Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy Ending


2010 marked a number of transitions for us. Jeff took a new position that required him to learn a number of different skills, which, of course, he is picking up quite well. Tommy officially joined our family when we completed the final step of his adoption. I finished my formal education, and am now really home full time, as opposed to home full time but working during Tommy's naps. Last but certainly not least, we were matched with boy number two. We are so thankful for the many blessings in our lives this year.

As for our latest blessing, little Mtoto, today we got an email saying that our court case is going well! Our lawyer hopes to have all of the documents we need completed in the next four to six weeks. We are cautiously optimistic. With Africa, you never really know what might happen. It's a crazy place, but we LOVE it, and hope to be spending some time there in 2011.

Cox Christmas (both parts)

We had Cox Christmas officially on the 27th, but a few relatives stayed over at my parent's house that night, which extended the celebration to two days. Lots of fun!





Christmas Baking Marathon

We did a two day cookie baking marathon with Jjaja, Aunt Emily, Gigi (my Grandma Kay), Aunt Annie, and Molly. The outcome of two day's labor was sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, snickerdoodles, pumpkin cookies, chocolate-chip/toffee cookies, Butterscotch bars, and gluten-free peanut butter cookies. We also managed to listen to a great deal of Christmas music, watch Miracle on 34th Street and Sweet Home Alabama, and eat a massive amount of cranberry cheese.

Certain family members have complained about not being featured on the blog prominently enough. To rectify that, here are some pictures (all from the second day, when Aunt Emily and Gigi weren't around).





Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Little More Christmas Cheer

Tommy with Aunt Colleen and Uncle Kevin

Don't we look lovely on Christmas morning?

Great Gran and Poppa

With Aunt Annie and Cousin Molly

Breakfast with family

Christmas is exciting!

New Christmas duds

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christmas

Well, as usual we had a very busy Christmas!

Tommy had a wonderful time, and I am happy to report that our practice paid off and he was polite during present opening. Tommy did not demand to open more presents as we had anticipated, but actually ignoring the unopened presents...why find out what all those boxes are when you have a brand new car to play with? Or a bunch of Duplos?

We do three celebrations on Christmas day- my immediate family, Jeff's immediate family, and my extended family on my mom's side. We do my Dad's side a few days after Christmas, which is nice because you always have another party to look forward to. It's a whole lot of Christmas, but we are so thankful that we can see everyone.

Most importantly, on Christmas Eve Jeff asked Tommy "Do you know what tomorrow is?" He responded (totally without prompting): "Baby Jesus' birthday!"







Family Christmas

Since we spend Christmas day with our extended families, we decided to do a "just our family" Christmas a little early. We had a nice dinner together that I "cooked" with some serious help from Trader Joe's (it was a crazy weekend, I really can cook by myself), then we opened presents.

I am very thankful that we did a practice round, because Tommy's response to his first present was an exuberant "I want more!" He had plenty of opportunity to say "Thank you mum and dad" and politely request to open another gift, so hopefully the lesson will stick. We may have gone a bit overboard.






He got a Mr. Potato Head (the surprise hit of the night), a Melissa & Doug mailbox/letter set, two wooden jigsaw puzzles (also M & D), two hardcover books, an Eric Carlisle sewing card set, a Goldilocks sewing card set, a foam Pirate bathtub play set, and a Little People Noah's Ark set.

I feel a wee bit guilty about giving him so much. But, I am rationalizing with the fact that I only spent $20, because I got it all previously loved. It makes me feel a little better.

I still can' t get over how much he likes that Mr. Potato Head.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Great Christmas Gift

Certain people in my family have difficulty keeping secrets, thus I can say with complete certainty that I am getting some sweet presents this year. Nothing I need, in that none of it is necessary to sustain my life, but definitely some fun stuff I want. That's exciting. I like getting fun things that I want. Really, who doesn't?

However, this Christmas I will open all that neat stuff knowing that halfway around the world I have a child who may not be getting the things that he needs.

I have been very cautious when discussing Mtoto's country, because we have decided to keep the blog open. But this I can tell you: formula that is sold in his country is not adequate by any standard, and many babies who drink it get very sick. It is probably not a coincidence, since the more developed country that supplies formula to Mtoto's country had a formula recall not long ago when it was discovered that there was a chemical in some cans of formula that was making babies very ill. Since that recall, babies in Mtoto's country who rely on formula have been getting ill from formula. It doesn't take much cynicism to suspect that all the recalled formula, unfit for the babies in the country that manufactured it, has been shipped to Africa where it is now being sold, for a high price, to people who have no alternatives. And that is the world in which we live.

Mtoto needs formula. And that's needs, not wants. Currently he has a supply of formula sent from the US. One of the hardest things during the wait has been thinking about what will happen if his formula supply runs out. As our wait has gotten longer, Mtoto's formula supply has become more important. It is probably the thing I pray about the most, next to maybe getting approval to adopt from his country's court.

I shared that with my coordinator this week, and she sent me this picture:


This shows the supply of formula brought over by the latest group of families to travel and pick up their kids. It will be split among many children and multiple orphanages, but, I now know Mtoto will have clean formula this Christmas.

Now that's a Christmas gift.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Early Bird Gets the Bacon

On Monday I got an email, with the subject: "your trip is just around the corner!" How convenient, I thought, now I don't have to look up my itinerary, or Tommy's. I clicked on it and glanced at the flight time (I knew the day already), and filed the information away. I was a little bummed that it was at 7am. I mentally kicked myself for scheduling such an early flight, because I hate having to get to the airport by 5:30, but, I figured it must have been the cheapest ticket and resigned myself to a very early start.

On Wednesday Jeff and I woke up at 4am. Jeff got the car loaded, defrosted, and warmed up (it was 6°F outside) while I got myself and then Tommy ready. We got out the door a little before 5, and on the way I groused about how much I dislike 7am flights, and told Jeff I was never scheduling another one, and that I couldn't fathom why I had scheduled this one. Thankfully we made it to the airport by 5:30 (a Christmas miracle). By 6:10 we had finished with security, despite an absurd hold up at the scanner due to a cat urinating in the exact center of the scanner path, and the TSA agents insisting that anyone who wished to be scanned had to shuffle through the exact center of the scanner and actually place their feet in the puddle- no hopping over it. Then two agents got into a fight over whether or not they should let people do it because a few people did (sick), so the entire line was stopped while we waited for someone to clean up the pee, and apparently there was no one qualified to do that because it took forever (seriously, how hard is it to clean up pee? Do you have any idea how much pee I have mopped up in the last few months? GALLONS. If I had a paper towel I would have done it).

Anyhow, there we were at 6:10. 50 minutes to go until our flight. I decided that we should probably check our gate, because the gate we were told when we checked our bags was all the way at the end of the terminal. I pushed Tommy over to the big bank of monitors and found our flight. Found the 7am flight, departing from B9-a different gate- and mentally congratulated myself for having the foresight to check. I was feeling a little smug. I had timed everything so well. We had only twenty minutes to kill before the flight left. With Tommy, that's like a trip to the bathroom and the drinking fountain and once or twice around the moving walkway. I had managed to make it up to the counter with a minimum amount of help, and Tommy was an angel going through security. Everything was going perfectly.

Then, my eye caught the info for the next flight down. Los Angeles, 9am, gate B23. Hmmm, B23 was the gate we were originally supposed to report to. Scramble for the boarding passes. Glance at the time. 9am.

I went from smug to chagrined in 2 seconds flat.

And, I had three hours to spend at an airport with an extremely tired (and therefore hyper) two year old.

Ahhh, the morning of every mother's dreams.

Did I mention that I was running on only a few hours sleep? And that I am the type of person who really needs to sleep to function?

So, I did what any good mom would do in such a situation. I stuffed my beloved child full of bacon (thank you awesome airport Potbelly's for being cheap and decently good). Then, I capitalized on his love of throwing things away by having him clean up our breakfast one piece of trash at a time. We maxed out his love of moving walkways, checked out some planes being de-iced, watched the planes taking off and landing, and played the trash game again with a trashcan that was pretty far away- and in doing so cleaned out my entire diaper bag (bonus). Finally, we boarded our plane and made it through a delay and a rather long flight.

It was all worth it for temps in the 60s and In-N-Out. Our family is nice too, but no double-double.

In case you were wondering, I figured out my mistake- the email wasn't for me, it was for Jeff!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Little Update

We got new pictures of Mtoto today! I so wish I could share...he is getting so big. Ugh. It is so hard to see evidence that he is growing up without us. Obviously not seeing pictures wouldn't change the fact that he is getting bigger, but it alters it from an abstract idea to a reality. Some things are just easier in the abstract.

There is no news in terms of our progress through court. Things have slowed down considerably in a short period of time. This is not good for us, the other families, or any of the children being adopted. However, that's international adoption for you.

Please pray with us that whatever the hold-up/blockage is would be taken care of so that we can get our son home!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Adoption Tax Credit

I seem to be running across more and more questions about the adoption tax credit and how it works. Since I got a head start on my taxes, and have thus put a little time into figuring out how it works, I thought I would share. As a disclaimer, I am not a tax adviser, accountant or anything else official. If you have questions, call the IRS hotline, they are actually quite nice and can usually help you (but sadly, not always- I've called many a time so I know). Or I guess you could pay someone to do your taxes.

Short Version:
Add up your allowed adoption expenses.
Subtract grants and employer benefits.
Claim leftover amount, up to $13,170, as your credit.
Wait for your check.

Here is the longer, more complicated, but also more informative version of how you prepare for filing the adoption tax credit:

First, you must keep track of all of your allowable expenses while you are adopting. If you can, pay either with check or credit card, and get receipts whenever possible. While you are in country keep a little notebook with you to track your cash spending. Put in in your purse/backpack/diaper bag and make a habit of recording your cash spending as soon as that money leaves your hands. You may not be able to get a receipt at say, the fruit market or rolex stand, but be sure and record what you spent precisely so that you have a record of it. You will need those proofs if the IRS decides to audit you. Also, you will get receipts when you withdraw currency from either an ATM or when you go to exchange your US dollars for foreign currency. Keep those receipts as well to back up your cash spending record.

Allowable expenses are those "reasonable and necessary expenses related to a legal adoption" that you paid out of pocket. This includes (but is not limited to): agency fees, lawyers fees, court costs, fees related to the preparation of your dossier (fingerprints, required training, document costs, notary, apostilles, etc), fees for any other required documents, and travel expenses. Travel expenses also need to be "reasonable and necessary" and "related to your adoption." According to the IRS tax topic (607, if you want to look it up) this includes travel costs (airfare, transportation in country) and costs related to meals and lodging. Although all adoptive parents know that it is necessary to do some sight-seeing and bring home items from your child's country, it is worth noting that the IRS did not include those things under their guidelines of allowable expenses. I've read that the question you should ask yourself is "could the adoption have been completed without paying this fee/expense?" if the answer is no then that expense is eligible. But things like a poster of native animals that your child needs to connect with their culture, or extra donations to your orphanage (those requested but not required, for example we bought some bags of food for the kids when we visited and a bunch of clothes and toys), visits to museums or cultural centers (unless required by your country or agency as part of the process), or trips to the pool to save your sanity cannot be claimed.

On a quick side note, any donations that you make to your child's orphanage can be deducted if you itemize instead of taking the standard deduction. However, you cannot claim a donation as an adoption expense and also as a deduction. Also, claiming anything labeled as a donation as an adoption expense is a bit murky. From reading some message boards on this topic, it appears that most accountants tell clients that fees labelled "donations" can be counted as fees IF (note the theme) they are actually required for the completion of an adoption. I read about this in the context of Chinese adoption, because the government has a mandatory "orphanage donation" of a few thousand dollars. This expense is not a gift, because you cannot complete your adoption without paying it. Thus, families adopting from China who pay this claim it as an adoption expense. If you do make a donation that is requested but not required, you may not be able to claim it as an allowable expense for the tax credit (but could claim it as a deduction).

Now that you have all of your receipts out and have added up all your expenses, you need to confirm that you spent over 13,170 (haha- of course you did). The other thing you need to check is how much you received in grant money or employer adoption benefits. You can't double dip here. Let's say you spend 25K. The tax credit is a little over 13K. If you get a 3K adoption benefit at work, and also received a 10K grant (unlikely, but this is for the sake of argument), then your total grants/credits, including the tax credit would be 26K, a full 1K more than you spent. You aren't allowed to make money on your adoption (although it is unlikely you would, because most grant organizations will be careful not to give too large of grants, and most work benefits require you prove costs above the tax credit before they will cut you a check). That said, before you can claim the tax credit you must subtract from your total costs any money you received from any organization or employer that was intended for the costs of your adoption.

You do a have a little wiggle room- donations made directly to you by your relatives or friends as personal gifts to help with the adoption can be used on those things that are not required (like donations to your orphanage, sight-seeing, etc) and on those things that you might not have the best documentation for. We were even given some money with a note saying we could spend it on getting Tommy something from his country- obviously I would not claim the things I bought Tommy as required adoption expenditures, but nor would we need to subtract the personal gift from our adoption costs before claiming the credit. The IRS allows each person to receive up to $11,000 a year in gifts tax-free (which is why you never think about adding up and reporting the value of the birthday and Christmas presents you receive). So any money given as a gift- that is- from an individual- with nothing of monetary value received in return- does not have to be subtracted from your claimed costs and can be used for those expenditures like visiting a museum or giving to a church you visit, or meeting a need you see at the orphanage or among the people you meet(and you will see plenty) that we all know are necessary to do, but that the IRS does not view as necessary for completing your adoption.

The only other wrinkle here is money that you may have raised for your adoption. Lots of families fund raise to help with expenses. Now, if you fund raised through a non-profit that provided a tax deduction to those who purchased something or donated, the money you raised would be treated as a grant. However, if you raised money as a private individual directly by selling something and making a profit, then that profit (not total money taken in, just profit) must be reported as part of your regular income. The bummer is, you have to pay taxes on the money you raised. The bright side is that you don't have to mess with subtracting that income when you are dealing with the tax credit. For example, if you raised 10K (again, highly unlikely, I know) by selling soaps or t-shirts or coffee, you must report that money as income because it is income. But, legally you would not need to subtract it from your total adoption costs before claiming the credit. You might decide to donate any extra to someone else who is adopting or use it for another adoption, just as a matter of conscience, but that has nothing to do with the IRS.

Ok, so back to that 1040. The adoption tax credit is a refundable credit.

No one pays taxes on their whole income. We all know about income deductions, exemptions, and adjustments that help to lower the taxes we pay each year. Those things reduce the amount of income you pay tax on. For example, a married couple making 50K gets to take a standard deduction of about 11K (it's a bit over that, but lets use round numbers). If they have two kids and have contributed to an IRA or spent money on certain things, like higher education, they might have another 16K to subtract from their income. So, their taxable income (adjusted down from 50K) is 23K. The tax they owe is $2,600.

Now, on to credits. Say they have 2K in credits, and had 2K of income tax withheld from their paychecks.

Their total owed is $2,600

Their total payments/credits were $4,000

Now, lets say that one of their two children was adopted and their adoption was finalized that year.

Now their total owed is still $2,600 but their total credits, including the adoption tax credit of 13,000 are 17,000.

Now some credits are refundable, some carry forward (this is how the adoption tax credit used to be) and some are not useful if you can't take advantage of them right then- they expire yearly. The adoption tax credit is now refundable, which means, if you don't owe the taxes, the government will send you check for the credit.

So, the couple can subtract from their tax bill their 2,00O in regular credit (unrelated to the adoption), and they are left with a tax bill of 600. They have paid 2000 into the system and are owed the adoption tax credit of 13,000. The couple must still pay the 600 in taxes they owe, BUT, they can then get back all of their remaining tax payments, and their adoption tax credit. Their total refund check would be about $14,600 in this scenario. That refund number reflects them receiving back a portion of the money they paid for their taxes that they ended up not owing, as well as the credit for money they spent on their adoption.

What we did- our adoption finalized in January 2010, right before Jeff started his new job. When he filled out his paperwork, we filed an outrageously high number of exemptions and we have not paid any federal income tax into the system this year because we wanted the money to start adopting again and we knew that we would not owe taxes. This would be a risky move to make if you were not positive that you were finalizing, but since we finalized so early in the year it made sense for us. We still pay state and payroll taxes (social security) of course, but it put the money we would get back later into our pockets more quickly. Of course, our "big check" come April won't be so big...but it will still be better than nothing!

I hope this is helpful. I will update it after I get the new tax forms and actually do my taxes if I think of anything else that needs to be said. (Or if you have a question/see a problem email me and I'll either try and answer or fix my error). Have fun crunching your numbers! Or at least have fun cashing that check!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Snow!






Wednesday, 1 December 2010

One For the History Books

December first brought our first real snow this year, and our first biting cold. We had bible study this morning, and thus we had to brave the unpleasant weather. Tommy is still fighting wearing his snow gear, so by the time we reached our destination he had on no hat, no mittens, and he was missing one boot.

We were running a bit late, so I hurriedly clipped my keys into the bag, got out and shut my door, than ran around to Tommy's side to dress him and haul him out.
Only his door was locked. All the doors were locked.

Oddly enough, I don't remember locking the doors. That isn't my "autopilot" because that isn't my routine. I lock the doors using the passenger side door, after I have retrieved Tommy and my bag. My problem, typically, is forgetting to lock the car. Clearly, something threw me off this morning. I blame the cold!

Other women from my bible study were getting out of their cars, so I called out to see if anyone had a cell phone. I have one, but I keep it in my purse. My purse was in the car. With my keys. Someone did, and she suggested I call 911 (as opposed to AAA) because at 20 degrees getting Tommy out of the car quickly was the most important thing. I called, got transferred to the dispatcher for my city, and explained that I had locked my keys and my son in the car. She verified my location, and then asked "is the car running?" No. "Is there a baby in the car?" Yes, of course, not only had I already said that, but why else would I call 911? Who calls 911 just because they get locked out? (Answer: apparently lots of people). The dispatched let me know that someone was on the way.

It's hard to tell how long we waited, at least ten, maybe fifteen minutes before the officer showed up. The first question he asked me was "may I see your license?" I told him it was in my purse...in the car. He had to do some extra verification because our car is not in my name (it was purchased a few years before we got married), and then he got to work.

Up until that point Tommy was doing OK. I think the first few minutes he just thought I was having a little conversation before getting him out. After about five minutes passed, he started to get a little worried, but I managed to calm him down. When the officer arrived he was getting increasingly anxious and crying a bit. As the officer made attempt after unsuccessful attempt to break into the car, it freaked him out and he was howling.

The good news is, our car is hard to break into. Anti-theft locks make it very difficult for anyone but a locksmith to open. And pulling on the handles won't open the door either. The bad news is, our doors are pretty scratched up from the repeated attempts to open them. The worse news: after about ten minutes the officer decided we should probably break a window. Ouch.

Thankfully, one of the women who sat with me as I waited had a better idea, which she shared with the officer. He didn't think it would work, but thought it was worth a try before breaking the window. It worked! (I'm not telling what it was, because I don't want you breaking into my car).

So, we didn't have to break a window. Tommy was rescued in a timely manner- the inside of the car was even still warm. I'm not surprised since the heater was on high up until the time I turned the car off. I like to be toasty.

Tommy recovered well and decided he wanted to attend what was left of his class. He ended up having a great rest of the morning, which was fortuitous considering he had two immunizations scheduled for the afternoon. And, I accidentally injured his, um, boy parts while trying to adjust his car seat. Also, he crashed his head into the refrigerator while spinning and dancing in the kitchen. Poor kid. What a day.