Allocationg Our 2013 Tax Refund

We got our tax refund information a couple of weeks back.  I spent some time coming up with some proposed allocations, and my wife was more than happy with what I came up with, so I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the categories which we’re allocating this year.

The Three Sources of Our Refund

We get our refund from three different sources

  • Federal Refund – Self-explanatory
  • State Refund – Again, shouldn’t require any detail
  • Side Income Allocation – When we make money from our side hustles, the sales of stock, the cashing in of savings bonds, or other areas where I know we’ll pay taxes but there is no withholding, we set aside 25% in an earmarked fund within our money market accounts.  If we were ever in a position to have to pay estimated taxes, this would be the source, but for now, it’s a nice way to get a ‘refund’….and earn interest on it along the way!

So, here are the categories for which we are distributing the money this year:

Read moreAllocationg Our 2013 Tax Refund

Very Early Planning For Disney World Trip

My wife and I went to Disney World in 2008.  We planned that trip specifically so the two of us could go by ourselves, as we knew that we wanted to start trying to start a family shortly thereafter, and if that worked out, our future trips would be much different.

We had a great time, and as it happened, we started our family in 2009 by welcoming our son, and added to it with the 2011 birth of our daughter.

We’ve talked about the right age to take another trip down.  I think that many early childhood memories are lost, and since Disney World is such a magical place, it’d be a shame to have a child ‘forget’ essentially all of the experience.   I proposed, and my wife reluctantly agreed that four years old would be the earliest age.  I think my wife was reluctant just because she really has been looking forward to going back!

Read moreVery Early Planning For Disney World Trip

Mobile Friendly Sites Are Often Anything But

Web sites tend to get redesigned regularly.  Just like a store that needs updating every now and then, the electronic face of any store, news site, or otherwise needs to be kept up to date.

The latest trend has been to redesign sites around the fact that more mobile users are using them, so they are designed to be ‘mobile friendly’.

Personally, I’m starting to hate this.

And where I hate it the most?  Reading these sites on my mobile device.

Two examples come to mind where the latest site redesigns have practically killed the reading experience for me.

Read moreMobile Friendly Sites Are Often Anything But

Some Of Our Stuff Is Due For A Check-Up

We’re supposed to go to the doctor at least once a year for a check-up and to the dentist twice a year to get those teeth checked out.  These visits will help catch problems early and make sure that our bodies are running as they should be.

The same concept holds true for some of the items which many people have. In fact, it’s time for some of the items around our house to receive a ‘check-up’.  Here are a few things I have on the list:

Read moreSome Of Our Stuff Is Due For A Check-Up

Avoiding the Hassles of Out of State Job Searches

If relocation is in your career future, this can add more challenges to your job search process. Unfortunately, many employers have no interest in working with long-distance candidates. There are far too many “ifs” and risks when working with potential employees who live out of state.

Quite frankly, most employers simply won’t be bothered with long-distance candidates if they can find local candidates. Does this mean you should give up your search? Absolutely not. It’s not impossible to find a long-distance job; it’s just a little more challenging.

Read moreAvoiding the Hassles of Out of State Job Searches

Review of Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark – Traverse City

Two weeks ago we surprised our kids with a two night stay at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City, Michigan.  This was our first stay at an indoor waterpark, and it was a very good experience.

Background

We knew that we wanted to get away for a couple of days sometime this winter, and that turned out to be a great choice, as it’s been one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recorded history.  In fact, the first day we were there, the recorded temperature outside was -22 degrees.  It was a great decision to break up the winter with some ‘summer’ fun.

Read moreReview of Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark – Traverse City

How We Are Integrating New Or Updated Technology

The past couple of months have seen some big changes in the technology in our house.  I’m not sure how it all happened but there have been some new devices and some changes.  I wish I could say that I was on the cutting edge with all of it, but it’s been more of a slow go.

Still, I’m very excited, and I thought by putting it out there, maybe I could get some tips and tricks for any readers who have any of the devices or similar type items:

  • Samsung S4 Galaxy – My former employer had provided us with cell phones.  My new employer elected not to do that so I had to get a new phone.  We already have a Sprint family plan, and although the Sprint coverage is pretty bad, it would have been an out of pocket cost of two times more to go with another carrier.  I decided to bite the bullet and go on the family plan, and was able to snag a new S4 at Best Buy for no cost a few days before Christmas.  My old phone was an S3 so I already knew the Samsung, the OS, and was very impressed.  It was a pretty seamless transition, though not without hiccups. I had my two phones and attempted to transport all of my settings, application configuration information, and files to the new device.  Although everything transferred OK, the phone itself seemed a bit buggy.  The Android versions were different, so I felt maybe something got messed up along the way.  A couple of weeks after getting it, I ended up wiping it to factory reset and starting from scratch, this time setting everything up manually.  It took about two hours from start to finish, but I have noted that it does perform better.
  • Google Nexus tablet – My wife surprised me with a new Google Nexus tablet for Christmas.  I love it.  The tablet is Google so it has the very latest version of Android.  The tablet is great, but I’ve been without one for so long that I tend to forget to use it.  Around the house, it’s great for web browsing, playing music, and playing games.  I just need to remember to grab it when I need to do those things.  I still usually reach for my phone out of habit.
  • Old tablet made ‘new’ – I bought an HP Touchpad several years ago at a pretty dirtmb-201402tablet500 cheap price.  I realized pretty quickly why I didn’t really use it that much, as it was based on the HP/Palm WebOS platform, which has since been abandoned.  Very few apps meant that it was a shiny gadget without much purpose.  Well, after seeing the new tablet and how cool it was, I pulled the HP out of the drawer and set to do something that I’ve been talking about for two years: Root the device and install Android.  I did so, and it’s actually pretty cool.  The thing is pretty heavy compared to today’s tablets, though it does have a bigger screen.  I’d like to get Netflix and I’m thinking that this would be a good tablet for watching Netflix on the go, and probably not much else.
  • New TV – We bought a new 50″ LED TV a year ago.  Imagine my disappointment when I found that it had been cracked.  I think my kids were the culprit.  Our daughter went through a phase where she was chucking toys around just because, and I’m pretty sure an errant minion (from Despicable Me) gave the TV a non-repairable crack.  The TV is still watchable, but as a primary TV, it was not something I wanted long term.  I found a deal on an off brand TV that got great reviews, and so far it works great.  My wife did have to adjust the colors on it, and I have to say she did a great job.
  • Chromecast – I got a Chromecast for Christmas.  With the stash of Android devices I noted above, we have plenty of means to control the device.  And I love it.  As of now, I primarily use it to stream stuff from YouTube.  My 4-year old son loves anything to do with dinosaurs, so we are able to find various cartoons and educational episodes that keep him delighted.  As mentioned above, I’d like to get Netflix, which is integrated into the Chromecast.  I’ve also heard that Google will be releasing the API so that third party developers can start writing streaming apps, opening up the door for more apps such as found on the Roku.  Speaking of…
  • Roku – I purchased a Roku 3, which is pretty snazzy.  After some technical difficulties getting the remote control paired with the device, I was able to start using it.  Basically, it looks pretty slick and I’ve found a list of apps that seem to have access to good free content and cheap paid content.  Part of this will be the learning curve and just figuring out how to use it.  This will just take some time.

That’s quite a bit of technology being introduced to our household in a relatively short period of time.  So far, it’s been pretty slow go as far as getting familiar with the products and maximizing their usage.  I think two things will over come this.   The first is time.  I just need time to sit down and get used to them.  The second is familiarity.  Having never had devices that stream media to a TV, you don’t have that integrated into your activities or have it click in your head to check that when looking for something to watch.  Same with tablets.  I’ve never really had one, so now that they’re there, I just don’t think of them reflexively.  That will change simply by using them and discovering what they can do.

What type of technology have you added recently and how is it going?  Any tips on any of the devices above?

Nurturing Competitive Discipline

Men seldom claim to be emotional, yet they make no bones about making similar claims about being competitive. The truth is, it’s hard to have one without the other.

Take the 2006 Soccer World Cup Final between France and Italy. It was the final game in a French shirt for one of France’s greatest ever players, Zinedine Zidane. He was a calm and reflective midfield general with skill in abundance. The stage was set for Zidane to end mb-201403workouthis career clutching the World Cup in triumph. Instead, he ended it walking from the field of play, dismissed by the referee for, of all things, head-butting an Italian defender, Marco Materazzi. Just for one moment Zidane, normally the most level-headed of players, let the competitive nature of the fixture get to him and his discipline evaporated. The result – disaster. France lost and Zidane’s golden career ended beneath a blackened cloud.

Stay Competitive – Stay Disciplined

The greatest talents in sports know how to maintain their discipline, even if it means they are perceived as boring. Take Ray Allen, for example, of the NBA’s Miami Heat. He’s perceived as a metronome of a player – reliable, solid and unspectacular. So dull in fact, he’s the all-time NBA leader in three-pointers and a 10-time All-Star. Allen never lets emotion get the better of him.

Injuries can also influence an athlete psychologically. After facing a serious injury, it can be difficult to return to the same form as before getting hurt. For this reason, many athletes now work with physical therapists when rehabbing an injury, as this gives them the confidence to return as strong as ever. If you are recovering from a serious injury, remember to focus on what you can control. You have control over your own body, so you can take few risks while competing. By having this discipline, you can potentially avoid additional injuries in the future.

Sport Psychology is seen as a huge deal these days. It’s not just about having the talent – it’s also about having the mental strength to apply it.

You can use discipline to give yourself a competitive advantage in your own competitive endeavors. If you’re not the sports type, why not give online poker a try?

Poker is a game of skill and managing probabilities with a little fortune thrown in. Here are a few tips that should help you maintain your competitive discipline whilst playing:

  • Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t. In poker, this is your bankroll. Work out a monthly amount that you can afford to lose, and stick to it. Only ever gamble with ten percent of your bankroll at any one time. Never play with money you can’t afford to lose.
  • Stay relaxed. If you feel that your emotions are beginning to influence your decision-making, walk away from the table and do something else. Come back when you feel calmer.
  • Develop routines. Play at the same time each day where you’re likely to remain undisturbed. External annoyances will always threaten your concentration.

Developing focus takes time, effort and discipline. A disciplined mind will always make the least irrational decisions. Dedicating time to developing your focus and discipline will bring its own rewards, and help you in many walks of life, including some avenues you would not have previously thought of.

Categories Fun

Urgent Care or Emergency Room: 6 Ways To Decide Which Is Best?

A two year old girl coming to say goodnight to her daddy runs into the bedroom, loses her footing as two year old children often do, and lands face first on the corner of the wood frame bed.

What do you do?  What do you do?  (Yes, I wrote that thinking of Keanu Reaves saying that in ‘Speed’).

Unfortunately, this situation presented itself as a real situation for us last week as our daughter did that.

I was across the room so I saw the entire thing happen but was too far away to do anything about it except watch as I saw her land right on the bed.  Often times when kids fall, their reaction comes from how their parents act.  I knew that this was not going to be one of those situations.  Her reaction was going to come right from the pain I knew she was feeling.  I screamed at the same moment that she started wailing.  My wife ran out of another room and met us in the hall.

I knew that two people would be best to handle this.  Our daughter would need us both, and I immediately knew that one of us should comfort and one should assess.  My wife made it clear who would be doing what when she said “You look, I can’t look.” Up until then, I hadn’t given it a close look, though keep in mind only a few seconds had passed.

I took a look to see where she had hurt herself.  Though there is no ‘good’ place for a kid to land on their face, the fact is there are probably really bad places, such as:

  • Teeth – I could imagine few things hurt more than having teeth knocked out, loose, or broken.  Thankfully this didn’t happen
  • Nose – I say this with maybe a little prejudice, but our daughter is the most beautiful little girl in the entire world, and a nose like a prizefighter is a look that simply wouldn’t suit her in any way.
  • Eye – I had a friend who was hit square on the eye with a softball, causing significant damage to his orbital bone.  He came out fine but it required surgery and it was a painful recovery.  His vision was fine, but there’s risk there, too.  Again, her eyes were spared.

She took it right on the forehead, slightly above her eyebrow.  I looked at it and three thoughts popped into my head at once:

  1. That’s a deep cut.  It was about an inch wide and definitely split open.
  2. For as deep a cut as that is, I can’t believe it’s not gushing blood.  Without going into too much detail, there was blood but it wasn’t running down her face. It was basically filling the cut very slowly.
  3. She’s going to need stitches.

We grabbed some paper towel to put over the cut, and I ran down to get an ice pack to put on it.  After looking at it again, I got more paper towel and some peroxide and cleaned it a bit.

I have to give a shout to our son, who at age four was old enough to know that this was a serious situation, and he stood there quietly, very concerned for his little sister.  He came over and gave her a little kiss trying to comfort her.

By now a couple of minutes had passed, and it was time to move from handling the immediate situation to looking at the next steps.  The next steps would, I knew, involve taking her to get stitches.  I told my wife (she still wouldn’t really look) and we started talking about what to do.

The questions we both agreed needed answering were:

  • Where would we take her?  Urgent care or emergency?
  • Who would go?  Did we all need to go or should one of us stay back with our son?

By this point, the bleeding had pretty much stopped.  She had started to calm down.  I could also see that my son, while very concerned and brave for his sister, was also very shaken up.

Based on these factors, I made the recommendation that my wife stay back and that I take her to an urgent care.

My wife wondered if we should consider the emergency room. Here are the decisions we used to decide emergency room vs. urgent care:

  • mb-201403emergencyLess busy – When I called the urgent care to make sure they did in fact do stitches, they indicated it was not busy.  I didn’t call the ER but I know they can be busy.
  • Location – The urgent care is 5 minutes away.  The ER is about 10 minutes, plus parking and all that.
  • Price – The urgent care co-pay is $50.  The ER co-pay is $150.
  • Is It Urgent or Is It An Emergency? – I listed this one lower in the list, but more as an anticipation builder.  In all honestly, this was the top factor.  Based on the fact that she had not damaged herself in a ‘really bad’ area, and that she had already stopped bleeding, I felt it was an urgent situation.  But it wasn’t an emergency.
  • Reputation – I had personal reputation and well as public reputation for the urgent care.  I had been to this urgent care for a poison ivy outbreak a few years ago and was well taken care of.  I’d also just seen on a community driven Facebook page, where someone asked for recommended urgent cares, where the one I wanted to take her got a lot of positive mentions.
  • Risk – After talking with the urgent care, I knew that there were two variables that could provide risk, where if either came to pass, we’d have to go to the emergency room anyways.  The first was that if the urgent care felt the cut was too close to her eye.  The second is if my daughter would not stay still, as they did not have restraints.

Add all this together, and urgent care was the decision.  I thought the wound was far enough from her eye where they would be OK to do it, and I know that our daughter is a trooper.  In the end, my wife  agreed.  And since our daughter had calmed down, and was not bleeding, my wife and I felt it would be just fine for me to take her.  We told her not to touch her boo-boo, and set out on the way.

Fast forward 90 minutes after she took her fall, and she was back home, with eight stitches in her forehead, and heading to bed.   Though our daughter cried a lot, the urgent care said that she did great and was very brave. In fact, a minute or so after the stitches were done, my daughter was done crying and was already busy sweet talking the nurse into getting some extra stickers!

New Years And Lent Go Hand In Hand This Year

Every year I give up something for Lent.  The season of Lent leads up to Easter in the Christian church, and many people ‘give up something’ as a recognition of Jesus giving something (His life) for us.

What I give up usually ties back to one (or more) of the following things:

  • Candy (chocolate or not chocolate)
  • Snacks
  • Alcohol

None of the above items appealed to me.  Usually something jumps out but while all seemed like good ideas, none were things that would make me feel accomplished.  Even saying all of them just seemed ‘meh’.

Then, I thought back to one of my New Year’s Resolutions and I immediately hit my excitement.  The resolution which I listed was “Have treats (notably chocolate) primarily in social situations

I decided that I would give up all of the things on the list in terms of doing them alone.  This means that all of the following things would be off the table:

  • Having an after dinner snack while watching TV.  For me this is usually something like a couple of graham crackers, a handful of chips, or something along those lines.
  • Grabbing a drink on Saturday while catching up on blog work or things around the mb-201403treatshouse
  • Raiding the candy dishes on various co-workers desk during the day
  • Or anything along these lines.

This may not seem much, but I realize that I do these things far too often.  I have a snack just about every night.  My wife has one maybe twice a week.  So, now I’ll be ‘OK’ to have a snack twice a week, only when my wife does.  I will normally have a drink or two once or twice a week.  My wife has an occasional glass of wine or maybe a drink if we go out to dinner.  So, this will reduce my alcohol consumption.  My boss at work has candy dish and it would be about routine to stop by mid-afternoon and grab something.  No more.

So the bottom line is that I’m not completely cutting alcohol, sugar, or chocolate, but I’m cutting them all significantly.

And, honestly, my hope is that I can continue this as a routine practice even when Lent is done.

Do any of you out there ‘give something up’ for Lent?  What’s on your list this year?  And, giving up winter doesn’t count!