Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30, 2014 - Taxes for Expats

Note: This is my first sponsored post.  All details and opinions are mine alone.

You might not know this, but since we’ve moved to Dar I’ve been running a Facebook group for Expat Parents.  In theory it is a place where people can buy/sell their belongs upon coming or going, search for domestic staff, ask questions about where to go and what to do with their families while they are living in Dar.  I started the group with about 8 people (because I only knew 8 people) and it has grown to over 1,800 people now.  I am pretty strict about what I let people post – no stolen iPhones please! No hotel chains! – and Kristoffer has taken to calling me “the Dictator.”   I was actually “spotted” twice recently, approached by strangers who asked, “Are you Lisa from the Facebook group?!  Thank you so much!”  It is a helpful resource for those of us living here temporarily, even if it is an unpaid time-suck for me.

Which leads me to this story…

Earlier in the year I was approached by a company called Taxes for Expats (TFE) to find out if they could advertise in my Facebook group.  While I did say no (I told you I was strict!), it did lead me to have a longer conversation with the company about their services. Taxes for Expats is a company that provides expert, professional tax preparation services for expats.  In some ways I feel TFE was a Godsend because through messaging with one of their associates I learned that I have been really negligent in my taxes since becoming an expat.  Tax law for expats is extremely complicated and I was incredibly na├»ve.  I also learned that if Kristoffer ever wants to get his Greencard in the US, my tax negligence could definitely prevent that from happening.  Granted I didn’t owe very much money because I haven’t made very much money since leaving the US, but I did have some self-employment income that I hadn’t reported and should I get caught in the future my penalties might be higher than what I actually owed.  I also have some foreign bank accounts that I never reported, which is required by law.  Oops! Time to get on top of that as well.

With all of that in mind, I decided to hire TFE.  They have a few options for expats who have been negligent to get back in the good graces of the US Government.  For me, this was a “streamlined” package where they filed the last 3 years of taxes for me along with my foreign account reporting, and I was able to pay the small amount that I owed without penalty.  Now I am no longer delinquent, and TFE has all of my information to help me in the future.  Especially because I was never trying to deceive the government, I feel so much better now that I’m not delinquent anymore.

Once I signed up online, I was matched with a tax professional who asked for some information about me.  This required uploading some documents to my account on their website (past tax returns, for example) and some emailing back and forth before my guy identified just what I needed.  In the end he recommended a plan that was actually LESS than what I was expecting I would have to do.  I felt good that he wasn’t just trying to get me to buy their most expensive services.  He was knowledgeable, friendly over email, and extremely efficient in responding to all of my questions.  I knew what he was doing or what I was supposed to be doing at all times. 

All documents that I uploaded or that they prepared are available to me in my online account anytime.  Once he had everything from me, it took him about 10 days to prepare 3 years of tax returns and 6 years of foreign bank account disclosure.  I had time to review all documents, ask questions, and make changes before it was all finally finished.  In the end I could electronically sign for some things, but had to print and mail other documents directly to the federal government.  I didn’t have to pay TFE until I had agreed that all documents were final, and I was able to do so online.  The little I owed to the government was sent directly to the IRS.

One of the things I liked most about the company was that I was emailed by the President/Founder a number of items to check in with me and see how things were going, if I was happy with my accountant, etc.  She has been running the company for over 20 years with many happy customers; I think she is a real pro (at prepping taxes but also at customer service).

I have not looked into how the costs of TFE’s services compare to the costs of other tax preparation companies, but because I was so stressed about this and had no idea as to how I would even begin to fix the problem on my own, I was happy to hire them.   They have extensive reviews online, which you can find here, but know that I did no comparative research.

They also have a program where you can earn credit on referrals (so if you do business with them you could use me as your reference – go to this website - and I get $75 towards future tax preparation once you file your taxes.  Thanks in advance!) and I am earning credit for this blog as well.

TFE made the process of getting my taxes reorganized and updated extremely easy and the experience was MUCH less stressful than if I had attempted to do it on my own.  I’m always impressed by niche services that target a very specific need in the market and, in this case, I am relieved that I could benefit from such a service.  I highly recommend using this company if you’re in the same situation.


Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29, 2014 - Me Box

Grace's first big school assignment this year was to create a "Me Box".  She could put anything in her box that could describe her (what she loves, who she loves, etc.) and decorate it as she liked as well.  She had to present it to her class a few weeks ago, and then last week all the parents came in for smaller presentations as well.  The box will not stay intact too much longer so I want to make sure to document it before we all forget what was in there, and it is interesting to see the things/symbols she treasures so much.  She was extremely proud of her Me Box, as she is about everything she does in Kindergarten.  We're so happy for Grace that she loves school and is thriving there.

Itemized Me Box (in no particular order):
1. Four flags on the top cover: Tanzania, Kenya, Denmark, USA 
(along with her name "Grace W" and age "5").
2. Swimming certificate.
3. Stuffed elephant from when she was a baby.
4. Small photo book of our extended family that she got for her first Christmas.
5. Family photo after Aya was born.
6. Small photo album of her first year of life.
7. Small photo book of her 5th birthday and birthday party including pictures of all her friends here.
8. A small dragon.
9. A small dinosaur.
10. A small Lego.
11. Her favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
12. Her favorite book about dinosaurs.
13. A small toy airplane.
14. Her Nordic School "medal" from when she graduate from pre-school.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 28, 2014 - Going Bananas

The watermelon Aya tasted a couple weeks ago was "unofficial."  But today she officially had food for the first time: mashed bananas.  You can decide for yourself after looking at the video and seeing the pictures below, but I'd say it was a huge success :)  Good job me for putting the date as August instead of September (I guess when she's older we'll just "remember" that she was even more advanced!).  Sorry for Kristoffer who is in Bali for a week for a workshop and missed it (That's right. You heard me. Bali. But at least that explains why my brain got the date wrong - first time solo-parenting 3 kids in Tanzania!), but for some reason today just really seemed like the day she was ready.  Cheers to many more happy meals.  

(P.S. The video at the bottom is probably really boring unless you are Aya's grandparents, but I cut it down to only 2 minutes at least!)

(Note that while Aya was very eager for the food and sat there eating for quite some time, the big smiles were for her big sister sitting across the table!)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21, 2014 - Made in Tanzania

Our peanut is 5 months old today!  She has the greatest smile and laugh, which she shares generously and often.  Aya enjoys sitting up a lot of the time now; if she is on the ground she is rolling everywhere.  She can’t crawl but can stick her butt in the air and maneuver to get places.  She can grab things, put weight on her legs, and everything goes in her mouth (or near vicinity).  She is definitely teething.    Aya is still not sleeping well at night – waking 3-5 times – although she did have ONE night this past week when she only woke up once.  Most days she’ll do two short and one longish nap – although I will admit that I find it difficult to keep her on a strict schedule when the rest of us are all over the place.

While she did taste watermelon this week, she is not officially starting food yet – although I’d say in about two weeks she’ll be ready.  She is just now starting to notice us putting food into our mouths, which is a good sign of readiness.  She is starting to be a little bit more interested in books and if you put her in front of the TV she will totally watch it.  It’s kind of funny because Grace was that way as a baby too, but Noah wasn’t.  These days because of our crazy schedule we are not watching a lot of TV, but she has tried it with great focus (as you can see below).  She likes toys with music and still loves her bath.

She is still wearing 3-6 months clothes, but everything that is supposed to be elastic around her legs (like diaper covers with dresses, for example) is very tight around her chunky little thighs.  She had shots two weeks ago and doesn’t need more for a couple more months.  I think she weighs about 14 lbs.

Noah has been especially sweet with Aya in recent weeks and she remains loyal to Grace as her “go to” person for smiles and laughs.  When Aya wakes up in the morning – regardless of her night – she is so smiley and fresh.  You can’t help but adore her.

I’m risking a “jinx” by writing this down, but I do think her sensitivity to cow’s milk is improving (yay for me!  I even had a little bit of cheese this week!) and also that her reflux is getting a little less (although she’s still taking medicine for it).

We all love Aya – she is everybody’s baby in this house – but it hard to believe that she’s almost been here for half of a year.  It’s been like the blink of an eye, sweet girl.  The blink of an eye.

Some shots from the past month...

Watching TV with the big kids!
(Note that we can't really use the baby bouncer as it should be used anymore.  She just wants to sit up, not lay back!)


 (Note:  Made in Tanzania)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2014 - As Always

Today is a day of rememberance.  I was looking through some old papers the other day and found this piece I wrote after 9/11.  It was published in a Syracuse newspaper as a letter to the editor.  I was a wee bit over-the-top in hindsight, but writing was a way to help me deal with my experience of 9/11 and I was certainly sincere in the words I chose to write.  With lots of love to the people I still consider to be my Leadership family.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10, 2014 - A Day to Remember

Once upon a time, a beautiful little boy was born.  There will soon be a day to remember our grief that his life didn't last very long, but today is a day to celebrate the gift that his life was.  Thinking of our nephew, sweet Kyle Michael, on what would have been his second birthday.  And praying for his parents and sister as they miss him today, and everyday.

Life is truly precious.  And Kyle's was a reminder to all of us not to take even one single day for granted.  


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September 9, 2014 - Family Ties

For the past week, we've been actively engaged with Kristoffer's uncle and aunt, Gert and Kitte, who visited us from Denmark after they went on Safari and to Zanzibar.  One week was a perfect amount of time with them because they could see all aspects of our daily life (traffic!  school car pool! hanging out at the beach!) in a relaxed way with no time pressure.  They visited the highlights of Dar including shopping and "new" food (their first time eating Ethiopian!).  They even got to take a bike tour around the city with some great young Tanzanian guys.  In general, all of us loved having more family visit us and they were great guests.  They have many of their own grandchildren so were perfect at being with our kids, and all three of them soaked up the extra attention they received.  We are happy to hear they arrived home safely today - just in time for Kitte's birthday (Tillykke!).  Thanks for coming you two!  See you in December!