaurants and secretly buy other people’s meals (you know, call the waitress over and explain “See that elderly gentleman in the corner? See that frazzled mom with the two toddlers in that booth over there? Please bring me their check, I’d like to pay for their meals” How much fun would that be??!)

5 places I have lived

  • Crescent, Oregon
  • Oakridge, Oregon
  • Sitka, Alaska
  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • Here, yo!

5 jobs I have held

  • Sitka LookOut – basically wear some khakis and wander around town helping tourists
  • Mountain Biking and Hiking Guide
  • Port Agent – worked with foreign-flagged vessels in the port of Sitka (cruise ships)
  • Receptionist/Bookkeeper for a construction company

5 things I want to be doing in 5 years

  • Playing with another kid or two
  • Planning a second foreign trip
  • What does it say about me that I can’t think of anything else? I have hopes and dreams, they just don’t generally fall in the 5 year range. Hmmm…

5 people I am tagging (sticking with non-MatSuians) 

  • Mel from Alaskan Comes Home
  • Lee from My Life and Travels 
  • Carly from The Geagel Gang (so much for non-MatSuians)
  • Anybody else in my blogroll who wants to play along. I’m hesitant to tag any others because, lets face it, blogging tags can resemble bulk email forwards depending on whether or not it’s desired by the receiver. I, however, always love a good tag 🙂

Today we’ll explore how to obtain/maintain water for emergencies.

The first step is to consider how you currently get your drinking water. Are you on a city water/septic system? Or, do you get your water from a well? If you’re on a city system there may or may not be water flowing during an emergency. Additionally, the water supply may become contaminated. You’ll want to consider storing your emergency water, rather than depending on the water system to supply it for you.

If you currently get your water from a private well, it is possible to install a hand pump that works along side your current submersible electric pump. For a top of the line deep well hand pump, Bison Hand Water Pumps offers a kit for around $1500. Ouch. There are cheaper hand pumps out there, such as this one for $75, but it’s only rated for a depth of 22 feet. If your well’s static depth (height from the ground to the top of the water table) is under 30 feet, you can get away with a shallow well pump like the cheaper one above. However, most wells would need a more expensive deeper pump, which is going to be costly. From my research it looks like some hand pumps can be operated along side an electric pump, and some can’t, so make sure to do your research before purchasing.

If there are alternate sources of water nearby, they’ll need to be purified either through filtering, treating, or boiling. From the American Red Cross:

  • Boiling: Boil water for 3-5 minutes (rolling boil)
  • Disinfection: 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water. Stir and let stand for 30 min. Repeat if there’s no slight bleach smell

A cursory look at water filters at REI.com shows a starting price of $65 for the typical filter, with replacement filters costing $10-30. A filtering water bottle ($40-$50) might be a good purchase to have around for emergencies, but replacement filters for it are costly at $25.

The bottom line:

  1. Know your need – at the Maxwell House we’re looking at 3+ gallons per day
  2. Know your sources – we aren’t storing much water (1 case of bottled), but Kevin is savvy about alternate sources in the house (hot water heater). We have a well, but it’s too deep for a cheap-o pump. There is a small lake 1/4 mile from our house.
  3. Know what’s required of you next – Water is $1 gallon at WalMart. I think we’ll stock a couple of days worth of these. I need to find our bleach and make sure I have a small container for our portable emergency kit (backpack). I’m going to keep an eye out for a sale on filters/filtering water bottles. It’d be nice to have one someday for all of those family backpacking trips I have planned in my head 😉