Friday, August 31, 2012

A Family Affair

Our garden is beginning to produce a nice abundance of vegetables.  Some of our young hens are also beginning to lay - Hooray!  Most of yesterday was spent in the kitchen putting up our harvest.  Today, we will be back in there making pickles; kosher dills and bread & butters ... Yum!

Getting the whole family involved in producing, harvesting and preserving our foods not only gives me much needed help but also teaches the children valuable life skills.  For instance, not too long ago, JP told me, "If we ever go hungry it's nobody's fault but our own.  Y'all have taught us to hunt, fish, grow our own food AND clean it, preserve it and cook it."  Not only have they been taught these things, but they have also acquired an appreciation for the labor and time invested in producing enough food to feed oneself or an entire family.  Too many of today's young people don't have any concept of where their food comes from much less how much work and time it took to get it to the table.
yesterday morning's harvest

my bean snappers

37 pints green beans, 7 quarts frozen summer squash &
6 quarts frozen zucchini
A helpful canning hint:  Add a splash of white vinegar to your caner when adding the water.  Your jars come out clear and shiny.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


venison meatloaf, fresh green beans, garden salad, garlic &
chive mashed potatoes
The other evening the only thing on our supper table that wasn't grown or harvested by us was the garlic and chive mashed potatoes, but even then the chives were grown out in our mudroom.
We always seem to enjoy a sense of satisfaction when we are blessed to eat the foods we have labored over.  I am abundantly thankful to the Lord for the health and knowledge to grow and harvest our foods.

"And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed."  Joel 2:26 KJV

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sunflower Fields

Mrs. A., this photo is for you.  Remember the old abandoned homestead we see when we turn off the highway onto our gravel road past the rail road tracks?  Here's a photo of it with the sunflowers in bloom.  I wish the photo was as beautiful and vibrant as it is to the naked eye.  Most of all, I wish you were here to admire it with me. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Production + Harvest = Giddy w/ Excitement

My first introduction to gardening was when I went to live with my Uncle T and Aunt J during my youth.  Aunt J's father would come out each spring and help us "put in" a large garden.  Although, as a girl, I complained about having to work in the hot and humid Texas heat, when harvest time began I was always thrilled, excited and amazed at how a tiny seed eventually produced an abundance of food.  Decades later those same feelings of thrill, excitement and amazement still wash over me every time we begin harvesting from our garden.  I am so excited and thrilled when harvest begins, I literally forget about all hard, sweaty, dirty work it took to get there - Ha!

Our garden is finally beginning to produce.

These are the vegetables we harvested on Sunday and Tuesday.
We've been harvesting spinach and lettuce for a few weeks but last week some of our other plants began producing.  Since Sunday we've harvested 3 lb. zucchini, 2 3/4 lb. yellow squash, 1 lb. green beans, 4 gallon Ziplock bags of lettuce, 1 gallon Ziplock bag of spinach, a handful of English peas AND ...

 9 3/4 lb. cucumbers - Yes! I'm planning to make pickles this week; probably bread & butters, they're my favorite.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Local Food Bank

OG and EJ are participating in our county's 4-H club this year.  As part of their community service, the club has decided to volunteer at our county's local food bank.  Most folks would consider this a worthwhile cause, right?  I mean, helping to ensure that the poor have food to eat is the least that a community can do, right?

Anyone who knows me personally knows that feeding others is what I do.  For decades I have donated food and personal hygiene supplies to my church food pantries, I have delivered bags of food and necessities to others in need, cooked and delivered meals to the ill, fed everyone who enters my home, including laborers whom I'm paying to do a job.

20+ years ago when our family lived at the poverty level, we never visited or accepted food from a local food bank.  Individuals have left bags of groceries for us on our door steps and various churches have also blessed us with bags of groceries at Thanksgiving or Christmas, however, we never asked for or expected it.  We were simply blessed by others whom God moved upon their hearts to help or assist us, even though we, ourselves, were not serving the Lord at that time.  So, our recent volunteer experience at our county food bank has been my first experience with a local food bank and how that system works.

I couldn't believe how discriminating this system was toward senior citizens and  the working poor.  When I use the term working poor, I am referring to those individuals and families who work to earn a living but make just a few dollars over the maximum guidelines to qualify for government assistance, such as food stamps, WIC, etc. OR those who do qualify but choose not to accept government assistance based on personal morals, religious conviction, etc.

While volunteering I asked Mrs. S, our county food bank coordinator, what the procedure was for folks in our community who had a need for these donations.  Mrs. S explained that since our county food bank accepts food donations from the U.S. Department of  Agriculture (USDA), the administrative department of the federal government that operates our nation's food stamp benefit programs, she MUST follow very strict rules set by the USDA regarding whom the food is given to, veering from these rules is a crime and punishable by closing the food bank, fines and imprisonment.

Our local food bank pantry is a 25ft. x 25ft. gated and locked room located in the back of our senior citizen community building and consists of 2 sections.  Section 1, 90% of the pantry's floor space including a refrigerator and two freezers, is reserved for the weekly food delivery from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Section 2, literally two 6ft. shelving units placed in a corner, are reserved for private donations from the community.  The food bank is operated and staffed by local volunteers.

Mrs. S informed me that only those who receive government food stamp benefits will be given food from section 1, which is boxed and bagged, labeled with the recipient's name and placed on a table for pickup or delivery.  These boxes and bags contain enough food to feed my family of 4 for a week.  If recipients need or would like donations from section 2, the private donation section, to supplement their food box they may choose a few items.  However, senior citizens who qualify and receive food stamps are eligible to receive only specific products from section 1 and are barred from products in section 2.  These items make up less than 50% of the selections of what their socioeconomic peers will receive and it is only enough food or 2-3 small meals.

Section 2 is reserved for those in need who do not qualify for or accept government food stamp benefits.  These folks are not allowed, regardless of hardship, to receive any food or products from section 1.  Also, non-food stamp citizens are not allowed to receive any food from section 2 until all the food stamp recipients have been served.  If there is anything left in section 2 after this, non-food stamp residents will be given a maximum of one bag of any left over groceries from section 2.  If there is not enough groceries left in section 2 after the food stamp recipients have made their selections, then non-food stamp recipients must locate other resources for help.

After being given this information, I visited the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service web-site to inquire what the qualifications were for food stamp benefits and how much a family of 4 would qualify for.  It must not be very much if our local food bank gives a week's worth of groceries out to food stamp recipients each week, right?  I was very surprised by what I found.

According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service web-site a family of 4 can qualify for a maximum of $668.00 per month in food stamp benefits.  Of course this amount would be reserved for families who are completely on well fare and do not work to earn a living.  Please note, that is $218.00 per month more than our family's personal grocery budget of $450.00 per month, $25.00 of which is reserved for food and necessities for our church's food pantry.  But if a family does have an income from working how much in food stamp benefits, if any, would they qualify for?  A family of four's gross income can not exceed $2,050.00 per month.  At the maximum income allowance a family of four qualifies for $321.00 per month in food stamp benefits.  (please note:  senior citizens are segregated into a very different qualification procedure and must have a much lower income and qualify for less than 1/2 of what  their younger socioeconomic peers qualify for.)

$321.00 - $668.00 per month for a family of four, plus boxes of food each week from the local food bank, plus free breakfast and lunch for students during the school year at the public school?   Contrary to what the public service ads on T.V. and the federal government tell us, if the well fare and food stamp benefit poor in this nation are being honest and refraining from well fare fraud, how can they possibly be hungry?  They have far more food resources than we (and most other hard working families I personally know) have budgeted per month for groceries.  This information helps me understand how well fare recipients can commit well fare fraud by selling their food stamp benefits for 50 cents on the dollar in exchange for cash. (Throughout the years I've encountered several food stamp recipients who've tried to sell me food stamp benefits for cash. I've never agreed to this as it is a federal offense and punishable by prison.  NEVER enter into this type of agreement, no matter how desperate the offending party may appear to be.  It is well fare fraud and you will get caught, you will go to prison and you will loose everything that's important to you).

The Lord has always impressed upon my heart to give to our church's private food pantry and specific individuals rather than government assisted food banks and organizations.  When I give to my local church and private organizations that do not accept government assistance, senior citizens and those in need who do not qualify for government benefits can have their needs met and they do not have to wait in line hoping for the leftovers of those who receive government benefits.  No, I will not give to government assisted programs.  Yes, I will continue to give to churches and private organizations as the Lord leads me.

If you, or someone you know, are in need and do not receive government benefits or are a senior citizen, I encourage you to visit your local church's food / clothing pantry.  We are there because you have a need and we want to help you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tax Update

2nd posting - Information every taxpayer needs to be aware of

Several weeks ago our tax accountant sent us a 2012 Mid-Year Newsletter Tax Update.  After reading over it and talking to a couple friends about the information, I thought my blog readers might also benefit from the information.  This information has been helpful in preparing me for the 2013 tax increases that our family will experience.  I hope it will also assist you and your family.

Here are a few highlights from the newsletter:

1.  Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) increases.  Today approximately 3-5 million middle and upper middle class taxpayers find themselves paying an Alternative Minimum Tax.  Starting in 2013, this number could exceed 20 million taxpayers without an extension of the AMT "patch".

2.  Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) available for fewer taxpayers.  During 2012, the number of taxpayers who qualified for this popular tax credit was greatly expanded with changes in this credit.  Those expanded income qualifications and added dependent categories are scheduled to roll back at the end of this year.  If you received EITC in 2011 or expect to receive it in 2012 you should forecast the impact it will have on you in 2013.

3.  Child Tax Credit cut in half.  The Child Tax Credit is $1,000.00 in 2012 with some of the credit being refundable.  Refundable credits can give you money back even if you owe no Federal Income Tax.  In 2013, the credit is cut by 50% to $500 and the refundable nature is set to expire.

4.  Social Security Tax Cut is Gone.  After much debate, Congress granted a 2% drop in employee and self-employed social security taxes through 2012.  This "found money" is gone after 2012 creating an average annual drop in over $500 per employee's take home pay.

5.  Medical Expense Threshold is Going Up.  When the Health Care Reform Act was signed into law it included a tax provision that raises the threshold for medical expenses prior to being able to deduct them from your income, for all income levels.  The new threshold goes into place in 2013.  Effective 2013 and beyond, the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) threshold limit goes from 7.5% to 10% of your AGI.  Thankfully there is an exclusion built into the law that allows taxpayers 65 or older to continue to use the lower 7.5% of AGI amount.

6.  Income Tax Rate Changes for Married Filing Joint/Widow.
AGI $1 - $17,400 will increase from 10% to 15%.  (the lowest income earners in our society will see the largest tax increase of 5%)
AGI $17,401 - $70,700 remains steady @ 15%
AGI $70,701 - $142,700 will increase from 25% to 28%
AGI $142,701 - $217,450 will increase from 28% to 31%
AGI $217,451 - $388,350 will increase from 33% to 36%
AGI over $388,350 will increase from 35% to 39.6%
Plan now to ensure you will not be surprised by the drop in your after-tax income with the increased rates.  (please note:  these tax increases also apply to Single, Head of Household and Married Filing Seperately, HOWEVER the income thresholds vary for each category.

7.  Starting 2014Employer Health Care Benefits Will Be Taxed as Income.  Again, when the Health Care Reform Act was signed into law it included a tax provision that counts employer health care benefits as income.  This will raise the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of millions, thus raising their tax rates even more than projected above.

8.  Starting 2014 - Health Care Devises and Hospital Stays will be Taxed.  Another tax provision of the Health Care Reform Act that was signed into law includes a provision to apply sales tax to all health care devices (such as bandages, crutches, wheelchairs, diabetes testing and injection supplies, inhalers, blood pressure testing supplies, etc.) and all hospital stays, including out-patient/day surgery stays (prep and recovery rooms, etc.).

As stated above, I hope this information will help you and your family plan and prepare for the upcoming reduction you may see in your take-home pay AND expected tax bill or refund.