Friday, November 6, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lessons from the Garden

May 17th:

July 7th:

Gardening has been teaching me valuable lessons.

The first thing I've learned is PATIENCE. The first photo was taken around the time I planted them, the second photo taken just this morning. While there has been quite a spectacular change in size, there is just the tiniest evidence that one day we will be enjoying the fruits of the harvest. This relates to my spiritual life in many ways. It really is no wonder that many of the parables of Jesus referred to gardening.

Patience. It is a virtue, and nothing teaches patience more than waiting for 60-72 days for vegetables and fruit to grow and ripen. Each day when I go out to water, I check to see the progress of growth and each day I notice a small difference. Looking at the photos I can see a huge difference, it is a perspective that I think about with my spiritual life. Day by day I am growing in small ways and over time, I can look back and see how far I have come. Some days it seems that I have stopped growing or even gone backwards only to find that I have made progress, even if it is slow.

Another thing I've learned is how much we take for granted. In our society, we are in such a hurry to go places, if we get hungry we can always pull in to the nearest fast food place and order a hamburger. We can always stop at WalMart and get x,y,z that we need. But this process has caused me to wonder how society was when they didn't have McDonald's or WalMart. There was a time when people grew their own food and lived on only what they could produce. I would be in serious trouble if I had to rely on my little garden patch for sustenance. Growing my own vegetables gives me such an appreciation for the food that we are blessed to have on our table each day. It gives me an awareness of slowing down and enjoying life, at the pace of nature rather than the pace of society.

Because when you care for a plant every day and it takes two months for it to give you food, you really appreciate that. You see the process that goes into what it takes for a tomato to go from a small plant to yielding fruit, which is quite different than going to the store and buying it from the shelf. Many times those tomatoes have sat on my counter and ended up rotting. It is because I didn't appreciate it as much as I do now. You can bet that these are not going to waste!

There is so much that can be learned from gardening. Patience. Thankfulness. An awareness of the amazing way that our world is created, seeing nature up close and being a part of it. It is a rewarding and very insightful venture.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Don't Touch that Novena!

I asked my son, soon to be in sixth grade at our Catholic parish school, if he knew what a Novena was. Sometimes I just randomly ask my kids questions to see if they know the answer and sometimes I do it strictly for amusement because if they don't know the answer, they are sure to make something up. This child is my most creative one and he has a very unique way of looking at the world. His answer? "A Novena is something that burns easily." Little did I know that he was on the right track. I just needed to fill in the blanks.

The word Novena is a derivative of the number nine, a novena is a prayer lasting for nine days. This is a model of the first Christians, who after the Ascension of Our Lord, gathered in prayer in the upper room for nine days and on the tenth day, the Holy Spirit descended. A great wind filled the room and tongues of fire rested on their heads. This happened on the ancient Jewish festival called the "feast of weeks" or Pentecost. This event also marks the very first Novena!

Ok, so now I'm seeing a connection between fire and prayer. My son is brilliant!

Novenas can be divided into categories. There are novenas to Our Lord, our Lady, the saints and angels. It is also customary for the titular saint of the parish to be honored with nine nights of prayer.

Novenas can also be perpetual. Instead of nine consecutive nights, they can be prayed every week. The Miraculous Medal Novena is often prayed in Catholic parishes every Monday.

It is customary for Filipino churches to have a Perpetual Novena for Our Lady of Perpetual Help, whose feast day is June 27th, which also happens to be my wedding anniversary!

Novenas are a wonderful way to enrich your prayer life. I don't know if they can burn easily but I do know that anything is possible!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It is Love at First Sight

I've noticed that there is such a difference between the way a little girl sees the world (or the United States, in this case) versus the way a boy sees it.

Case in point:

My boys would find the states that most resemble guns and start to shoot each other. Just in case you were wondering, Florida, Idaho and Oklahoma make great guns. They would pick up these pieces and make shooting noises using a complex combination of spit and percussion from their mouths. I don't know but I think that boys are genetically wired to be able to produce that noise.

In contrast, my sweet little girl sits down at the table. She starts to look at the puzzle and first notices all the pretty colors. Then, she dumps the pieces out and painstakingly puts them all back in the right spots. She even knows what some of the states are, which I think is very impressive for a six year old. Well, considering that her 11 year old brother just got done learning his states and capitals makes me think that she might have been listening just a little bit through the study sessions.

Anyway. On to the story. While putting together the puzzle, she happens to discover that Nebraska and Utah are in love. Did you know that? See here, they are kissing:She had a very detailed fairy tale story to tell of the happenstance way that these two states ended up meeting and falling in love. She told me how Colorado and Wyoming stood in the way of Nebraska and Utah ever getting to meet. But by fate, one day they were the last two to be placed in the puzzle and that is how they met and fell in love. Well, actually, she says, Nebraska loved Utah but Utah did not love Nebraska back. Somehow, though, because every story she tells has a happy ending, Nebraska finally won over that stubborn Utah and they lived happily ever after.

Meanwhile, Florida and Oklahoma are in a duel to the death.

Boys and girls and their unique perspectives. Men really are from Mars, aren't they?

Bouncy House

The kids were begging Busy Woodshop Hubby to get out the bouncy house and set it up the other day. We saw it a few years ago at our local warehouse store and decided we needed it. It has provided LOTS and LOTS of fun over the past five years, I can honestly say we have gotten our money's worth. We get it out for birthdays, when friends come over, or just for the heck of it. Even the adults like it. Here is our most recent bouncy fun day:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Bees

The bees are buzzing around here. Literally! The other morning I was getting ready in my bathroom and I heard a buzzing sound in my room. On further inspection, I noticed a little honey bee frantically beating him(her?)self up on my window trying to get out. I figured that when I went back downstairs I would get a paper cup and capture it to let it outside, when I was finished in the bathroom. Well, by the time I came out there were 7 bees in three of the windows, making a very loud combined humming sound. It was a little scary to say the least. I wondered how they all got in (the windows were open but the screens are on) and to have that many at once I wondered if I might have a problem. I went around capturing them all to let them out since I knew that hubby would get out the spray and zap them if I didn't help them outside.

They were all let out safe and sound, but I never did find out how they got inside in the first place. We checked the attic and it was alright and there have been no more bees in the house since then. Maybe they were on a mission to free that first one since it took me so long to get it!

I was outside checking around and didn't find any evidence of a beehive nearby. I guess for now the problem is solved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sister Chemistry

Oh the funniest thing happened last night. My sister just recently signed on to one of those dating match sites, and gave me a call to go over all her "potential" matches based on her personality profile and the type of person she is looking for. You know, basically the perfect man. I think she might have to settle for something slightly less but I'll be positive for her sake that there might be one more out there. However, I do believe that there is someone for everyone so let's hope that he is also registered at (and perfect for my sister!)

So anyway, she wanted me to look at her profile and help her jazz it up a bit, and while I was in there to take a look at her potential guys to help her figure out which ones to write to.

Well, we quickly discovered that we could both be signed on to her account at the same time (we live in different states). What fun! We started going down the list. "G" seemed nice and had quite a bit in common with her as far as his interests. She's been emailing with him to find out more information. I really like "G". Then another "G" also has shown some interest in her and she thinks he might also be a good possibility to meet in real life. He could be a good second choice. Can I tell you she's loving shopping for a date this way? I found my husband the old fashioned way but I guess you can find romance through the internet. It seems easy enough, and could save a lot of time by separating them out before she even has to meet them. Because after all at some point she will have to step out from behind the computer and actually meet one of these guys.

I gave her my opinions on all the guys based on what they had written about themselves and what they were looking for, what I know about her and also just what my instincts told me. My sister has no common sense when it comes to men, and she will be the first to admit that. That's why our little devious plan just might work!

Right away I told her to ditch "M" because he wants someone 'above and beyond' which indicated to me that he might just be a bit too picky. Besides he looked too pretty. He probably has some issues. Just sayin.

Then there was "R" who is an engineer and I'm betting really smart. He seems nice enough but can he loosen the tie a little? Unless he has a huge sense of humor, he wouldn't be too happy with my sister because she's pretty off the wall. Think Ellen Degeneres crossed with Roseanne Barr and a little Carol Burnette and that's my sister. She can't be around someone who's too uptight. But maybe "R" has a wild side. You never know.

There were a couple others and they all seemed nice and most of them weren't too bad looking. So we even have a plan C,D and E if we need it.

She and I were both laughing at the idea that I was helping her compose the letters to these gentlemen and also rewriting her profile and just thinking that we were totally getting away with something.

I was laughing that she totally trusted me with her log in information and thought just how tempting it could be for me to go in and change some of her answers. She is very trusting, isn't she? I wouldn't though. Probably.

So far so good on the chemistry homefront. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It's About Time!

That's what I'm telling myself today. It's about time for a new post. I find myself making the rounds of my favorite blogs, checking once, twice sometimes three times a day (yeah, I know I could just put them in my reader. I like to check myself, though!) And sometimes, I am rewarded with new content even two, three times a day. Some bloggers are great like that. I guess I'm not one of those. If I even have a 'readership' who checks my content I can be assured that I am checked on weekly these days. Not daily, or hourly like those crazy great bloggers out there that we are all wanting to know every detail of their lives. Oh, you know who they are. Don't you?

Well, anyway if you don't, I'm not telling. Anytime soon anyway. I have to have some reason for you to come back, after all. It obviously isn't for my timely updates.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Landscape 101

This is the reason I don't blog as much this time of year. Our yard is very high maintenance right now. The moles have started moving, the grass is growing, and the weeds grow like, well WEEDS. We spent the day outside today working on the overall appearance. The only mishap was when Shadow stepped on a sticky mouse trap (that dog does it every time!) Let's just say it's not pretty, I didn't get a picture of that. But here is what I did take pictures of:

I didn't bother raking up the petals. With the camilla petals all around it, the fountain looks very romantic:

The lawn near the front porch:
The back patio, the umbrella was my Mother's Day present:

Another view (look closely, Wild thing is setting the table for dinner):

Our "garden" so far (tomatos, red pepper, strawberries):

The upper lawn (Mt. Hood in the background):

My lavender "field" (about seven plants, this is year two):

From the street:
From the front:

My snowball plant, 3 years old:

My little flower garden (not much is up yet):

The lawn from another angle:

The view from the garage (I love all the different trees: weeping cedar, maple, blue spruce, magnolia, all lined with a row of junipers):

Well, I hope you can see why I haven't been so prolific on the blog. I have been busy working outside. I love gardening, so I thought today I could combine the two. Happy Sunday to you!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Conversations in the Car

If you were a 'fly on the wall' in my car, this is what you would have heard today:

(Princess, 6 years old) "MOM! MOOOOMMm! Brother won't let me talk. Why does he get to talk and I don't? How come you listen to him but not me? When will it be my turn?"

(Mom) "Just a minute. You interrupted, Brother was talking first and when he's finished then you can talk, ok?"

(Princess) "OK. But I just want to say one thing."

(Mom to Brother) "Do you mind if princess has a turn? You have been talking for the last three miles. Let's give her a turn now, ok?"

(Brother) "O.K. But she didn't say "Excuse me."

(Mom to Princess) "Can you say excuse me, please? Brother is right, that is the polite way to show you have something to say."

(Princess) "O.K. Excuse me?"

(Mom) "Yes?"

(Princess) "I forgot what it was I wanted to say."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's a Dog's Life

In this picture, Shadow is multi-tasking as a pillow. He laid here still like this for a long time-- Princess was really asleep:

He has perfected the sad puppy dog eyes (which explains why he's so fat!):

Shadow looking for dropped food:

Daisy thinks she is a person. She even sits like a person sometimes.
She also thinks she can read (or maybe it's the candy laying on the book she's after!)

Always an excuse for a nap. The dogs like to cuddle with anyone who stays still longer than 30 seconds (Ariel and Shadow):


The wide angle shot:

Mother's Day Baking

I love to bake, and since I saw these Hershey's Cinnamon Chips in the store the other day I thought I would try them.
Oatmeal Cinnamon Chips Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2-1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1-2/3 cups (10-oz. pkg.) HERSHEY'S Cinnamon Chips
3/4 cup raisins
Directions:1. Heat oven to 350°F. 2. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in bowl until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Combine flour and baking soda; add to butter mixture, beating well. Stir in oats, cinnamon chips and raisins (batter will be stiff). Drop by heaping teaspoons unto ungreased cookie sheet. 3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes on until lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. About 4 dozen.BAR VARIATION: Spread batter into lightly greased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake at 350°F. for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool; cut into bars. About 3 dozen bars.

They taste great! For more great recipes, visit Hershey's website.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Mother's Day from Fr. Corapi

This Sunday we once again have the joy of celebrating Mothers Day. It is certainly fitting enough that this falls in the month of May, the month the Church dedicates to the Mother of Jesus and our Spiritual Mother. It s a beautiful month dedicated to what is perhaps the most beautiful reality I can imagine mothers.

In the often misguided and morally confused society we live in, the vocation and blessing of being a mother isn t esteemed highly enough by many individuals that are so preoccupied with making a living and accumulating material things. Sometimes motherhood isn t respected enough by men. Even more baffling sometimes women don t themselves value this calling and honor as they ought. As far as I m concerned, it would be hard to imagine a more noble, more necessary, and more beautiful calling in life.

Moms, only in Heaven will you realize just how pleasing you are to God. You have collaborated with God our Father in bringing new life into the world. You have given our heavenly Father children, and these children He treasures more than you could ever imagine.

Mother Perhaps the most beautiful word in all of language. It expresses life. It expresses love. It expresses cooperation with God. It speaks of something that will never end.

One day, moms, you ll be honored by God himself for your many sacrifices. For now, accept our thanks, our love, and our tribute. We salute you, Moms, this day and for all eternity.
God bless you for all you ve done for us.

In Jesus Love through Mary our Mother,
Fr. John Corapi

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beautiful Music

Last night, we attended my middle school son's Jazz band concert. He has only been playing the saxophone since September, but already he has made great strides in catching up with the other band students. He began in Band as an elective, and quickly was invited to join the Jazz band, which is a more 'elite' group of kids, both middle school and high schoolers who get up really early in the morning four days a week and practice with the wonderful band teacher who, I am sure, does not get paid nearly what she is worth.

She has done marvelous things with this group of kids. I hope she reveled in the appreciative applause last night. Those kids sounded just amazing.

I was so proud of my son, watching him play-- knowing how far he has come in such a short while.

Then, I thought of something else. I thought about how for months I have been hearing only his portion of the music, all by itself. We love hearing him practice (except not when I'm on the phone!) every day and many of the songs he has practiced get stuck in our head and we find ourselves humming them out of the blue.

But somehow it was by listening to the entire ensemble play these same pieces altogether and hearing them for the first time in that context that it seemed to me that is how the Body of Christ is also. We each have our own unique talent, given to us for a higher purpose. When we combine our gifts we can make such beautiful music.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My name is Rose, and I am a bloucher......

That would be ME. A blogging sloucher, or "bloucher". I think I made up the term but I read so many blogs I wouldn't necessarily trust my memory that I've never seen that word before.

This is the time of year that my blog goes right down the tubes. It coincides with the sun coming back out, the plants starting to grow, and my need to get moving and start shedding the winter weight that seemed to pile on so easily.

Spring is springing here and it makes it tough to sit and type all the wonderful blog posts that I have running around in my head. It's true-- I think of such witty and original posts that for some strange reason, never make it to the written form. By the time I sit down, all the words have somehow sat too long in the unrefrigerated part of my brain and have turned into a big soggy mess of brain goo. But I amuse myself while I'm out there pulling weeds. I guess it's not all for nothing.

So, I went to the doctor this week for some good old-fashioned poking and prodding. I'm trying to figure out this perimenopausal body I find myself in these days. Nothing works the way it should and I can't tell the difference between what is 'normal' and what is a red flag for going to the doctor. I'm sure they think I'm a classic hypochondriac.

Ok, so I call the advice nurse and this is how stupid I sounded. "Hello-- I'm calling about a few symptoms I've been having lately. I'm gaining weight right in the abdominal area. A lot. And, I haven't had a period in three months."

silent pause.

"NO, I know what it sounds like, but I am not pregnant! Also, I have been feeling light-headed, having headaches, mood-swings and shaky after eating."

Basically, a train wreck.

Or normal.

I gave about two pints of blood for testing and a urine sample, and will see my doctor again next week to find out which.

I told my husband that going through perimenopause is like having to play a game you used to know but all the rules changed and nobody told you what they were.

I keep telling myself this is a natural process. It does help a little.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wanted: Experienced Juggler

I need some help in the multi-tasking department. Instead, something had to take a back seat and it was the blog. If you notice, the last time I posted it was a week ago.

In the beginning of the week, I had quite a bit of busy work to do. First, I had to plan the menu and shopping for our Easter dinner, which we held on Saturday since my sister couldn't come on Sunday. We opted for a traditional and simple Easter feast, which included a spiral sliced ham, cheesy mashed potatoes, asparagus, a tossed salad and a cute bunny cake decorated by our five year old.

In order for us to have a place to eat the Easter dinner, it was necessary for me to clean off the dining room table. Trust me when I say that this is not an easy job. Because we only use this room for special occasions, the rest of the time the table gets used for junk piling. Whenever I come into the house with extra papers, bags, boxes, you name it-- it goes on the dining room table and is promptly forgotten about. I am always amazed at how quickly the clutter piles up and becomes out of control. I can clutter up the entire 102" long table. A talent of which I should not be so proud.

Then, I went to the salon for a much-needed hair appointment. It has been almost a year since I last had it cut. My new stylist is fabulous! She made my hair do things that is scientifically impossible. The layers made it look much thicker than it really is, and the curls stayed put all day long! I just wish I could style it the way she did.

The doggies also had their spa day. They needed to have their coats trimmed since they have begun shedding and I don't like to vacuum every single day.

Then we had some outdoor sprucing and gardening to do. The weeds have started to grow with a vengeance, and since we had a couple of nice sunny days, we took advantage of the weather and got busy. We mowed, weeded, fertilized, and had the roof sprayed for moss. Then, we went to the store and bought some containers for planting. So far we have planted strawberries and tomatoes.

I sent our Easter Mass cards out to the grandparents. I always get them from the Missionary Oblates. I love their cards! For a small donation, I usually get a rosary as well. I have quite a collection of Oblate rosaries. They are great for giving or keeping.

I shopped around and found a cute little Easter outfit for the princess, a pink gingham dress with a cute little sweater to match. I forgot how much I love gingham. My mom used to dress us in it when we were little. It is just adorable.

While I was shopping, I picked up the Easter basket goodies. My children understand the meaning of Easter but it is fun having a basket to come home to after the Easter morning Mass.

So there was the first half of my week. Busy, busy, until Holy Thursday, when we tried to slow things down a bit.

On Friday, we ended the school week with shadow Stations which the 7th graders did an awesome job on. I ended up staying for both performances. In between I happened to remember that Friday was the first day of the Divine Mercy Novena, so I said the chaplet while I waited. In the spirit of Good Friday, we kept our electronics and tv off, to spend time in quiet reflection.

On Saturday, we had a birthday party to go to and then home to cook and serve our Easter dinner. The day went by really fast. Early Sunday morning we all went to Mass, then out for breakfast and the book store, where I stocked up on gardening magazines and a new cookbook. That was my Easter treat!

We spent the rest of Sunday relaxing and watching the rain fall. We had our Easter egg hunt inside the house!

Hoping that your Holy week and Easter were wonderful!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, a day in which Christians celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the week before His death and resurrection. It marks the beginning of Holy week. We begin Mass at the back of the church where we each receive a blessed palm. We process in together and then we will listen to the Gospel account of the Passion of Christ.
Because this Mass is very long and very crowded, we arrived early for a seat and to spend some time in prayer. Since the weather was beautiful, and we had some extra time, I decided to take the younger two out to pray the Stations of the Cross.

We used the resource, Stations of the Cross for Children, which is a wonderful book of devotions on the way of the Cross. My 11 year old led us in the prayers for each station. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to share the devotions of the Stations of the Cross with their children.
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, on the custom of palm branches from a liturgical standpoint, it says this:
"The bishop or priest asks God to bless the branches of palm or olive, that they may be a protection to all places into which they may be brought, that the right hand of God may expell all adversity, bless and protect all who dwell in them, who have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Palm branches have been used by all nations as an emblem of joy and victory over enemies; in Christianity as a sign of victory over the flesh and the world according to Psalm 91:13; hence especially associated with the memory of the martyrs. The palms blessed on Palm Sunday were used in the procession of the day, then taken home by the faithful and used as a sacramental. They were preserved in prominent places in the house. On the Lower Rhine the custom exists of decorating the grave with blessed palms. From the blessed palms the ashes are procured for Ash Wednesday. "
Here is a web resource which has links and other information about Palm Sunday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Doctors are our Friends

Today I'm bringing in my little Princess for her 6 year check up. The last time we went, I promised there would be no shots, but I was wrong. So when I tell her that I promise there are no shots today, I hope that I am right. She is very afraid of doctors. Despite the fact that her dad works in the health care field, she has no faith in doctors. She says that doctors only hurt her. Which isn't true but I can see why she would think that. When she was 3, we brought her to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor to check her vocal cords. She had a very raspy, hoarse voice which sounded cute but didn't seem normal. They needed to visualize the vocal cords to make sure there weren't any polys or growths causing the hoarseness. The doctor explained that they could do it under sedation but because of her age it would require her to go to a different facility and it would be more involved of an exam, or he could do it right there in the office, which would be slightly uncomfortable for her but it would be quick and without the worries of complications from anesthesia. I decided to go for the quick peek. It took three nurses to hold her down and keep her still while the doctor inserted a scope in her throat. She didn't like it one bit. Thinking back now, I think it might have been better to have her sedated, it would have been less traumatic but slightly riskier. It's a tough call. It turned out she had no growths which was wonderful news, but now she had no trust and a strong dislike for all doctors.

Which included dentists, and any other person wearing a white coat. Then the next time we visited the dentist was a disaster. First of all, she remembered the throat doctor torture chamber and was very reluctant to let anyone with a white coat near her. Incidentally they wanted to take full x-rays. She wouldn't open her mouth for anything. They ended up not taking the x-ray but were irritated that she wouldn't cooperate. There was really nothing anyone could have said to convince her to put those x-ray cards in her mouth. I tried to explain to the hygienist why my daughter was not cooperating but they seemed to feel that it was my apprehension that caused my daughter to be afraid. The hygienist needed to understand that a first time dental visit after a bad experience should be low key for a child who is so sensitive. Prior to this visit, I tried to be as upbeat and positive as I could and prepare my daughter ahead of time for what would happen at the dentist visit. It would have been nice for them to be a little more understanding, and to want to make the experience a positive one. I think that doctors and dentists should know that children have a long memory where pain is concerned.

Then, we had to go in the next year for an ear infection, and the doctor (who didn't really seem like she knew what she was doing) perforated the ear drum when she inserted the otoscope. She said it was only "scratched" but there was blood coming out of my daughter's ear. The doctor said it was because she moved while the scope was in there.

So now each time we go to the doctor where anything needs to be inserted in her ear or mouth, she just stiffens up and you can see that there is no trust. At her last check up, she was sitting on the table just trying not to cry. I could tell she was genuinely afraid, but trying to be brave. It breaks my heart that a few bad experiences have made such a lasting impression on her.

We do have a great pediatrician, she has a great bedside manner and she understands that my daughter is an extremely sensitive child. Hopefully, in time my princess will learn to trust doctors again. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Turbo Tax

I used Turbo Tax for the first time ever. The last few years we have been paying a CPA to do our taxes. He retired and sold his business so I thought that this year I could try Turbo Tax. I have the last few years of taxes as an example, so it made it even easier to do them. Last year was pretty much the same as the year before financially speaking, except for the hideous losses in our mutual funds, that is.

I loaded Turbo Tax on my computer and looked for updates (you should do this first thing! There were a couple of updates for both Federal and State). It asks you for your personal information (date of birth, occupation, dependents, etc). Once that is filled out you move on to the interview portion. It is divided into three categories: Wages, Deductions & Credits, and Other Tax Situations. In this section you can choose to 1) select specific topics, if you already know the income information that is to be entered; or 2) guide me through, which takes you step by step through each item.

In this section, there is a place that you can enter in your log in and pin for a participating employer to automatically download your W-2 information. If it worked, it would be really convenient, but it didn't work for me so I entered in all the information by hand. The categories in this section are: 1) Wages and Salaries; 2) Import your Tax Info; 3)Dividends and Interest; 4)Other common Income (1099); and 5) Investment income.

Then it takes you through an interview process where you answer questions and click in information. Fairly straightforward. All the information should be right on your W-2, and the questions also alert the program to other scenarios which may need special handling.

Each of those categories takes you through your W-2 and tells you which box to find the information. The program guides you through each step, and if you need help there is a help function. I was able to see other people's questions in a box to the right but was unable to see the answers. This may be a glitch in the program but you can also just open another window and go straight to the Turbo Tax webpage for help as well. Lucky for me that I have a relative who does taxes so I just called and asked my questions.

After the Wages section is complete, you move on to the next section which is Deductions and Credits. Here again it guides you through each item. This section has 10 categories which are: 1) Home; 2) Family; 3) Donations; 4)Cars and Other things you Own; 5)Education; 6) Medical Expenses; 7)Estimates and Other Taxes Paid; 8)Retirement Investments 9)Employment Expenses and 10) Other Deductions and Credits. Each category has a list of credits and deductions.

After this section is complete, the next section is Other Tax Situations which covers things like the Alternative Minimum Tax and a few other things.

The program will take you through a 4 step review, and a download for Audit support, should you get audited. That download was free with Turbo Tax Premier, which is the version I purchased. For an additional fee of $39.95, you may choose an option for a professional tax preparer to go over your return. I didn't choose that but it could be a good option for someone who had any questions or concerns. Now the Federal return is finished.

The Premier program also allows you to download one State filing for free as well. You choose your state and it will download the necessary forms. This time, the program puts in the information that you already entered from your w-2. It takes you through the screens just like in the Federal portion.

Once the State is finished, you have the option to e-file and print. The Federal e-file is included with the program, but to e-file the State, the cost was $19.95. I chose to pay the additional for the convenience, but you can print and mail it if you prefer. After you enter in the information for e-filing, the program will file your taxes and send you a confirmation email. Your refund (if you have one coming) will be direct deposited in your bank account in as little as 8 days.

I printed a hard copy for my records, and then I was finished!

Pretty easy, and I saved over $200 in tax preparation fees. The total cost for the program was $72.00 plus the $20.00 to e-file my state return.

If you haven't done your taxes yet, then you may want to consider Turbo Tax as an option--- I did see some negative comments about the program on the Consumer review site, but I have to say that my experience using this program was fine.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Once Bitten, Twice Inspired

Now that I have this fancy Cricut machine, I don't quite know what to do with it. I needed some inspiration and some ideas. Well, I found them at the Bitten by the Bug blog. There is a team of designers who can do fabulous things with their imagination and a little help from the Cricut. Prepare to be amazed!

Praying for Stellan

MckMama is the author of one of my favorite blogs, My Charming Kids. I found her blog many months ago and have watched the story of her youngest child, Stellan unfold.

Stellan is a miracle baby, or what MckMama calls, a

You see, Stellan was diagnosed with heart problems while still in utero, and many people began praying for him. The doctors had a dismal prognosis then, saying he wouldn't make it to birth, or if he did, then not much after.

Well that is when literally thousands of people began praying for him and, to show just how much they all loved this little boy, Stellan's name gallery was created. The pictures of Stellan's name in very creative ways are from people all over the world, a stunning example of how much he was loved and prayed for even before he was born.

He was born perfectly healthy. No sign of the heart troubles that had plagued him before birth. He truly is a miracle! In the last few months, we have watched him grow, and fallen in love with him.

But last week, things took a sudden turn for the worse. Stellan is currently in the hospital with severe abnormal heart rhythms that seemed to come out of the blue.

Could you just take a moment to pray for him?

While we are praying for him, Lauren, over at Knowing Norrah has organized Stellan's name gallery Part II so that we can once again show the McFamily just how much this little boy is loved and being held up in prayer. Please follow the links and add your own contribution to Stellan's gallery. Spread the word!

My daughter put her My Little Pony collection to good use! Here is our contribution to the Stellan Name Gallery, part 2:

Stellan's Prayer Blog

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why a Crucifix instead of an empty Cross?

One of my favorite Catholic authors, Patrick Madrid, explains.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen summarized the reason for using a crucifix instead of an empty cross when he said, “Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Lent is a Journey

Lent has a way of showing me that I have a long way to go. Sometimes I vascillate between being encouraged by the progress I have made spiritually and feeling discouraged that I have a difficult time sticking to my Lenten discipline.

It shouldn't be surprising that it is difficult, as we are Christians living in a world which opposes us daily. We are in the world yet living in ways that are contrary to what the world says should make us happy.

This world tries to pull us away at every turn. It is like taking one step forward and two steps back.

We live in a world which tells us the end justifies the means, even when the means is destroying human life. It tells us that stem cell research using embryos slated for destruction is a good moral thing to do. Never mind the fact that they should have never been unnaturally created and left in a state of suspension in the first place. Now that we have immorally created them, the world would have us believe that the best possible use for this situation is to do some good with them, thus giving the illusion of redemption. The world confuses the message and tells us that a life created and destroyed for a cure is justified.

The world tries to tell us that we can solve our problems with abortion. That women have a right which supercedes the right of their unborn child. The world confuses the message and tells us it is for the best.

We live in a world that tells us a love story about a vampire and a human is a good thing because the story supposedly has a few moral messages. That it is ok to follow your heart even when it takes you somewhere that you should never be. The world wants us to believe that.

The world tells us that it is ok to have a family with two moms or two dads. That marriage can be defined more broadly than just a man and a woman. The world wants us to believe that there is nothing wrong with this scenario.

This world would love for us to believe that an intrinsic evil can be redeemed if there is some good in it.

I tell my children that sin dipped in chocolate is still sin. It doesn't change it one bit, just makes it easier to swallow.

This is where I find myself in this time of Lent. There really is no middle ground to stand on. Christ says that "whoever is not for Him, is against Him." He tells us that this present world is "passing away." We cannot put our trust into something that is not stable.

The truth is that this world cannot redeem yet Christ can.

He can take tremendous suffering and even death on a Cross and turn it into our salvation.

That is why Catholics have a Crucifix in every church, visible to all. We can't lose sight of the message that it is through Christ and His sacrifice that we can live. The message of the Gospel is directly opposite of the message of the modern world.

In this time of Lent, we can be reminded that our sufferings, even the most difficult, can have meaning if we look to Christ and His example.

We have an advantage that Christ's original disciples didn't. We know that Easter is coming. As Father Corapi would say, we know how the story ends. The best thing about it is, that the ending of that story isn't an ending but another beginning!

So, even as I am reminded daily that I fail many times, I am encouraged to once again pick up my cross, journey toward Easter and the promise of new life, both here on earth and one day in Heaven.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pony World

We made the gift bags with the Cricut! I cut out the images from the Paper Doll Dress Up cartridge (horse and horse shoes), the grass and the tags from Plantin School Book cartridge. Then Princess wrote each guest's name and glued the cutouts on the bags.

Here is the result:

The gift bags had yellow shred in the bottom to look like hay. We tried to keep to a horse/barnyard theme, and here is what they contained:

When filling the gift bags, I tried to stay away from too much candy. I couldn't resist the Nerd's Rope or the Cow Tails, though!

The kids get to meet the ponies, this one is Rosie!

On to the riding ring. We had half the group go out and half stay in the barn for games. We played Pin the Cutie Mark on Rainbow Dash, Bean Bag toss, played on the rope swing and blew bubbles. Everyone was busy so they didn't mind waiting for their pony ride!

Being the Birthday Girl, Princess was one of the first to ride:

I know you can't tell from her expression, but she was having so much fun!

Cake, ice cream and present time!
Princess wanted a carrot cake, how appropriate for a pony party!

Group shot:

Everyone had a great time!