Learn Something New Every Day....Welcome 2018!!!

“Learn something new every day.”  That was heard around our dinner table by anyone who cared to join us for dinner.  Some families talked politics, some sports, or world problems.  My Dad was a big believer in learning something new every day. Over dinner, he was sure to ask us what we learned.  This was not just book learning or school.  He was looking for life learning.   As a graduate of the school of Hard Knocks, he realized life skills for what they were: Invaluable. 

Learning something new often means experimenting, being willing to put yourself out there in a different way.  Trying something new does not come easy to any of us.  Sure, some of us more than others.  But all of us had the knack for trying and failing and trying and succeeding as children.  I heard last week that as children we are more willing to try things until about age five when we attend school and are taught about the right way to draw a tree or the true colors of the tree.  Before we met a rating system, we learned to walk by trying and failing.  And trying and failing.  Receiving encouragement, trying again.  And then, maybe a step or two before we dropped.  Only to get up and try again.  No judgement, no ratings.  We walked eventually.

As I enter the year, I am going back to learning something new everyday but this time not in answer to my Dad’s questions.  He had been gone nine years and I sorely miss his wisdom.  Not because “conventional” spiritual growth says trying the new is good for personal growth.  I am going to learn something new every day because, here it is, It Feels Good!  I want to feel good, even when I fail and need to try again.

What inspired this blog post and new attitude?   Simple.  A freezing cold weekend in Vermont with low motivation for outside activity, I unwrapped an oil paint kit tucked away in the house.  I have never used oil paints before in my life.  I have painted once in my life.  And I could not even tell you how long I have had the kit.  This is not about my memory failing me but as I had to dust it off, I only know it has been years.

I sat on Saturday December 30th and thought about what to paint.  The thing on my mind was 2018.  I sketched lightly as the guidebook accompanying my paints suggested – I did not know that most visual artists sketch first.  Then, I started painting.  Fun colors.  Designs that appealed to me.  I mixed some paints together and made new colors.  “This was fun,’ I thought with a smile on my face.

As I moved on covering more and more of the surface, I wanted to do another layer of paint and merge some colors on the small canvas.  Every time I tried something blurry and unlike I wanted appeared.  So I stopped.  I did not YouTube my question, I did not Google it.  I went back to that guidebook – Yes, someone is still reading books.  The thin paperback book explained I would have to wait to do my next step until the paint was dry to the touch.  I figured an hour or two.  However, further research revealed that I was going to have to wait 16-24 hours for the oil paint to dry.  Hmm! I wanted to be finished. 

Instead, I had to clean up.  I knew how to clean brushes but admit to texting a friend on how to clean the artist’s palette.  My artwork finished for the day.  I had time for reflection. Writing is my typical creative endeavor, breaking out something new felt freeing and fun. What I did not anticipate is that on December 31st, I still would not be finished with my painting project.  After a bit of time with the paints, I realized I needed to add the lightness of yellow to my piece.  But again, I had to let the current piece try.  Perhaps, I am more patient than I thought.  Or I am learning patience in a creative way.

 After the final touches on January 1st, I realized something about myself and my own creative work.  I always want to power through my writing and get to the finished product.  Something worthy of the readers attention.  So I write, I edit, I review and have someone else read a piece through before I commitment to the completed piece.  What if instead, I let the “paint dry” on my writing.  I did not have to commit to hours and hours each day.  Rather, put together something that comes together in my writing and then, let the writing sit for a day or two.  Knowing I will come back to it with fresh eyes and be ready to put the finishing touches on it. 

Yes, I am on to something.  I tried something new.  A real creative reach for me and in the process I learned a new way to approach my first love of writing.  The finished art project?  You be the judge…

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Charitable Giving: Teach Your Children Well

Children can understand charitable giving and helping others.  No age is too young to start.

With your kids of all ages, get them involved.  Create a change jar for giving to charity.  Each month or so decide as a family where to donate the money.  Then, if you want, roll the change or take it to the bank for counting with your child.  Writing a check is great but taking the money to the charity together is a tangible lesson.  Children learn in all ways including seeing and experiencing the location and people you are helping.

Some families donate time together.  They go and work at homeless shelters providing holiday meals or make it a monthly time to support their favorite charity. Making it age appropriate to your children is a perfect hands-on lesson.

My grandmother you to hand me a dollar to put in the basket at Sunday Mass. Yes, this was a start of a lesson.  However, the more intentional and planned and discussed donating is, the better the long-term outcome. 

Yes, as a parent you have plenty on your plate.  Teaching your child about charitable giving is a two for one accomplishment.  You are teaching your child about your values and helping others.  Plus, the giving circle will continue as they practice in future years the giving that you taught them. 

Remember, the dollar amount does not count as much as the action.  The attitude of gratitude is enhanced with giving.

Charitable Giving and RMD's

For those 70 ½ you can give directly to charity with your required minimum distribution.  Why is this important? 

Those over age 70 ½ need to take Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from their non-taxable retirement accounts.  This means an annual distribution from the Traditional IRA, 401k, 403b or Thrift Savings account that was contributed to with tax-free contributions and grew tax-free.  The RMD does not affect Roth IRAs.

If this means you will be getting a RMD before the year end, consider this – your RMD from a Traditional IRA can go directly to charity.  This is a tax-free transfer if the money goes directly from your IRA retirement account.  This does not apply to your other retirement accounts unless the 401k or 403b is first rolled over to an IRA.

If you tend to give to charity a similar amount to your expected RMD, this type of planning needs to be in your financial tool box.  Not only will it save taxes because the RMD is not counted as income, your income will be lower than if you took the money and wrote the check to charity.  This is critical in planning cash flow because Medicare Part B premiums are based on your income.  Here in Vermont, property taxes are also based on annual income.  Removing income from your tax filing may help you in other ways. 

The law, which allows tax-free transfers of up to $100,000 from an IRA to a public charity is a great opportunity for 2017. Just remember, you will not be able to use the charitable deduction again if you itemized for your taxes.

Move quickly because though this is a possibility for the tax year ending December 31st, your financial institution is busy this time of year.  You will want the request and paperwork to be in process before December 15th to be sure this happens in a timely manner.

Finally, review with your tax advisor to see if this makes sense for you.