Each year millions of Americans have to make the decision to do their own taxes. It is not always an easy question to answer, but, I have been doing my own taxes since 1998 or so.
The factors I considered when deciding to prepare my own taxes were the complexity or simplicity of taxes that year and the cost of filing. When I first started, as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, there wasn’t much to consider. I had a W-2 and that was it. I always got a refund and could complete the forms in record time.
After leaving the navy I had new forms to deal with. Schedule C for my business, 1099s, statements from paying tuition, etc. But because more people were starting to e-file, tax prep software got better. Actually, I hardly ever bought the software and used the program online.
Last year, just like the year before, I was falling behind in filing my taxes. Usually I have everything done by mid February. But I had been letting it go until April 15th! That is just insane. So, last year, in an effort to simplify my life, I wanted try a tax prep place. I found that it was going to cost money I didn’t have and I was unlikely to a refund. So why spend the money? I did it myself. And $17.95 later, I neither owed money nor received a refund! I was happy! Mostly happy that it was over!
I know lots of people can be confused by the constantly changing tax laws, the different forms to file, and where to go for help. I have to admit that I am a little bit of a nerd when it comes to taxes. Not only that, but when I received my second bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, my accounting elective was on personal income taxes! Yes I did!
Whether your tax situation is complex because of business, real estate, job expenses, education costs, etc., you have to choose the situation that’s best for you: self preparation or using a tax expert or account. For me, I will stick with self preparation until my situation dictates otherwise. That’s my advice to you, but make sure you still know what’s going in with your money!
February 27, 2015 10:52
By Wendy Stewart
When I was in high school, I attended an all-girls' boarding school in Glencoe. Oldfields School is a small school but there's lots of cool things always going on. We did not shut down for weather very often and we did not get many of the holidays our public schoolmates received. To make up for that, we had a "free day" built into each quarter to give us a break. Sometimes the free day was was used when so many of us were sick we just needed a day to catch up. Other times it was used to buy travel time in inclement weather.
Oldfields School has a snowy setting Feb. 17.
Free days aside, there was another thing to contend with our psychological well-being: cold, dreary winter days. So what do a bunch of girls at a boarding school do to get out of the winter doldrums? We looked to our a Capella group, the Dubious Dozen, to provide relief through song. You know music makes everything better!
When it was time for a moral boost because the weather was so dreary, Dubious, as we were called (I was a member for one year), had one song to do in order to lift winter spirits: California Dreamin' by The Mamas and the Papas.
All the leaves are brown and the sky
I've been for a walk on a winter's day
I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA
California dreamin' on such a winter's day
Sounds lovely right? We thought so which why it became sort of a tradition.
This is the view from my front porch during the latest snowstorm.
Although I don't own a copy of the song, I still remember the lyrics from my time in the Dubious Dozen. When the temperature started to drop and the snow kept rolling in, that was the first song that came to mind.
While we all wait patiently for warmer weather to return, share your favorite warm weather song in the comments below!
February 23, 2015 04:05
By Wendy Stewart
It's been a little over one week since I participated in my very first ever March for Life. I am not really one for crowds and the thought of being in the crowd rather than standing back to observe was a little scary. But, since I was traveling with a group from my parish, Saints Philip and James, and we would be meeting up with the Dominican friars, I figured I was in good hands. Plus, any excuse to take the train is good for me!
A group of people from Saints Philip and James Church in Baltimore, including Dominican Father John Paul Walker and Dominican Father
Dominic Bump, attend the March for Life.
First, let me say that I had not walked so much in a long time. With my pedometer recording over 13,000 steps that day, my feet didn't ache at all. We hustled from Union Station to meet the other Dominicans and I was struck by all of the different groups making their way to the mall. I'm not sure what kinds of people I expected to see because I haven't been very active in pro-life causes (figuring I could leave that to someone else), but the sheer number of kids, students, and families blew my mind. I was overcome with joy and happiness to see people from all over the country take the time and expense to travel for such an important cause. How I wish I could have done that in high school and college!
Another refreshing sight to see were the number of habitat religious. Of course I saw many Dominicans, but men and women religious, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, of all stages of vows and formation (I believe I saw some postulants), all came to show their support for life. Many of these religious were the chaperones for those very same students I mentioned earlier. How inspiring!
Signs, good folks around me to walk and talk with, a common cause, hyped up college students and bands made the March one of the best I've ever done. But I hadn't realized the depth of pro-life until I finally made it home, and this is why I'm still in awe and still mentally digesting all that I've taken in since that day.
I forgot about the people on the other side of the issue. Not because they weren't important, but because I didn't see them until I watched the news. Now I know everyone isn't always peaceful when defending their passions, but I'm glad I didn't run into anyone who was very militant or angry. As I passed signs of support for life from Canadians, feminists, and rape survivors, it was clear to me I needed to absorb more and really walk my talk. In other words, I couldn't just casually mention this in my blog anymore and I know my views on life extend to all people regardless of wealth, status, or anything. But I also had to remember that fighting for life is also important when it comes to suicide in any form.
I certainly cannot hope to cover everything that has been going on in my head so I will leave part one of this series with a question for you: what is one thing you can do every day to support a culture of life?
I'll see you for Part 2: From Pro-Choice to Pro-Life.
February 01, 2015 10:09
By Wendy Stewart
It's always incredible to me when I attend daily mass and hear a theme reinforced the following Sunday in other readings. It reminds me that Scripture is alive and well and can touch us deeply if we keep our hearts and minds open.
For the fourth Sunday of Advent, we were treated to the Gospel reading recounting the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary and her agreement to do God's will (Luke 1:26-38). What an incredible task for such a young woman. As Father John Paul Walker, OP, reminded us at daily mass, it was a task for a young woman only 13 or 14 years old. That's very important.
We often forget in the hustle and bustle of Advent and Christmas that our salvation, the birth of our Savior, was dependent on a teenager's willingness to be the handmaiden of the Lord. Of course, we can't think of her in today's teenage terms because the world is different and life spans are much longer. However, we can hardly imagine the weight of the world on our shoulders at such a young age. Would we have said yes? I bet we all like to think we would. Since Mary was already betrothed (engaged) to Joseph, which carried the same weight as a legal marriage, she must have been aware of the consequences of her agreement on her and Joseph.
Although we have no diary of Mary's innermost thoughts, we do have what is referred to as the Canticle of Mary or the Magnificat. If you pray the Divine Office, you know what I am referring to. But if you don't, I believe this is one of the most beautiful expressions of how confident we should be in saying yes to God. I'll write out the text below, but I leave you with this question on which to meditate: Is God calling you to something and you're afraid to say yes? If so, pray for the courage to follow God and all he has for you!
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour, for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.
He has shown mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever." Luke 1:46-55
December 24, 2014 12:00
By Wendy Stewart
It seems odd that in Baltimore we should prepare and brace for the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, be we are. Officers from many jurisdictions in and around the city have put in overtime to act as a deterrent to those who would resort to violence if the decision isn't what certain people want to hear.
But the country has been here before. I wasn't alive for the rioting that occurred after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Notable rioting happened here, DC, Chicago, and Kansas City. Three years before that, rioting due to racial tensions lasted in Watts for six days.
Fast forward to 1991 and the country was shocked as video of the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers after a traffic stop led to more racial unrest. When the jury acquitted the four officers the next year, there was more rioting in Los Angeles.
As we turn our focus to Ferguson, rioting due to injustice because of race or politics has, unfortunately, become the norm. That's unfortunate, and in the case of Dr. King, it's sadly ironic that such violence would follow the death of someone who stood for nonviolence.
How many of us thought there would be rioting if George Zimmerman was found "not guilty" in the Trayvon Martin case? Thankfully, that didn't happen. It was, however, within the realm of possibility. And now the country waits for another police-involved shooting tearing a city apart along racial lines.
In case you are not up to speed on the case in Ferguson, here's what you need to know: On August 9, 2014, 18 year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Witness accounts of the fateful encounter differ from Officer Wilson's statement claiming the unarmed teen attacked him. The Grand Jury (which decides if Officer Wilson will be indicted and on what charge) has been in session since August 20th. For more on the case, see this write up from Yahoo.com
Why am I writing about this now? Because, like many of you, I am trying to understand how violence and destroying your own community will solve what is such a complex problem. There will always be people who try to capitalize on situations like this and turn it into something racial. Honestly, I don't know enough about the case to make that call. Most of us don't. I can only intelligently comment on the peoples' response to this incident.
Riots won't bring back Michael Brown. Violence won't solve whatever problems brewing in towns like Ferguson. In this case, violence would only show us the worst in people. Again, this doesn't solve the problem and only serves to keep people on edge and tensions high.
However we got to this place, I have to wonder if anyone really cares why these things happen. Who among protesters and activists is taking the time to find the facts and help make Ferguson better? How can the death of Michael Brown serve as an impetus for good and inspire change? That's where our energy should be - not worrying about our safety because of the foolish actions of a small percentage of people.
So, as we wait for a decision in Ferguson, let us pray for all involved and pray always for peace remembering the sanctity of all life, especially our enemies.
November 25, 2014 04:36
By Wendy Stewart
As I roamed the aisles of my favorites stores over the last couple of weeks (good prices require research), I noticed something peculiar. In one store, though we were still almost two weeks from Halloween, something against the back wall caught my eye. No, it wasn't the fall harvest decorations I was hoping to see; rather it was shelves stocked with Christmas lights.
Wait, it's only mid-October! We don't even have a World Series champion yet and Christmas lights were already for sale!
It's part of a disturbing trend many of us have noticed over the past few years: holiday and special sales occur earlier and earlier each year. Don't believe me? Do you remember seeing school supplies for sale in your favorite big box store in July or clothing stores beginning to stock school uniforms?
When I saw those displays I got a little sad. I love school and school supplies (yes, I'm that kind of nerd), but many kids had only been on summer break for less than one month before parents, teachers, and care givers had to start worrying about the next school year. And because we want to stick up and get the best deals possible, we go along with the sales when they occur. But is that the best thing to do? If we continue buying in this particular economic pattern, does that encourage retailers to push merchandise on us whenever they please?
I fear the answer might be yes.
For example, take Starbucks. Right around Labor Day, Starbucks told us it was fall by introducing classic fall drinks and flavors, along with new drink ware to match. One problem, it was still technically summer. We were reminded of that by some pretty warm days that month. Shortly after reading this, if you haven't already, you'll see the winter holiday drinks and signature red Christmas hot cups at Starbucks. Yes, Starbucks does dictate our seasons.
Now don't get me wrong, I love it when Peppermint Mocha espresso is back on the menu, but I felt a little guilty drinking it when it was only the end of October.
Soon, in Target and other stores, Halloween items will be offered at a steep discount, there will be a few things around for Thanksgiving, but the emphasis and space will be devoted to Christmas and Hanukkah. And, as we all know, that retail train doesn't stop until after the new year when we will be encouraged to shop for the next major retail holiday: Valentine's Day.
So what does all this mean? Have we become consumer zombies and victims of our own desires to beat the competition and get the best deals? Maybe, but it doesn't have to be that way. I have a couple of ideas to keep the consumer monster at bay:
1. Stock up on holiday décor and other items that can be safely stored until the next year. The best time to do that is right after that particular holiday when prices are at there lowest and on clearance.
2. Make a decision about when you and your family will start to purchase holiday items.
The retailers can't tell you when and how to spend your money. Get wise and plan for each holiday so you are not compelled by sales or last minute purchases because you failed to plan. After all, these same holidays occur every year, so there is no surprise!
3. Keep track of sales cycles.
Though this may sound harder than it is, it's really simple to keep track of when things you might need will go on sale. Need fitness gear? January and February are great for buying new items as people are still fresh on their resolutions. The beginning and end of seasons are good for clothing, accessories, and shoes. If you're a little nerdy like me, keep a spreadsheet of the items you're saving for and note each week your favorite store has it on sale. That's what I'm doing while I save up for a new computer and iPad (Target gift card with purchase). If that's too much work or you just don't have time, check out the ladies who run the site http://thekrazycouponlady.com
. They have articles and videos to help you know what goes on sale each month of the year. It's been a huge help to me!
4. All great deals don't happen on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
While it's nice to take advantage of offers on those days, most of the better deals come in the categories of electronics, gaming, etc. Kudos to you if you want to brave those crowds, just remember to take time and celebrate Thanksgiving with your family first. Also, if you've been paying attention to sale cycles, you may notice some Black Friday prices aren't the lowest of the year. I know it's easy to get caught up in the excitement, but cooler heads will prevail in this case. Another good way to do this is to purchase gifts as the year goes on!
5. Remember the small businesses.
All businesses had to start somewhere and your community stores are a great way to break free from some consumer madness – especially going into the winter holiday season. Reinvesting money into your community is why Small Business Saturday
exists the day after Black Friday. Take some time to shop in your neighborhood, meet your neighbors and build communities. Charm City Run is always one of my favorites!
Those are my best five tips for helping you break the chains of consumerism and send a message to companies that you value time in your community and with your family and no sale or early display of merchandise is going to change that. That's how we affect change – one day and one person at a time!
Leave a comment and share how you will break the bonds of consumer slavery and take back the holiday season!
November 03, 2014 03:39
By Wendy Stewart
Depending on when you read this, my 35th birthday may have already come and gone, but the lessons still remain year after year.
Turning 35 isn't really a milestone birthday, in my opinion, but it's a good number to take time and reflect on what I have done thus far and if I am where I thought I would be. The problem is, other than living the life of a religious, I really didn't know or plan what I would be doing at 35.
If you know me now, you'd be surprised because I plan everything and love making lists and learning how to make and achieve my goals. So why didn't I ever give thought to what I would be doing right now, as I embark on my 35th year of life?
I think, like most people, we let ages like that sneak up on us. This was especially true when I was in college at the Naval Academy. When I graduated at 21, I had no idea what I was going to do 14 years later! Now let me be clear: I have enjoyed everything I have done and relished in the fact that all of these experiences have contributed to the person I am today. So what am I really lacking? Just the conventional answer to what I'm going to do when I grow up!
Even in the last 10 years since leaving the military I have done so much it could make your head spin. But in all that time, I have learned so much about myself, how to interact better with other people, and how to really embrace the quirky person God created me to be, that I can't say there have been too many wasted moments.
I get to be with my family, write this blog, and have fantastic adventures and experiences. I get to spend more time in prayer and adoration as I learn how to heal my body and mind from my military disabilities. I get to be a resource for people when I have the blessing of being able to use my skills and gifts to help others.
While I am at the point where I can no longer hold a traditional job, I remember that "freedom" gives me a chance to be around for other people and help in a way I couldn't before. Perhaps it's not official, but I feel like I am starting to live the life of a religious!
I have learned to accept that people may not be able to give me what I think I need, but, as I grow closer to God, I am able to find more and more peace in meeting people where they are and seeing them as God does. Sure there are more earthly things I wish for, but I know those have to be put in the proper perspective with my highest priorities.
While I am not where I thought I would be at age 35, I believe I'm in a much better place. I look forward to what is to come and how I can give all of me in the service of God for my fellow human beings (that's about as sappy as I get).
And for everyone who reads these words, I hope and pray that you will live your life according to your highest priorities, for it is only there you will find fulfillment and contentment. It won't always be easy, but it will be worth it!
October 24, 2014 05:02
By Wendy Stewart
As they head into the American League Championship Series between our Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, it's time for our town, and our team, to, once again, show the media and the country, what's so special about Baltimore.
It's easy for baseball accomplishments to get overshadowed when football season starts. This is especially true when this current NFL season is so littered with scandal and questionable player morals. But when the Orioles were heading toward clinching the AL East title, I told my friends and family to remember it's still baseball season and we have a winning team! They need our support!
For some reason, Baltimore-based teams are considered underdogs when national media does the reporting. Even as I listen to the pre-game show before Game 1 of the ALCS, with statistics in our favor and home field advantage (no town has better fans than us), we are still an "unproven" team. I'm pretty sure that securing the AL East by a 12 game margin halfway through September without big names like Manny Machado (injury), Matt Weiters (injury), and Chris Davis (suspension), means we have done more than prove our worth as a team, but also as worthy opponents in the postseason. Just ask the Detroit Tigers and their 3 Cy Young Award winners that we swept!
Despite all of the pressure and a trip to the World Series on the line, Orioles manager Buck Showalter knows how to keep the team focused on the task at hand and not lose their minds! In interview after interview we see players who are humbled by how far they have gone and excited for what lies ahead. Although they need to be confident each time they take the field for a game, it's never come across as something they are entitled to; rather, each step in the postseason, and getting here, has been about teamwork, having fun, and doing right for fans who give their hometown teams so much.
Wendy Stewart poses with the Oriole bird before the Oct. 10 pep rally.
I've lived in many places during the time my father was in the Navy and when I also served as a Naval Officer and there are no baseball fans like Orioles fans. We are, indeed, the best behaved fans in baseball, and we have respect for the game. We expect the same from our players. You can see it in the amount of time players choose to stay in Baltimore and which players come to Charm City. It isn't about having the most expensive roster, but a roster the town can rally behind no matter what.
Announcer Ryan Wagner and the Oriole bird at the Oct. 10 press rally for the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles are a gracious team and the way they handle themselves season after season can be an example all of us, athletes or not, can carry into all areas of our lives. It means we don't give up because of setbacks. It means we don't give up because some of our team members aren't there that day. And it means we don't let the negativity of others cloud our perception of ourselves and the world.
That's how you stay humble. That's how you stay happy. And that's how you can say, "We Won't Stop," and still be gracious.
October 11, 2014 01:20
By Wendy Stewart
That's right, how we value humanity. What Ray Rice did was reprehensible and criminal. His use of domestic violence and the resulting consequences underscore what I often say in this blog: We need to value human life.
I won't judge his wife, Janay, for staying with him or marrying him. Domestic violence situations are more complicated that just telling someone to leave. Leaving isn't always an option. For more insight, see these eye-opening tweets under the hashtag #whyIstayed
When I watched the video, I saw two people on a dangerously violent path. Rice pays the public price because he has a contract in place, while Janay becomes the subject of victim-shaming for her actions. I'm not sure which punishment is worse at this point.
Domestic violence comes in many forms. And just like when I wrote about the suicide of Robin Williams
, there are signs we can all look for to help prevent more victims. I will share these at the end so you can find more information and resources.
Domestic violence, much like sexual assault, is about power and control. The abuser gains that control in various combinations of emotional/verbal and physical abuse. To break free of this is a monumental and dangerous task for any victim (and there are male victims as well) and often requires outside help and continued support. Imagine how much harder that would be if there at children in the relationship as well.
But I'm not here to join the bandwagon and bash Ray Rice, Janay, or the NFL. I'm here to remind all of us that, when we see signs of domestic violence or abuse, that we take the appropriate action.
I'm willing to bet that someone in there lives saw these signs before the incident in Atlantic City. I hope that person spoke up. Maybe there was no one to speak up, but that usually isn't the case.
We've become afraid. Although we claim to want to protect certain groups of people, we are still afraid, sometimes, to do the right thing. I get it - we're human and not perfect. Fear is a great paralyzer. Some of us are afraid to get into someone else's business; that it's a problem only between the couple fighting. We are afraid of being wrong and having people mad at us.
All of the above thoughts are valid fears but we must put them in perspective when it comes to the safety of another person. Your action or inaction may mean the difference between life and death. Yes, it's that serious, and, in my opinion, worth someone getting mad at me for making sure someone is alright and safe.
Yesterday, someone in the neighborhood, who knows I write this blog, asked my opinion on the situation. He was expecting an opinion and the Ray Rice's firing and who knew what and when. Instead, I asked about before Atlantic City. I asked about what the video doesn't show and what we couldn't hear. I asked what would he have done if he had seen signs of domestic violence as a friend of Rice. I asked him what our responsibility is to each other in community and as human beings.
In the end, this man decided he was only willing to step in and call the police in certain situations. While a little disappointed with his conclusion, he reminded me of just how unaware we are and how we can easily rationalize minding our own business. But, more than just giving me an understanding of his mindset, he said, out loud, what he was really thinking and I got to see how that was based on traumatic, violent events of his own childhood watching his parents show violence toward each other.
I know it's hard to overcome fear and take action, but isn't that something to pray about? Do the thing you fear and it will, eventually, go away. God doesn't give us more than we can handle, so that tells me if I'm in a position to help in some way, that I can handle it.
It all starts with a basic agreement that all life is sacred and we are all in a position to help keep true to that belief. And if that is what we truly believe, then we should take that seriously and start looking out for each other. Remember Jesus' parable of The Good Samaritan and we will have a place to start. Pray God gives you the strength to overcome fear and do what is right, though it may be hard. And pray for not only the victims, but the abusers.
As promised, here are some resources and information for you or anyone you may know in a domestic violence situation:
Questions to ask in order to determine if the relationship is safe (the warning signs I mentioned) from TurnAround's website:
1. Has this person ever hit you, pushed you, thrown objects at you, or otherwise displayed violent outbursts directed toward you?
2. Has this person ever been violent toward former dating partners?
3. Does this person become verbally or physically abusive when under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
4. Does this person often berate you or put you down (even in front of others) in order to feel superior?
5. Does this person become extremely upset when you do things without his (or her) permission, or when you reject his (or her) presumed authority?
6. Does this person resent you for having friends of your own or try to control your friendships?
7. Does this person threaten to harm your friends if you continue seeing them or if they try to help you?
8. Does this person hold in low regard members of the opposite sex, but say that you are special?
9. Does this person seem to feel better when you fail?
10. Has this person ever forced you or manipulated you into having sex when it was against your wishes?
September 11, 2014 02:24
By Wendy Stewart
Hello again, my fellow readers! As many of you know, I am a fan of the long-running BBC sci-fi hit show, “Doctor Who.” The show follows the adventures of a time-travelling Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and his human companions.
One of the reasons the show has been able to continue for nearly 51 years is a very cool loophole which allows the show to continue with a new actor as the Doctor. The loophole is regeneration - something all Time Lords can do. When the Doctor is upon death, he can regenerate into a new Doctor. Same memories but a different face, personality, mannerisms, and way of approaching the world.
The appearance of a new Doctor can be just as confusing for the Doctor as his companions who witness the regeneration. The new Doctor is a stranger and the companion must relearn to trust the Doctor.
The season 8 premiere brings that point home quite well as the current companion, Clara, isn’t sure she knows who the Doctor is anymore. To be fair, neither does the audience as this is the first episode for the newest Doctor (actor Peter Capaldi).
The wonderful thing about the companions is they often represent the view of the audience as we are also trying to figure out who this “new” Doctor is and if he can be trusted.
What appealed to me most about this episode was the constant call to look beyond the surface and into the heart of the person with whom you interact. While that is not always possible when you encounter strangers, the episode calls into question whether anything or anyone remains the same if all that has changed is their outward appearance.
We know it is difficult to really know a person based on what we see on the outside; but if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize our clothes, hair, grooming, mannerisms, etc., are all meant to convey a particular message. Our appearance lets us decide if we want to fit in or stand out.
So what does this mean for us Catholics and others who may read these words? I think its just that we cannot go by appearances alone. We must avoid assumptions about people, which keep us from really getting to know them. We must show compassion before criticism and judgment. We must look at people the way God sees them - beyond what they may be trying to mask.
(All 13 regenerations of the Doctor./tvtropes.org)
August 29, 2014 03:21
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