Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I really love my country, but... Or How I learned to stop worrying and love my taxes

There was a time in my life when tax time was exciting. I was making not very much money and spending most of it on schooling -- something the government deems pretty much untaxable. Therefore, tax time meant I had to transfer a few numbers from my W-2s to a 1040EZ and wait for the money to come rolling in.

When we were first got married, I had worked full time for more than half the year and our combined school time was more than 12 months, which meant 2005's return was great. We used it to go on a 9-day trip to California, visiting Disneyland, Fresno and San Diego (an In-N-Out and Golden Spoon about four times each). We used TurboTax and it was an exciting thing to itemize our deductions and watch the green-colored return numbers grow. State taxes added even more!

In, 2006, however, we had both worked more and gone to school none, which meant Mr. Government wanted to take more money from us. We got TurboTax again, excited because of what it did for us the year before, and started inputting our W-2s. The little this-is-what-your-return-is numbers on the left of the screen started out as red numbers, meaning this-is-what-you-owe instead of this-is-what-will-come-to-you-in-a-magical-check.
Red numbers were not exciting. As we itemized, again, the red numbers got smaller and smaller, but it wasn't until we did the state taxes that the number crept ever-so-slowly into the green. Our outlook went from "How much will we get?" to "I hope we get something!"

Our 2007 returns, completed last week, continued our unwanted affair with the red numbers. Even through itemizing, re-itemizing and frustrated snorting at TurboTax, we ended up with red numbers. The state came through with a little help, making our red numbers smaller than before, but still, for the first time ever, our taxes are going to be a net loss instead of a net gain. It makes me not so in love with TurboTax anymore.

There are, however, two happy endings to this little story. First, thanks to our government's thought that throwing money at a problem will fix it, we are supposed to get more than $1,000 from the economic stimulus package congress passed in January. (Granted, it is technically an advance on any tax refunds we can expect next year, but still, it is money now. Due soon, they say, in May.) The money is supposed to stimulate the economy by pumping money from consumers back into the system. We plan to save it, instead. An extra-large rainy day fund will be better than a new HDTV, at least that is what I keep telling myself! (That was a joke, parents!)
The second bit of good news is that we have an ace in the hole, or should I say "the womb," for a better tax break next year. That's right, Chicklet will start earning her keep when she arrives and lets us claim her on our deductions. Maybe she will be the silver bullet that brings back enough of a rebate to actually that HDTV. Probably not. Crystal will probably talk me into putting it into a minivan fund or something.

PS - 40 bonus points to anyone who can identify the inspiration for this post's title.

Also, as a bonus, I've added a picture of what our 2005 tax refund got us ... smiles in Disneyland!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Fruits of Other People's Labors

When we moved into our home, the third floor was an open, unfinished loft. It still isn't finished all the way, but we have made a lot of progress with the help and hard work of many people. First, Uncle Michael and his son, Benjamin, came and helped us build a wall to create storage space on that floor. They also helped install more electrical outlets, since electricity is a nice thing to have. This past weekend, my brothers, Michael and Joseph, came up and helped us prime and texture the walls to finish them off. We also installed a door to the storage space (which we got at DI for $15. Don't you love a bargain?) and painted it. Here is a slide show of the transformation of our loft and all the hard work that so many people put into it. To all who helped and gave us the encouragement we needed, THANK YOU! We owe you one!

Friday, February 15, 2008

10 Quirky Things About Me

This post is mainly for Megan, since she tagged me. I must confess this took a lot of thought on my part. I know I have a lot of quirks, but...
1) I am VERY forgetful. Sometimes I forget how old I am. In high school I used to have to ask my friends what class I had next because I could never remember my schedule. Now that I am pregnant, I think it has gotten even worse, but people let me use it as an excuse:)
2) I hate feet. They gross me out. I don't even like to touch my own feet unless I have just washed them.
3) I LOVE to cook and bake. It is a major stress reliever for me. I think part of it is the process of it. You can accomplish something relatively quickly and have a finished product to enjoy. The other part is just eating the finished product!
4) I think it might be physically impossible for me to listen to music and not sing along when I know the words. I do it subconsciously.
5) I don't like to win at games if competitive people are playing. I think I am scarred for life from Phase 10 as a kid, but I feel bad when I win!
6) I have a hard time focusing on one thing. I must look crazy when I clean my house because I am constantly running from room to room, without finishing my current task, as I remember things I need to do. It all gets done somehow, but it is a funny process!
7) I am stubborn. And opinionated. Not a good combination!
8) I must get 8 hours of sleep to function. I think I messed my self up in high school and college when I got 4-6 hours most of the time because I get really loopy really fast if I don't get enough sleep or if it is past my bedtime.
9) When I get the giggles, I cannot stop laughing. Everything is all of a sudden the funniest thing in the world and I start crying because I am laughing so hard, and then I laugh even more. It is a very vicious cycle!
10) I have California pride. I know I don't live there anymore, but I think it is the best place ever! It has the beach, the snow, Disneyland and tons of really good fresh produce. I miss that state!

So I know these aren't all of my quirks, but it is the list I came up with right now with #1 as my disclaimer for any quirkier things that didn't make the list.

I guess I should tag someone else now, so I tag Rachel and Ali.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pregnant Me

By popular demand (though not by me, but I am sure my vote doesn't count in this matter anyways!) here is a picture of pregnant me. I wear maternity clothes all the time now, and in them I feel like I don't really look pregnant. My belling still gets lost in all the fabric of the clothes. Last night yet another one of my sisters called to pester me about posting a picture. Jordan suggested that I put on a T-shirt because I look pregnant in regular clothes. Also, I am kind of sticking out my belly a little just for effect. So if any of you see me in real life anytime soon and you think I looked more pregnant in the picture than in real life, that is the reason!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Book Reviews

One of my favorite things about this new found world of blogging is looking for other blogs that interest me. A couple I have found give suggestions and book reviews for clean books. I have read a couple of books that I found on those blogs and I figured since I always love a good suggestion for a book to read, so might some of you!

The first book I read is called "Its a Mall World After All" by Janette Rallison. Yes, I know the title is a little cheesy and it really does give good insight to what kind of book it is. It is definitely a fluff book. There are no deep moral of the story kind of moments in it and it is all about high school and malls, but there is no questionable material in it and it is very cleverly written. It is a very quick and entertaining read. I would recommend this book to someone looking for a no-brainer book. Sometimes you need that kind of book after a long week of school or just a long week.

The second book I read was "For Freedom" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It is a fictional story based on a true story about a girl who becomes a French spy during World War II. The beginning is really sad and I almost stopped reading it because I wasn't in the mood for sad, but lucky for me I plugged through it. It is a really good story, although the writing isn't the best. I kind of felt like I was reading a translation into English or an abridged version. Everything seemed really simplified and kind of awkward. Once I got past the writing style I really started to enjoy the book and once I found out that it was based on a real life story, I was even more impressed. Just like the last book, it was very clean. This book takes a little more concentration than the last one, but it is still a very quick read. I read it in a couple of hours.

Well I hope some of you enjoy these reviews and if you want the links to some clean book blogs, they are on the left under "Other Blogs". If anyone else out there knows of any good clean books, then pass along the info!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Recipe

So I made a new recipe from the Rachael Ray Magazine for dinner last night, and it was a hit! I can see this becoming a regular in our house! Here is the recipe!

Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken Roll-Ups

2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cups oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
8 chicken breast cutlets
1/2 lb deli sliced provolone cheese
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Place the beaten eggs and bread crumbs in separate shallow bowls. In another bowl, mix together ricotta cheese and sun dried tomatoes. Dip each chicken cutlet in egg then in bread crumbs until coated, then set aside on plate. Place a slice of provolone cheese on each chicken cutlet, then top it with a heaping spoonful of the ricotta mixture. Roll up each cutlet and secure with toothpicks. Place the roll ups on prepared baking sheet, making sure they aren't touching. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until chicken is done, about 20 minutes.

I served it with a side of plain pasta that I tossed with a little bit of butter and some crushed garlic, about 1 clove for half a package of pasta. It went perfectly with the chicken.

I only had about half the amount of ricotta the recipe called for, so I used cottage cheese for the other half. I also didn't have any chicken cutlets, just 2 chicken breasts, so I cut the chicken breast in half length wise, then cut the thicker half I had just cut in half so it was thinner. In all I ended up with 3 pieces from each chicken breast. Then I put a little water in a plastic bag and placed each piece in one at a time and pounded it with a nice heave frying pan so they were nice and thin. I also forgot to drizzle the olive oil over the top of them and it didn't make any difference whatsoever, so I figure it was just added fat that can be omitted. Also, the way my deli sliced the provolone, I only used half of it and it was still plenty cheesy.

I kind of forget about blogging, so I didn't even think to take a picture of it last night, so I had to swipe one off of the internet. Mine didn't look that pretty, but they sure did taste good!

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Many months ago, Crystal and I decided that come January we would want to get out of the coldness of Utah and go somewhere warm. We came up with going on a cruise. Both of us had been on cruises before, but never together. One day, we were using a computer at Jordan's parents house to look at all our cruisey possibilities and Jordan's sisters, Elisabeth and Christina came up behind us to see what we were doing. We excitedly told them, and then invited them to come along. They accepted and the rest is now on this blog.

We left Sunday Jan. 20 right after Jordan's brother, Michael, gave his "I'm-back-from-a-mission-but-this-isn't-a-homecoming" talk, driving on clear roads south to Las Vegas, Nevada. In Las Vegas, we spent the night with Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Tom (Jordan's mom's best friend and her husband, who are pretty much family) and they gave us warm chili for dinner, warm hospitality and warm weather. (Well, at least to us the 40s felt warm!) After spending way too much time hanging out and chatting, we fell asleep with visions of sugar plums or somesuch in our heads.

After a delicious oatmeal breakfast (Aunt Cheryl said she didn't really like oatmeal as a kid, but once Uncle Tom taught her it was OK to put yummy stuff on it, that made her like it. She still loves the yummy stuff, which means Jordan got to have sugar, marshmallows and chocolate chips in his! It was dessert for breakfast!) we hit the road for sunny San Diego. About four hours later, we arrived at Sun Diego, sans sun, but with 60-degree weather. Crystal's sister, Maren, graciously allowed us to park the car at her home and then she drove us to the boat, by way of In-N-Out Burger and Golden Spoon (where she and her husband, Rick, treated us to all the frozen yogurt we could handle, since they own the shop).

At the San Diego pier, we spied our giant, bigger-than-the-Titanic, white Carnival Elation cruise ship. It had 12 decks and offered accommodations for more than 2,000 people and about 900 crew members. After settling in to our luxurious staterooms, we went up on deck to explore and watch San Diego float into the distance.

That evening we went to dinner and experienced what was only the beginning of a wonderful culinary relationship with the cruise. Meal highlights included filet mignon, lobster tail, jumbo tiger prawns, Caesar salad, made-to-order omelettes, Beef Wellington, Chocolate Melting Cake (which Elisabeth ate five nights in a row!) and, I forget the name, but Crystal had a delicious veggie pot pie-type thing with lots of puff pastry and cheesy sauce. Our waiter, Ronnie from the Phillipines, had a great way of simply saying, "Yes," as we ordered each thing. He didn't react at all when Jordan ordered two entrees one night (veal parmesan -- to which Elisabeth said, "Wow, veal tastes way different when it doesn't come from a Banquet frozen dinner," and the Beef Wellington), or when Christina, Elisabeth and Crystal all ordered about two desserts each every night. That's what's so great about cruises, lots of food and then you don't have any dishes!

Of our four full days on the cruise, two were spend on board the ship. Both were overcast and a bit chilly, which kept us away from lounging on the deck chairs and getting really tan. Instead, this allowed us to participate in Carnival's "FunShip" activities, such as an "Amazing Race"-type scavenger hunt (Jordan and Christina won a trophy on that one), various trivia games, presentations and Water Wars! Water Wars consisted of two platforms facing each other on top of the ship, near the pool and water slide (yes, we had a waterslide!). Each platform has a cup attached to surgical tubing which allows you to shoot water balloons at the other side. Since it was a little chilly and cloudy, Christina, Elisabeth and Jordan were the only ones who showed up to play. Christina and Elisabeth battled first, with Elisabeth winning partly because Christina would run away when balloons were coming, instead of standing there to take it like a man. Jordan soundly defeated Elisabeth and then squeaked out another victory when he challenged both girls at the same time. To celebrate, we all went down the water slide into the pool!
Another great diversion on-board was the miniature golf course built on the very top of the ship. It was cold and windy, but that could be the way golf is supposed to be played, at least that's what the courses in Ireland and Scotland always look like. Jordan sank two holes-in-one and the girls had several more than that, because the chilly air forced them to help each other make things go quickly and one would putt while the other two hovered near the hole ready to tap the ball into the cup, but not add any strokes.

The two days were were in port, in Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, were perfect: sunny and about 75 degrees. In Cabo San Lucas, we chartered a local boat to take us out of the harbor to Lover's Cove, a beautiful beach surrounded by sea cliffs. Near this beach there is a colony of sea lions, as well as many birds and fish. Our boatman showed us the sights, then dropped us off at Lover's Cove for a couple hours to sunbathe and snorkel. We saw some beautiful tropical fish in the water, including some angelfish and a big (like three feet long) aquamarine fish of an unknown, to us, name. After a wonderful time on the beach, we went back to town and our boatman told us where to get some great fish tacos, which are a Baja California specialty. We went to Tacos Claro, and all enjoyed a lunch of delicious, and deliciously cheap, seafood tacos and quesadillas.

In Ensenada we decided to go to The Bufadora (blowhole), a place where the waves blast into and cavern on the sea cliffs and spray water up to 80 feet in the air. The cruise ship offered trips there for $25 a person and a taxi company in town offered trips for $10 per person. We eschewed both options and took local buses for $4 per person. We had a much more mellow ride, enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with the locals and saved lots of cash. That cash allowed us to eat a delicious lunch at Tio Papa's, a place that specializes in huge, stuffed baked potatoes. The house specialty is a potato filled with cheese, bacon, beef, chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, gravy and butter. It was delcious!

When we boarded the ship in Ensenada, we knew our long, warm, adventure was coming to an end. So to celebrate, we all got smoothies and stood on the deck as we sailed out of port. That night we had another delicious meal and watched the sun set. Saturday morning brought us into San Diego, where Maren picked us up, took us back to Golden Spoon for more yogurt, then took us to her home, where we got in the car and headed home. The most noteworthy thing about the drive home was seeing the burned-out top floors of the Monte Carlo casino in Las Vegas. Oh, and having more In-N-Out burgers. Our drive ended as it began, with clear roads. A pair of snow storms blew through while we were gone, but we were blessed to have clear roads both ways.

Now, we are all home, being cold, dreaming of going back and trying to work off our double-entree, triple-dessert meals.

Maybe I do love the snow!

This morning when I got up and ready for church, I knew it was snowing outside, but the Californian in me still has a hard time knowing how bad it is, especially when the plows have yet to come in our complex and make my life easier. I didn't think about it twice and left myself just enough time to get to church. I opened my garage door and there was a good 8+ inches waiting for me. At that moment I thought maybe I should have given myself a little extra time, but what could you do. I proceeded on my way and I didn't even make it onto the road before I got stuck. The dip between the driveway and the road got me with all the snow the plows pushed into it from the road. No amount of backing up and starting again was going to get me out of this one, believe me, I tried! I sat there in my car and said a little prayer and called Jordan at church to tell him I would be late if I made it at all. Just then, a lady pulled up who was trying to get in where I was trying to get out and asked me if I was going to move. I told her I wanted to, but couldn't because my car was stuck. She got out of her car and pushed me out of the rut I was in. My little prayer had been answered! I was on my way to church again. The whole drive there, I prayed and prayed that I would make it safely. Yet again, my prayers were answered, and I was able to make it to church and have such a great experience there.

This little experience may not seem like that big of a deal, but sometimes the answers to the small prayers are just what we need to give us the faith we need for the larger prayers. My prayers lately have been filled with so many big things that I have also been praying that I could have more faith. More faith that my prayers are heard and answered, more faith that I am doing what Heavenly Father wants me to do, more faith that I can do the things He asks of me and so on. It took some contemplation in church today to realize that two prayers had been answered in one: 1) Someone came to help me out of the snow so I could get to church and 2) I had confirmation that Heavenly Father does hear and answer our prayers. If He is hearing and answering those small prayers that help us out of the snow, then surely He is hearing the bigger more important prayers too. Those bigger ones just take a little more work and a little more time to answer.

Thanks to anyone who reads this for humoring me. I have been so excited all day about my little epiphany that I just had to share it!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Halfway Mark

First off, for those of you wondering, the post about our cruise is coming. Since Jordan has more experience with this sort of thing, I am making him write and post pictures about that. I don't even know if I know how to post pictures! I guess I will learn sometime.

This post is really about my doctor's appointment I just had. Our little chicklet is about half done now! I can't believe that in less than 20 weeks I will be a mom! That is one scary thought! The doctor said she is about 8 inches long and about 10 oz, I think. I may have gotten that wrong. She is still a girl which is nice. When we were in Mexico, I bought 2 baby girl dresses and I thought I had jinxed myself for sure, and at this appointment we would find out it is a boy, but SHREW! the news didn't change! Now that I have those little dresses, I am really excited to dress her up in them!

Jordan and I joke that I have a Popsicle in the freezer instead of a bun in the oven because I have been so cold. At my last appointment Jordan asked the doctor when I would start getting warm from being pregnant and he said that it should happen any day now. I am really excited for that to happen, especially with how cold it has been lately!