Monday, January 30, 2006

Emotionally Taxing

This past week has been, shall we say, emotionally draining. You see, I have made a variety of mistakes which have created high blood pressure, hypertension, and a general desire on my wife's part to beat me about the head and shoulders with something heavy and blunt. I'll relate one such story below, but there have been other things in the past few weeks -- adoption paperwork snafus, new tires on the car which caused it to do donuts in the driveway without driver intervention, and any number of failed home improvement projects over the past few weeks. I've learned from my mistakes, but it's probably best to document these situations in a public forum for future reference.

The first moment when it became clear that she was in for a roller coaster ride was last weekend at approximately 7:30am. We were already somewhat tense with each other over a "discussion" from the previous evening. Nothing big, but we both awakened a little grouchy. I got up before Erin and made the first poor decision. We had received Erin's W-2, but mine had not yet arrived. Erin had been discussing what she might do with the refund we would receive on our taxes (paint the baby's room, buy some new clothes, etc), but in the back of my mind I couldn't help but wonder if we had really withheld enough throughout the year. I mentioned this to her a few times, but her unwaivering faith in my ability to put a zero in the right box on our withholding paperwork assuaged any fears she might have had. I decided to go ahead and do a quick and dirty trial run of our taxes, just to see if things were going to shape up ok in the end. I figured it wouldn't be hard, since I'm a die-hard Quicken fan. I figured Quicken could spew out my earnings for the year, as well as how much had already been withheld, I'd slap that into TurboTax, and I would have a reasonable estimate of our taxes. So off I went. I used last year's taxes as a guide for our deductions, put in Erin's W-2, imported my wage info from Quicken, and voila! "You owe $3800, Mr. Hawkins! Might we suggest the Comfort Inn on I-74."

Crap! This can't be right?! $3800?!? How could it be so far off. I began feverishly checking every number against last year's taxes. I found nothing. Oh no. I knew Erin was already mad at me, and she looked so peaceful sleeping. I had to tell her. I had no choice. I entered the room once, but turned and ran away -- squealing a little bit as I did so. I couldn't do it. No, I had to. I reentered the room. I gently slid the lamp away from her nightstand, relocated a pair of nearby scissors, and gently tried to wake her. As she came around, she said, "What is it?" I said, "We have a small problem."

"What is it?"

"Our taxes. We owe $3800."

I could immediately see her begin to have to restrain herself from calling me a variety of names, most of which might be defined as an "unintellectual posterior." She asked if I checked everything, and I explained how I came to this conclusion. After fuming at me for a couple of hours, she informed me that we were going on a strict budget. I agreed, and we spent a couple of hours creating a budget for the next year to get us through taxes, adoption, and any potential hospitalizations I might require (my friends and family will understand that this is a required line item on any budget Erin and I create). Erin cut down on big things for her including a few luxurious grocery items such as this oat-nut bread she likes as well as higher priced cleaning supplies for the house, while I cut out an iPod, my requisite five CDs per month, and at least one steak per weekend. Everyone has their limits. In any case, we both agreed that we would get through it, and that we had done what we had to do.

Now here's the funny part of the story. I received my W-2 Friday evening. I compared my guess entries in TurboTax to my real W-2, and I was off by a little bit. Just a little. Enough that we get a $50 refund, rather than owing $3800. Sorry, hon! My initial thought was that perhaps this was God's way of getting me to analyze our budget (and by analyze, I really mean create) -- a request of Erin's for approximately the last three years. It was a good exercise, and I think we're still going to use some of it, but we're definitely not in the bad spot we thought we were. Erin was surprisingly calm when I told her about my blunder. We even managed to laugh about it...well I was able to laugh once I got her hands off my throat.

Moral of the story -- There is a relatively high percentage of voodoo involved with figuring out your taxable income for the year. Don't try to guess it -- just patiently wait for all the W-2's to arrive.

And to my lovely wife's credit, she handled the whole situation with her usual patience and grace. I, too, handled it with elegance and grace. I'm sure my digestional tract will go back to normal eventually.

The good news is that I'm still on track to get an iPod by summer. That'll keep me occupied when I'm waiting in line for a CPA to do our taxes next year.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Adoption Hurdle Crossed

January 29 kicks off the Chinese New Year—the year of the dog, and as a beautiful New Year surprise, Bret and I received our official immigration pre-approval paperwork this week. Now to understand the gift we’ve been given, one must understand that most couples wait an average of EIGHT weeks for their approval. Ours, miraculously, was finished in ONE WEEK (absolutely unheard of)!!

What does all this mean in adoption terms? Our dossier (collection of official paperwork) will be sent to China much sooner than expected. We hope to be logged into the Chinese Adoption Affairs system by the end of March (pray for the end of February). The wait from Log in Date to referral is now longer than expected (between 8-12 months), but we are hopeful (and prayerful) that we still might be traveling in 2006.

It’s a long pregnancy, but the wait will be worth it. We now know that we will indeed be receiving a girl (maybe twin girls), but we had to remove our names from the “either sex” category because of a weird paperwork glitch (that would have caused a delay).

It’s hard to believe the paperwork chase is almost over. There will be much celebration and relief once China has all of our paperwork, and while we will STILL be waiting almost double the time of a biological pregnancy, we are excited to start the fun stuff: deciding on names, painting the nursery, and buying books (the most important toy [at least to this English teacher]).

All in all, I am touched at the amazing thing that is adoption. There is something beautiful about taking a child, alone and afraid in this world, without much hope or love, and bringing her into our home as our own dearly loved child. It’s beautiful to understand, in a fresh and unique way, how the two most important needs of my life have been met through adoption: I’ve been adopted into God’s family, and now a little baby girl from China will be adopted into ours.

It’s fun for me to think that other parents will tell their children that they waited nine long months and traveled to the hospital to have them. Bret and I will say that we waiting even longer and traveled half way around the world to find our baby girl.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Public Enemy Number One

In light of Bret’s experiences during our most recent excursion to Homeland Security, I feel it necessary to let you all know, based on my own experiences during fingerprinting, that your association with me could be detrimental.

Now, I know you all think I am kind, sweet, funny and bright, but I think the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the FBI, might consider me armed and dangerous.

I avoided most of the trauma described by Bret, but yesterday had its own fear factor for me. This is what I know. I’m standing in a windowless room, several Homeland Security Agents standing ready, and this massive, speed dial-to-Washington, fingerprint machine is standing between me and my baby. No sweat. A few stretches, and I’m ready.

However, for EVERY SINGLE print, a large red warning crossed the screen: MATCH WARNING. I imagined my print being immediately checked against the list of America’s Most Wanted and coming up with a MATCH!! I start thinking: traffic ticket in 1997, car towed in 2000…. Nope, no murder. Nope, no fraud.

The officer in charge of my fingerprinting appeared calm, as if these MATCH WARNINGS appeared all the time. However, I assumed her calm demeanor was standard operating procedure outlined on page one of the official US Guide to Fingerprinting Fugitives. I half expected US Marshals, the like of Tommy Lee Jones, to enter in with guns pulled.

I made it out alive—no guns, no marshals—but I think the bigger fear now is that there is someone out there, someone in the great beyond—a not so nice person—with whom I share a special bond. John Walsh, if you’re out there, let’s find her fast!


Yesterday we had our big fingerprinting appointment with the local office of the Department of Homeland Security. Even simply having to appear at this office seemed like an eerie prospect, and the experience did turn out to be somewhat surreal.

First off, the letter which arrived a month ago detailing our appointment date and time was very specific about a couple of things. First off it stated, in bold print, that we were NOT TO ARRIVE ANY EARLIER THAN 15 MINUTE BEFORE YOUR ASSIGNED APPOINTMENT. Okay, fair enough. I've relished the opportunity to sit in a plastic, government appointed folding chair for the past month, but I can give that up.

Second, we were NOT TO BRING ANYONE OTHER THAN OURSELVES with us to the appointment. Again, the potential for an afternoon out with the boys at the offices of a local government agency seemed intriguing, but I can give that up as well. The reason given behind this request was that there would be limited seating in the waiting area. I imagined something like a small doctor's office with 5 or 6 chairs and a TV. When we arrived at the office, there were something like 40 or 50 chairs and maybe 5 or 6 people waiting. I'll assume it's busier at other times...

As we arrived at the doors to the suite where we were to be fingerprinted, we were greeted by two friendly security agents. Prior to performing the usual metal detector sweep with a wand, they asked me to empty my pockets of anything metal. Fair enough I tossed my wallett and car keys to Erin, at which point the guard says "Whoa...they're not going to let THAT in there." I thought back trying to recall if I was carrying anything like a machete or perhaps even a lighter. Nada. What I did have was a Swiss army knife on my keychain.

Now I use this knife every day at work for SOMETHING, usually something on the order of performing step 2 on my Healthy Choice microwaveable lunch -- "cut slit in plastic." I occasionally turn a screw with it, and even more rarely I dig a piece of said lunch out of my teeth with the tooth pick. So I say to the guy, "Ok, can I leave it out here with you until we're done?" No can do. So I head down to the lobby of the building. I asked the same question of the young lady manning the help desk in the center of the ground floor. Same answer. So I trudged out to my car in the snow to drop off my $9, dull, pocket knife. I would have just pitched it, but it would be the 3rd one I've pitched in the last 4 years -- the others at the hands of the airport screeners. To their credit, the guards in this case stated very bluntly that they understood my frustration and even agreed with it. I think one of them even commented after I was gone that you could do more damage with a pencil than that pocket knife, but alas. At some point in the not too distant future, I really can envision trapsing naked through a metal detector to get fingerprinted, board an airplane, etc. You thought crowded airports were uncomfortable now, wait 'til you're trying to shimmy naked through that metal detector with the Cal State women's nordic ski team watching you jiggle from the back of the line.

Once we were inside the office, it took only a few minutes of interfacing with some entirely humorless people before we were whisked into the room with the fingerprinting machines. This was a pretty cool process, from a technological standpoint, but again, I managed to run into issues. You see, anyone that knew me growing up knows that I bit my fingernails as though there was gold under them until a couple of years ago. I've worked very hard to stop, but my cuticles are still sort of a mess, and they dry out badly during the winter. As the lady was rolling one of my fingers over this machine to take my prints, she had to try it several times to get a good image. Each time she squeezed a little harder and pressed down a little harder on my finger. Eventually a tiny bit of blood seeped from my cracked finger. Not good. Suddenly Band Aids are flying, rubber gloves are being changed, and next thing I know, they're pouring alcohol over my dry, chapped finger. After about 3 more tries at taking my print on this finger, they were successful. But I could tell that they were not pleased with me. They handed me a comment card and told me to fill it out. I quickly checked all of the "EXCELLENT" boxes and handed it back to the lady, comment side up so she could see how excellent her service was (despite drawing blood and making me say "Mommy" when she hit me with the alcohol.)

Fingerprints done. Now we wait. Hopefully we'll get the A-OK on these in the next four weeks, at which time we'll get it stamped by the secretary of state, stamped by the Chinese consulate in Chicago, and finally sent off to Denver for transmission to China.

Now where's my knife...I have a nose hair to trim with those teeny tiny scissors...


Monday, January 09, 2006

It ain't exactly cold fusion, but hey...

So some of you may remember my posting concerning patents a while ago. Well I got some good news in my mailbox at work this morning -- I've been awarded a patent! I've filed a hefty pile of patent disclosures over the past five years, but none have become actual patents until now.

Here's the link to the patent and associated documentation (you'll need to scroll down to see the majority of the patent). The brief description is that if you were watching a show on your TV -- say "24" for the sake of my inlaws -- and midway through it you decided you'd like to record it. Some TVs and cable/satellite boxes will let you hit the RECORD key on your remote to start an immediate recording. My patent was to bring up a box telling you something like "This program will air again at 6:00pm on Friday. Would you like to record that one?" thereby insuring that you get the whole program, rather than just the rest of the program you're currently watching.

It won't cure world hunger, but hey...