Monthly Archives: April 2012

Emergency Planning for the Single Mom

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National Severe Weather Preparedness Week is April 22 to April 28

Tornado Season has officially begun in Texas with the touchdown of more than 15 tornadoes in Dallas in the early part of this month.   It was the worst day ever,  having the kids at school when the sirens went off and false reports of touchdowns nearby.    We survived that awful day, but soon enough, North Texas will transition into Wild Fire Season and Flash Flood Season.   Are you prepared for a disaster?

Imagine worst case where you have to leave your home immediately or take cover in a closet or basement.  Do you know what information you would need to have on hand after you emerge into the aftermath?  Who will you call?  Does your insurance over this?  Does your child need a tetanus shot?

Whenever there is impending doom, I grab my “Important Information” binder, my  Portable Safe and my Portable Hard-Drive …. along with the kids, the car keys, the dogs and their leashes.   The first three items contain the workings of my life and if I lost every other material thing, then I have the tools to pick up the pieces for me and my kids.

STEP 1: Important Information Binder

This binder pulls together key information needed to make contact and be answer questions about your family, your insurance, your health.  This binder can contain:

  • A list of Emergency Contacts which include the closest members of your family and their home and cellphone numbers.  It should also contain the numbers for your doctors, dentist, eye doctor, plumber, lawn service, utilities companies and alarm service.  (What if you lose your cellphone?!?)
  • Current Car Insurance policy
  • Current Home Owners insurance policy
  • Kids current shot records
  • Dogs Rabies Certifications
  • Life Insurance Policies

My binder is full of sheet protectors that I can just drop things into it as I think of stuff I may want to have with me.

It isn’t unusual for me to reference that binder in just doing day-to-day stuff and my mom knows where it is in case I become seriously ill or when I occasionally travel.  So, I also include:

  • Authorization for her to treat my kids
  • Health Insurance Cards
  • Current Pictures of my kids and pets (in case they go missing)
  • Care and Feeding instructions for my Pet Sitter
  • The Kids Routines and Schedules for when I have to travel without them.

STEP 2: Personal Safe or Safe Deposit Box

  • Birth Certificates
  • Vehicle and Home Titles
  • SS Cards
  • Your Will
  • A copy of your identification card/driver license
  • Passports
  • A copy of your Credit Cards front and back
  • A Password/Combination Log of your email, online, website accounts
  • A book of checks/or emergency cash

STEP 3: Portable Hard Drive/Remote Backup

Personally, I like to keep all my digital photos, and I have a zillion of them,  on a 1 terabit portable hard drive which I grab when I need to take cover.  If I lose every photo album in a fire, flood or storm, then I still have these valuable keepsakes.

I also keep an online remote backup of my PC Hard Drive with a service called Carbonite.  For $69 a year, my home computer is constantly backed up and I can retrieve my documents from any internet-connected PC or from an App on my iPhone.  This also gives me protection should my hard drive crash from a hacker, a virus or a power surge.  Or sometimes, it’s been known to just crash randomly.  This gives me incredible peace of mind that my data won’t disappear in a flash.

Check out this link that compares remote backup services.

But Wait……

This is just a small portion of what you will need in the aftermath of an emergency.   There are many, many website that can provide further information on how to prepare for an emergency, such as preparing food rations, evacuation plans, and disaster kits.   All these are very important to a well-rounded Disaster Preparedness Plan.

Check out these websites for more information:

http://www.ready.gov

http://preparedness.com

http://www.redcross.org

If your area is prone to hurricanes and/or earthquakes, there are specific websites for preparedness for your situation:

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov

http://earthquake.usgs.gov

Some of these lists can be incredibly thorough, so review them and take away what you need and can easily manage.

Peace of Mind

A plan and having information at your fingertips can give you peace of mind.  Sharing this plan with your kids and extended family can give you all confidence that “in case of emergency”, you will know what to do, where to go, and how to kick start your life again.

Now, get started and here’s hoping you never have to use your plan!

~Dona~

Adventures of a Single Mom – Camping

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Adventures of a Single Mom – Camping

A few weeks ago, I realized that this coming May will signify 5 years since I started this Single Mom gig.  I am shocked how fast this time has passed and it started me thinking back to the beginning ….. and our first adventure as a threesome!

Camping!

I have such great memories of camping when I was a kid. We camped with other families, so there were plenty of us kids running free through the woods, the streams, the campsites.  Our days were filled with exploration and fishing and swimming; Our nights were filled with roasting marshmallows and singing songs around the campfire with my Daddy and my Mom strumming guitars.

My mom, my big sister, me and my little brother and our dog in front of our tent.

My dad doing dishes in our camping kitchen.

Those adventures ended when my parents separated.

I wanted my kids to have these kinds of  memories, too, but instead of ending with a marriage, our adventures began at the end.  Are you following this?

Knowing that their dad was moving out as soon as his new place was ready, I was looking for something they could be excited about post-D Day.

I cannot remember what my inspiration was, but I knew without a “certain someone” to nix all my grand plans, the possibilities were endless.  I found a place that rented popup campers and booked a weekend in May along with a recommendation to a local lakeside campground.  I also had to borrow a truck to haul the camper and who in Texas doesn’t have a truck, except me.

Another great memory from my childhood.... all of my family and my mom's family piled into our popup

My mom got so excited about my plans, that she booked a camper for her and my step-dad and they joined us for the weekend.

So Friday after work, we headed to the local campsite and me and kids figured out how to set up a pop-up camper.  Success!!!

We built our very own, no lighter-fluid used, camp fire and roasted hot dogs for our dinner.

We slept comfortably and I even figured out how to make a bacon and egg breakfast in that tiny little kitchen.

We took long walks to the bathrooms and had a great time checking out the amenities.

We fished with leftover hotdogs and didn’t catch a thing.  The kids rode bikes and I took pictures of stuff.

We celebrated my Step Dad’s birthday, and roasted marshmallows and made S’mores.

We grilled burgers and did fun things with my camera and their little camping lanterns.

We fished some more and watched the ducks and my son accidentally threw his sister’s fishing rod into the lake trying to master his casting.

And on Sunday, we brought our first “Threesome” adventure to a close and packed up and went home.

And so began our love affair with camping……

And 6 months later, Santa (Mom) surprised the kids with our very own (used) PopUp camper!

But not before my parents ran out and bought this…..

and we became a camping family once again.

Yep, the guy with the cap and cigarette is the same little boy from the picture at the beginning…..

~Dona~

Top 25 Single Mom Bloggers – 2 More Days for Voting

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The circle of Moms website is looking for the Top 25 Single Mom bloggers and I’m on the list. If you enjoy my blog, please go to this website and vote for me. I’m #61 …. Not my ranking….. I was just added yesterday.

Only 2 days left before this poll closes and you can vote at least 1 time a day. Check out this event as you may find other Single Mom bloggers that you might enjoy following.

Click on the icon above or follow this link:

Circle of Mom Top 25

Thanks for those that vote for me or even just check out my page on occasion! I appreciate your support!

~Dona~

Taxes and the Single Mom

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Tomorrow, April 17th, is tax day for 2012 and for those of us who have not completed our taxes yet, here are a few tips to help you get it together.

Get it Together

Being slightly ADD, I find that having all my information in one place as I sit down to do my taxes will keep me from getting distracted.  Otherwise, as I run around the house looking for information, I can certainly stumble across  other things that require my immediate attention.

A list of these items also helps keep me focused.  So, grab a manilla file folder and on the outside, make the following list (only the items that apply):

Income:

W-2 (Job 1)

W-2 (Job 2)

1099-G (Certain Government Payments) i.e. Unemployment

Interest Earned:

1099-Int (Bank 1)

1099-Int (Bank 2)

Interest Paid:

Form 1098 (Mortgage 1)

Form 1098-E  (Student Loan Interest Paid)

Child Care Credits:

Print out of payments to Daycare/Childcare

Donations:

Monetary Donation Receipts

List of Goodwill/Salvation Army drop-off/pickup with Fair Market Values)

Investments:

Form 5498 (IRA Contributions)

Form 1099-R (Investment Payouts)

Medical:

Receipts (if taking deductions)

Form 1099-SA (Distributions from an HS, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA)

This is not an inclusive list.   Since most people don’t have very complicated situations, this should cover most situations.  If you have a business, I recommend a  separate folder for those items.  Heck, I recommend a Tax Consultant.


With the items listed on the outside of the folder, start collecting this information and putting it into the folder and checking them off.  A series of check marks can be very satisfying.

Where to Find it

Income:

W-2’s should have been mailed to you by your employer postmarked by January 31st of the year.  Many employers utilize payroll management companies that allow on-line views and prints of checks and W-2.

1099-G will be sent by the local government agency and can also be viewed on-line via the payment history.

1099-Int (Interest Earned Income) should be mailed from the banking institution and is also available though their online banking portal.

Deductions:

Form 1098 (Mortgage Interest Paid).  If Property Taxes are escrow-ed and paid by the mortgage company, this information should also be on the Form 1098 that will be mailed by the Mortgage company.  If payments can be made online, then this information should also be on their online portal.

For Child Care Credit, a printout of the money received by the Day Care Provider will be needed with the full name, address and tax Id noted.  In my experience, the Day Care will only provide this information upon request.  This is a very important tax credit for anyone that is paying daycare.

Donation receipts should include gifts of money made to churches and other charitable organizations.  Remember that if you receive anything of value in return for your donation, then only the portion that is given above the value of the goods or service is tax deductible.  Ask the organization for the fair market value of goods or service you received and deduct it from the amount you donated.  Always get a receipt to support your donation.

Other donations include goods provided to organizations, such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  Be sure to keep good records and utilize a Thrift Store value of the items you donate.   And if the total of all your goods contributed values at more than $500, you have to file IRS Form 8283 with your tax return.

Here is a link to the Salvation Army Donation Value  Guide to help you find a value for each item that you donate.

Investments:

These can be both Income and Deductions.  If you are putting money into pre-tax and even some post-tax investments, you can receive certain deductions.  Discuss these with your Tax Consultant.   If you are taking payouts or cashing-out your investments, then these are considered income and can be taxable or even carry penalties if you pay/cash out before you are qualified to do so.  Check with your Financial Adviser  or your Tax Consultant.  If you have complicated investments, I recommend both a Financial Adviser and a Tax Consultant.   A Financial Adviser should not be giving you tax advice.

I thought this was a great article on Investment Deductions.  I was surprised by a few items on this list.  Specifically, writing a check for the maintenance fees for my retirement account, rather than having it deducted from the account, allows me to deduct those fees.   I may have to try that.

Medical:

HSA (Heath Savings Account)  are offered by some employers in conjunction with a high-deductible insurance plan.  This account allows you to save pre-tax dollars to spend on your medical bills and deductibles (much like a Flexible Spending Account but you don’t forfeit your unspent money at the end of the year).  It also allows you to save long term (year after year) and use the money in future years when you have a medical need.   Disbursements are reported to the IRS with the Form 1099-SA and are not taxable as long as the disbursements are for medical services and goods.

Check out this page for all the benefits, qualifications and contribution limits of an HSA account.

Git’er Done

Now that you have it all together, plugging your information into a Tax software  or visiting a Tax Prep Service or dropping off with your Tax Consultant will be much easier and allow the forms preparation to go much faster.

Get Ready for Next Year

Do you really want to go through this craziness again?  I didn’t think so.   Right this minute, pull out another manilla (or whichever color you prefer) file folder and mark it 2012 Income Tax and put it with your other files.  The next time you receive a tax document in the mail, make a drop at Goodwill, print off a receipt for a donation or a business expenditure, drop that document right into the file folder.   Viola!

Are You Getting a Refund? 

I really don’t want to know if you are getting a refund.  Rather, ask yourself if you would rather have that money in your paycheck each month or let the government have it (interest-free) for almost a year.  Some people enjoy the surprise of a refund come Spring but wouldn’t you rather have that money working for you rather than just waiting for you.

What if you took that extra money each month and put it into an interest-bearing account?  You would have more money next Spring than what the government would offer you.  If you want to take charge of that money, then you may want to revisit your W-4 and modify your exemptions.

This link from the IRS will help you determine the correct number of exemptions for a new W-4.   After changing your exceptions and submitting it to your payroll department, remember to check your paychecks to be sure you are “on-track” to paying the same amount of taxes you paid last year (assuming all income and deductions are the same).   You can change your W-4 as many times are you want, so feel free to make adjustments  as needed to ensure that you are paying your fair share and no more.  Otherwise, you may find yourself facing a tax bill, rather than a refund next year.

Hope this information helps you get on the ball and get your taxes done and off your plate.   After all, there are more exciting things you need to be doing.

Happy Tax Day!

~ Dona~

Fun with Fabric and Fonts

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Funny how time can get away from a blogger….. Spring has increased this family’s social and recreational obligations.  We have soccer, volleyball, birthday parties, baby shower, school field trips and even a pool party (yes, an outdoor pool party in April in Texas) ……

I did manage to get a little project done on my Home Office Makeover, which is my effort to make my Home Office more warm and inviting, even a bit feminine.  The promise of Spring was my inspiration.

It doesn’t come naturally to me to design and decorate, so this makeover won’t be a “30 minutes and it’s done” makeover like on the HGTV channel.  So, I actually started this little project and then got stuck, as it didn’t have the punch that I wanted it to have.  Sometimes, I just to have to let thing percolate and then inspiration will hit me.

It started with this…..

Before Binders

Ugly binders that I have been collecting from various sources (old jobs, old school supplies)  that contain all my paperwork.

With all the decorative touches I have added to the Home Office, these were still quite an eye-sore.

First, I went browsing to see if I could replace these binders with something more uniform, like a set of the same color binders, or at the very least,  some of those beautifully decorative binders.  As I wasn’t prepared to spend upwards to $30 to replace my existing collection,  I had to come up with ideas to make the ones I have look better.  So, I went back to the percolator (my left brain).

I really liked the idea of having binders with a decorative patterns, so I turned to my stash of fabric.

and I got out the pinking sheers and the spray glue and I came up with this.

Which I thought was pretty dang cool, except that I didn’t know which binder was which.

I considered adding the Dymo label to the pretty fabric, but it would just take something pretty and make it look “industrial” again.  So, I put my pretty binders on a shelf and went back to the percolator.

A few weeks passed and it was driving me crazy that I didn’t know what was in my binders!!!!  I tried the Dymo Label Maker again.    Still hated it!

And then an idea bloomed.  I could make pretty labels, with an beautiful font using my very own printer.   Using MS Word and the WordArt functionality, I was able to create a vertical Title with the Candy Round BTN Font.

And with some scrapbook paper to add dimension, I came up with this …..

On a few of them I used fabric and on some I used pretty scrapbooking paper.  Still a work in progress to harmonize all the items on my office shelves, but I really liked the way they turned out.

As for the horrible blue binder….

I gave it a couple of coats of “Ivory Silk” spray paint

And where the front and back film was separating from the side, I used a bit of trim and hot glue to hold it all together ….

and it’s ready to be back on the shelf with it’s pretty sisters.

Supplies

Fabric

Spray Adhesive

Trim

Hot Glue Gun

Scrapbooking Paper

Binder

Cost

$0 – used what I already had

Home Office Makeover Update:

I have a plan for this little corner of my home office.

I plan on returning this hunk-of-wall-damaging-swivel easy chair to the Living Room, where it belongs.  I am currently building two slipper chairs that will fill this space with a nice little drum light hanging from the ceiling.  It’s going to be a great place for my daughter to sit and chat with me while I work and get a start on her homework, like she does now, but without swiveling into the wall with the big easy chair.  It will also have better lighting.  So, stay tuned for my first attempt at upholstering.

 

~Dona~

To Build…. A Raised Vegetable Garden

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In my last post, I listed out my Spring “To Do” list for my yard and getting my garden ready for the spring/summer growing season is next on my list.  After careful consideration,  I decided you would not be interested in seeing pictures of me weeding and hoeing and cursing.

However!!!!  I thought you might be interested in how I built my raised garden.  With the sharp increases in gas prices and subsequently, the increase cost of produce and other goods, I thought I might be able to shave some dollars off my grocery bill with growing a few essentials of my very own.

The Benefits of a Raised Vegetable Garden

The benefits of having a raised vegetable garden includes being able to overcome bad soil much easier than tilling and amending your current soil.  Instead, you just fill your beds with quality soil products.  Other benefits include being easier on your back, easier to keep weeds and grasses out of your beds, and an earlier growing season as the soil in raised beds will warm faster and sooner.

The Plan

After some internet research, I found these plans that help me figure out the basics of garden box building.  Really, sometimes things aren’t as easy as they look in pictures (click pictures to access links):

And this one:

I decided that I wanted to make two narrow boxes.   I made the boxes 4 feet across (allowing for a 2 foot reach from each side of the box) and 10 feet long to allow for ample room for lots of tomato plants and some watermelon vines, among other things.  I recommend first making your list of veggies you want to grow and determining how much space is needed to accommodate your garden.

The Build

Be sure to use rot-resistant wood such as cedar or redwood.  I used 1×8’s and deck screws to create each box’s 4 x 10 dimensions and then set them where I wanted.   I had to consider other factors in placement like the amount of daily sunlight, can a mower fit between them, where is the swampy part of my yard after a heavy rain.     (On a note:  Had I considered at the time I might want to create a greenhouse for winter growing, I would have put the boxes side by side rather than end to end so I can do this:)

I had a great little helper during this build, my 9-year-old (at the time) son.  Yes, that long-haired kid is my son.   Here he is measuring the 2×4 to make the spikes for anchoring the boxes to the ground.

Two 2×4 spikes is hammered into the inside of each end of the box .  I recommend you invest in or borrow a sledge hammer, because nothing else will do the job as fast.

Here my ex is lending some muscle on the heavy swinging and hammering.

Next, three 2×4 spikes are placed at intervals on each side of the box and hammered into the ground.  When they are level with the top of the box, and the box is level, the 2×4’s are then screwed into the box frame with deck screws.

That’s all it took to have two raised garden beds ready for soil and plants!!

Irrigation

Except that I didn’t stop there.  When the Texas sun is at it’s hottest, I have no desire to stand out there after work, in my high heels, and water my garden.  So, I put in a little timer-driven drip irrigation system into my beds.

Rainbird Drip Irrigation System

I dug a trench (using a pickaxe) from the house to the first box.  I utilized right angle elbows and the 1/2″ (black) tubing to run an L shape line from the brick wall of the house to the first box.  I laid the tubing into the trench and ran the tubing underneath the box and recovered the trench.

With two more right-angle elbows, I extended the tubing above the inside of the box.  Then I created the same right-angle extension at the other end of the box and ran tubing, underground, to the next box.

After adding the soil, I connected the elbows at each end with 1/2″ tubing and added small sprayers directly into the 1/2″ tubing at intervals.  This whole ensemble is connected to a hose which is connected to a Timer at the spigot. The other end is folded over and connected with an “8” ring.  I set the timer to water a few minutes every few days and increased as the weather got warmer and dryer in the heat of the summer.  Remember, the raised bed will dry out faster than the rest of the yard. 

Another Alternative

If you are an apartment dweller or have limited space, you can also enjoy fresh grown vegetables with this other alternative:  A Planter Box.  Click on pics to open links 

or for the truly space-challenged:

Now…. back to the weeding, the hoeing, the cussing.

Happy Spring!!!

~Dona~

Related Articles

Grow a Vegetable Garden in Raised Beds