Monday, March 6, 2017

A Prescription For More Tax Deductions

Every year I find all kinds of people who have been routinely missing out on some major medical expenses. I tell them about that and they say they never knew they could claim such things. Well, I've decided to tell all of you, so listen up.

When I mention claiming medical expenses I often hear, "but we don't ever have enough to claim." Of course, you have to have expenses over 3% of your income in expenses to be able to claim.  It's often best to let the lower income earner claim the family medical expenses for that reason. Then if you claim what you paid for health insurance, the rest is often gravy. What?  You didn't know you could claim your health insurance?  Sure you can. The thing is, in most instances, you have to ask your payroll clerk to give you the numbers for the amount you paid, separated from whatever life insurance may be connected to that payroll deduction. Only once has my hubby ever worked for an employer that had that figure right on the T4's where it belongs.  I told him to make sure he thanked the person responsible for that.  The rest of the time I get him to ask for the correct amount for me to fill in.  This year, when I had my son ask for his, he got some kind of argument about how that wasn't deductible. I told him to inform that clerk that obviously she had been missing out on her own deduction every year. Once she decided she didn't want to continue like that, she got them both the numbers to put on the forms.

The other medical deduction people seem unaware of is that they can claim their travel expenses to go to medical appointments that are more than 40km from home.  If I have to travel to one of the cities for a medical appointment, I just go to Mapquest and put in my address and the address of where I have to go, and it gives me a legitimate distance between the two places. I then multiply that by two, as it is, after all, a return trip. The total distance is then multiply it by the rate the government gives us each year. This year, for instance, in Ontario, it's 54 cents per kilometre. If your appointment is more than 80 kilometres you get a bonus. You can also claim a meal if you have to go that far. There is a flat rate of $17 per meal, to a maximum of $51 per day (sales tax included) per person.  Parking fees are also considered an expense (if you have a receipt), as is overnight accommodation if it's actually necessary for the treatment you are traveling for.

So, have you missed out on these deductions in the past?  Don't let it happen again. You have now been informed.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Almonte Won Me Over With a Contest

It's been a long time since I visited Almonte, Ontario, but the merchants found a way to coax me to come, and now it is inevitable that I will return every chance I get.

I had never entered a contest on Instagram before, but when I saw all the loot the Almonte stores were offering as a prize for their Valentine contest, I just had to give it a try. It was a Loop contest, which means I had to go from one merchant to another, online, and follow directions to win. It was very confusing as there were a lot of merchants, and, as I said, I'd never tried to do this sort of thing on Instagram before. I thought, while I was doing it, that if I succeeded in entering properly, the odds would be better than in a lot of other contests one finds online. Apparently, I was right, as I won about $450 worth of goods that were collected up and waiting for me at one of the shops.  I couldn't have been more excited, and though I don't drive, I managed to get there in less than a week from when I was declared the winner.

Parking was easier to find than I expected, and we only had a short walk to Cheerfully Made, where my prize basket (or bag, in this case) was being held. What an interesting store! There are so many fascinating things in there, that I even stayed and looked around longer while my hubby ran the heavy prize bag back to the car. I saw things I have never seen anywhere else, and I know I'll be going back there every chance I get. It will be my go-to store when I need a special gift. I probably would have bought something then and there, if it had not been the first store we stopped into. I wanted to see what else the town had to offer before choosing what to spend my money on.

There was some artwork in there that really captured my attention. If I had any wall space at home, I doubt I'd have been able to resist bringing some home. I do wish the artist would make cards of her work as I'd likely have to collect the entire set. Sarah Janes of Mississippi North does line drawings of animals that are much more impressive in person than how they appear on her Etsy page.  I found that but no cards were available there either.

Speaking of art, we stopped into an establishment called General Fine Craft, Art & Design. There we discovered that though we go to a lot of art shows, and studio tours, there are even greater artists loose in Ontario than I ever imagined. The talent gathered in this shop is phenomenal!  They not only have wall art, they have pottery, glass, sculptures, jewellery and textiles. I was ready to entirely redecorate my home!

And then there is The Tin Barn Market. Now, this store doesn't grab you the second you come through the door, as the goods are more rustic and not as colourful as what we had seen in the other shops. Upon closer inspection, though, there are many interesting things to be found there. My favourites were the large salvaged metal letters and some picture frames that appeared to be painted with chalk paint. I tried to convince the hubby to purchase a letter to hang on our garage.  He doesn't always listen well. As for the frames, well, one of the things I won was a can of chalk paint, so I'll practice on frames first.  I did see that they hold chalk paint workshops there so if I don't succeed on the frames, I might just have to go back and take a class.  The other side of the shop had marvellous things to eat. There were pizza buns and huge pretzels, as well as date squares, cinnamon buns and irresistible looking cheese danishes. I noticed there were pies and other larger things under the counter, but there were too many people lined up at that time, and we had just eaten anyway.

Later we hunted down the flower shop, and I collected a beautiful bouquet which was assembled within minutes while I watched. There was a good assortment of live plants, there too, and I discovered something called a heart hoya. I've had a regular hoya for a long time, and it's always been my favourite plant. I asked about these little hearts in pots, and was told that they grow vines just like my hoya, except the leaves are heart shaped. Of course, I had to have one!  Then I realized that with fresh flowers in hand, I really had to go home.

The village has really changed since last time we were there. We heard that a number of young women had opened up businesses and brought the town back to life. The contest was a great way to introduce the public to many of the shops, and while I may have won the prize, I'm sure the merchants have won a good many new clients and will continue to find ways to coax more people to visit their village. The people in the shops were all so friendly and helpful, it made shopping there a real treat.

I'm already marking May 6 and 7 in my calendar to remind me when they will be holding their Spring Market in the Agricultural Hall.  I certainly hope to get to visit that!

The following is a list of merchants and the prizes they contributed to the contest. Many thanks to each and every one of you!

Kentfield Kids         Tutu + Pink Bunny
Doree's Habit           Floral Wallet & Bracelet
Tin Barn Market     Annie Sloan Chalkpaint
Blush and Black     Apricot Body Oil &    Strawberry Lip Gloss  
Acanthus Floral      Valentine's bouquet
Crush Marketplace  Jon Clar Earrings
Hummingbird Chocolate  Chocolate Tasting Kit Plus Four Chocolate Bars
Heirloom                 $30 gift certificate for a meal & gourmet Canned Goods
General Fine Craft   Two Glass Sweethearts
North Market           Gift certificate for 2 take away items
Cheerfully Made      Love Story Candle, Brass Heart Studs & Gum               

I'm not finished collecting prizes in Almonte yet. I still have two gift certificates involving meals, and I will be going back to collect on them and visit some more stores (and revisiting those mentioned above). You will have to excuse me now, while I go test some chocolate......



Thursday, February 9, 2017

Playing While I Learn

I often post my artwork online. I'm no pro but I'm having fun learning and discovering what I can and cannot do.  I have sometimes been called brave as I try so many things but really, I don't see the point of just doing what I am already good at. For instance, when I discover I'm having a problem rendering something in particular, the next several paintings will tackle that subject head on, until I feel more comfortable with it. Right now I'm working on my drawing skills.  I have always felt they simply do not exist. I've always been very open about not being able to draw, and have admitted that I often trace outlines from my photographs in order to paint them.

Recently I took a short course online aimed at people who think they can't draw called Drawing Without Talent. The first and last assignments were to draw our own hand, for comparison's sake. I'm amazed at how much better my drawing got in such a short period of time, especially since we had to draw in ink so there would be no erasing. The course gave me some insight on how to tackle difficult subjects and taught me drawing can be fun, especially if you don't stress about the results being perfect.

I had so much fun, in fact, that I will take another course from Sketchbook Skool. In the meantime, I decided to continue the process with a free 28 day challenge from Creative Live. Everyday I get a prompt and in no more than 20 minutes, I attempt to do what it says.

As we are supposed to post our results with the hashtag #28toMake I have been putting my renderings online. But really, do my usual followers need, or want to see this stuff?  Probably not. So, after just two days, I stopped allowing it to hit my Facebook feed. By day four, I was not liking the idea of cluttering up my Instagram page with this stuff either. As I am supposed to post my results, and I think hashtags originated on Twitter anyway, I may restrict future posts just to Twitter. They would be spaced out there anyway, but I could still see what everyone is doing easily by searching for the hashtag.

I do like to celebrate the "where I'm at" moments in my art by sharing though.  Occasionally I have been fascinated by the number of people who would like and comment on something I've posted that I wasn't particularly proud of.  I am, as they say, my own worst critic. So, there may be times when I still want to share on the other platforms. You guys can feel free to scroll on by if you chose to. I'm just playing while I learn. This was, after all, one of the promises I made to myself at the beginning of the year.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Merrickville Library Adult Art Workshop

Last month I saw an ad in the local newsletter that offered something to do with adult art at the library. There has often been art for children, but this was the first time I'd ever seen anything for adults being offered there. I e-mailed the library to get more information and sign up. The librarian got back to me and seemed to suggest that perhaps this particular art experience wouldn't be something I'd be interested in. Or maybe I was reading between the lines.

As it was explained to me Gloria Stowell was offering an art workshop geared for people with little or no art experience.  She was hoping to reach out to people who are interested but intimidated by the idea of creating art.  It would not be an art lesson per se, but more an introduction to some art techniques and an opportunity to explore one's own creativity.  The workshop would have a theme (in this case, painting a winter mountain scene), but people would be doing their own thing within that framework.  

Somehow the librarian knew I'd done a lot of painting, but what she didn't seem to know was that  I'm in the process of exploring my own creativity. I am still highly intimidated by the idea of creating a painting from scratch so I thought this workshop just might be right for me after all.  I did offer to go on a waiting list, though, so that I didn't take the space of someone who might need it more.  In the end, she decided to have the Gloria phone me.

When she did, I had company, but got very excited.  Gloria had seen my blog and said that she noticed that I tried all kinds of different things and after a brief chat declared I'd be perfect for this workshop. I was in, but I had to ask, how she found my blog. She told me the librarian had directed her to it.  The librarian reads my blog? Can you see me doing a happy dance here?  I don't know if she reads it often or what, but the fact that she would even remember the name of it, so she could direct someone else to look at it just thrilled me to death!  My company was quite amused by my glee. Personally, I wasn't sure what made me happier, the chance to join the workshop or the idea of an actual librarian even knowing I had a blog.

And so it was that I took part in the first workshop. I asked Gloria where she would be standing so that I could pick a spot nearby. I'm deaf enough even with a hearing aid that it helps to be near the person I'm supposed to be listening to. 

There were eight of us around the tables. We were given a piece of multimedia paper and some paint (two shades of blue and some purple). Gloria pointed out the implements on the tables, which included little paint rollers, some sponge brushes, and an assortment of palette knives. There were no normal paint brushes anywhere. She showed us a few paintings she and a friend had recently done using these tools and then showed us various ways to apply paint with them.  The idea was to use what we had in front of us to explore, not to be goal orientated, or worry about how our art was turning out. We were to think in terms of winter but we were not to have a picture in mind before we started.  To start us off, we were told to get the paper covered with paint for the background.

I wasn't fast enough to get my hands on a little roller, so I started spreading paint with a dry sponge brush. The only water we were provided with was in a spray bottle, which we were told to use sparingly, as the paper would curl if it got too wet.  I started off with the darkest blue at the top, as the sky overhead is darker than at the horizon. I got part way down and thought I should have left some clouds, because, even though I had no idea what the picture would turn out to be, I did know I was working on the sky. I left some white spaces and tried to dab out some of the paint further up that had already been laid down. That's about when we were also given some white paint so we could make snow scenes. I dabbed a bit of that on the tops of my clouds, and they looked a lot better. So then I continued on down the page, getting lighter as I went until I suddenly got the idea that whatever my scene turned out to be, it could have a river running through it. Oh, and let's put in a tree using the palette knife technique we had just been shown and a few suggestions of trees on what could be hills in the background. 

We had the opportunity to use some stencils of snowflakes and polar bears if we wanted to, and there were also lots of glittery stickers to apply if inclined. I learned how to use a rubber stamp with acrylic paint. That's a technique I'm sure to use more and more frequently as I create more stamps of my own.

It was fascinating to see how everyone's painting came out so completely differently. It was great to be able to explore the acrylics and the tools without any pressure to produce something wall worthy.  I think my results proved I'm in the right group, despite any experience I've gathered along the way.

We only had an hour and a half to work on our projects (including clean up time), which is quite a bit less time than it normally takes me to finish a painting. The lady next to me really liked my tree. I can't say that I do, but I've had time to think of how I might fix it and the water, so perhaps I'll do that, or duplicate this unplanned scene again here at home on a sturdier background.  

It was a fun evening, and I'm so glad I got to take part. Next month we will play with oil pastels, which is something I've never done. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Slowly But Surely

How are you doing with your New Year's Resolutions? I didn't actually make any, but I took the opportunity to get a fresh start on several things around here. So far, I can't say that I've been doing so well, except for that first week.  Statistics show that 92% of people drop their New Year's resolutions before the end of the year. Many of them do within the first month.

This past week I pretty well goofed off.  I did clear out some clutter from a few areas, but never actually finished any of them. One end of my computer desk got cleared, and a working space on my studio desk got cleared so I could have a spot to make a bigger mess with paint and/or inks.  I did manage to sort through and file the bills and other papers in my inbox and filing slots, and I also got my business books to balance for year-end (on the first try too!) And just like the two desks, I have half a closet all cleaned out and vacuumed.  Half a job doesn't sound good, I know, but half a job certainly gives me the incentive to finish what I started.  Each half job happened because I was looking for something, which just proves I need to reduce the clutter.  Now I'll be looking to finish those jobs.  That's a goal, right?

I have been a bit more successful in the art department.  While my drawing class could have been finished within a week, I've been stretching it out, so that I don't feel rushed. It's been fun as I had to draw something complicated upside down, and draw something specific from memory and draw something else without looking at the paper at all. How any of that can turn out better than if I just tried to draw it the usual way, I don't know, but almost all of it did.  Apparently, I have to let go of the idea of what I'm trying to draw and just follow the shapes.

I remember doing an ink and wash years ago. My instructor wanted to challenge me and stuck a picture of a chipmunk on a stump in front of me. I sputtered, "But you know I can't draw," to which she replied, just make marks. Make more marks in the dark areas, and fewer marks in the lighter areas." I had no faith in that but somehow ended up with a chipmunk on a stump, without actually ever drawing a chipmunk or a stump.  I guess I just have to get out of my own way and connect my eyes to my hand and disengage the brain that is busy trying to make sense of it all.

In the meantime, I've found a Facebook page that teaches all the steps involved in mixed media. I've been interested in that for a few years now, so I'm working my way through the video morsels they offer that teach even the most basic of techniques. This will give me a good kick start on creating new works of my own as time goes on. Since the morsels are done on small notebook pages, they don't take long.  Sooner or later, though, I will need some stencils, which is something I don't currently have. I think I'll try making some of my own though. That could be fun.  

There's the problem right there.  I'm playing instead of working. I got all the Children's Fitness Tax Credit recipes done for the karate class though, and will install my tax software this week.   I will finish the three spaces I started. I need the studio desk for all this artwork.  I need the computer desk for the upcoming  tax season, and I definitely need my side of the closet cleaned out. If I start by getting rid of all the clothes that no longer fit me there would be a lot more room.  But wait....I did manage to lose another pound so maybe I can save some money and fit into those clothes yet.

So, as you see, I have not yet dropped my New Years Beginnings. I've slowed down a bit, but I'm still working on them.  What about you?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Heritage Pie

A long lost cousin I've reconnected with on Facebook posted a scan of an old recipe she found recently. Apparently she has been sorting through things and eliminating clutter, just as I have been doing.  Sorting recipes always slows me down because I have way too many of them and I try every year to find a way to get them more organized and get rid of duplicates. She was having a problem too, but it was more because some needed to be rewritten before being tossed. And how do you toss away a piece of paper with your own Grandmother's handwriting on it, even if it is damaged by oil and time? Such things tug at the heart.

The recipe was for a Butterscotch Pie and for some reason I downloaded it. Probably because I have my own fond memories of Vera Coughlin.

 It wasn't easy to read, so I tried running it through some editing software, but all I really succeeded in doing was to get the yellow out of the paper and changing the size. I printed off my best effort and went about trying to decipher the words that had nearly faded away. I had just rolled out the last of my Christmas pastry and needed a filling for a single crust pie. I decided this was a good time to try this heritage pie.

As I began to mix the ingredients together, I was suddenly aware that the dear lady had not spelled out tablespoon and teaspoon as even tbsp and tsp. I had to hope that "T" was tablespoon and "t" was teaspoon and that it wasn't just a quirk of her handwriting that caused her to capitalize one of the T's and not the other.

There was another part of the recipe that confused me. It looked like she wanted me to add the warm milk to the egg yolks, but if you've ever made lemon pie filling from a package, you know you would add the egg yolks to the mixture in the pot, along with some of the cold water, before adding the hot liquid. I decided to do this the same way.

In the end, it all worked out, and I will write out the recipe in a manner I can understand for future reference.

Butterscotch Pie
1/4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
5 tbsp flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 egg yolks (reserve the whites for meringue)x
2 cups of milk, divided

Cream together butter, brown sugar, flour, salt and vanilla in a pot.
Beat egg yolks with a 1/2 cup of the milk and stir into sugar mixture until well blended. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk until it's hot but not boiling and pour into the pot with the rest of the ingredients.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. When bubbles break the surface, cook for another 30 seconds. Pour into cooled 9" pie shell and top with meringue.

Beat 2 egg whites until soft peaks form.
Gradually add 1/4 cup of white sugar and beat on high for 2 minutes until stiff peaks form.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fresh Start - Week One

New beginning number one (art) is going to interfere with new beginning number three (losing weight). I have now signed up for an online art course, and between watching videos, and following links and doing assignments, I find myself firmly planted on my butt.  That's certainly not going to reduce the size of it.

For new beginnings number two (de-cluttering) I'm following the Home Solutions  Declutter 365 web page that breaks things down so you have a 15 minute mission to accomplish each day.  My first 15 minute chore went on for half an hour and still wasn't finished because my step stool had mysteriously disappeared over the holidays. But just the idea that it took that long to clean off, (and clean up) my kitchen counter meant it really needed it.  Yet I know my counter is much neater than some I've seen, so if you haven't done yours yet, get to it! Start at one end of the counter, take things off to clean under them. Sort through that stuff and put things that don't belong there away, or get rid of them.

After cleaning and decluttering surfaces, we have now moved on to the drawers. A couple of years ago, when I cleaned out my over-stuffed utensil drawer, I put all the useful things I don't tend to touch into a box and took them to the basement. If I found I needed something, I knew where to find it. Anything left in that box now will be disposed of. I suppose I should have done that sooner. This time, when I did that drawer, the only things I found that I felt I could remove, were a handful of plastic straws. They got moved to my studio, as now I like to blow paint and ink around to create interesting abstract designs.

The drawing course is a lot of fun, and not too hard, even for far, anyway. It's called How to Draw Without Talent, and I found it at Sketchbook Skool.  Some people are very talented. I think they inherit it from someone and are able to translate the world around them into some form of expression the rest of us can only marvel at. I may have some talents, but drawing is not one of them. It has taken me a long time to be able to paint pictures that I feel are good enough to even give away, but I've been working at that for years. I can't draw, according to instructor Danny Gregory, not because I don't have talent, but because nobody has ever taught me any of the basic skills. Yes, I can see, but I can't translate what I see to paper. I hope this class, or klass as they call it, will change all that.

Danny says learning to draw is actually easier than learning to drive. Well, I can't drive either, but then, I've never actually tried to learn how. This week I have learned the basic components of drawing.  I took steps to learn to copy lines, curves, angles and spots or circles. Instead of drawing actual things, I had to try to duplicate abstract patterns containing these elements. It wasn't easy, but it was fun. I had trouble with just one of them and thought I wasn't getting the angles and perspective right.  But when I looked at it the next day, I saw exactly what I had left out, and fixed it with no trouble at all. That gave me the confidence to try to duplicate an ad that had come in the mail. I don't think I did too badly. So already this course is working. 

Danny makes us draw with a pen, so that we will commit to our lines. That makes it even scarier for me, as I know I can't erase even the most glaring mistakes. I did this one with a ball point pen so it doesn't show up as well as I would hope, but I have just purchased a couple of nice new black pens to work with in the future.

So, to summarize week one: I'm learning the basic skills behind learning how to draw; the kitchen is looking neat and tidy and I've started on the drawers; and I've somehow lost three pounds, but that may be because I've been too busy to snack.  Hey, whatever works!

How are you doing with your project?