Prepare for next year’s taxes now

Did you file your taxes well before the deadline, rush them off without a moment to spare, have to file for an extension, or did you bury your head in the proverbial sand hoping it would all just go away? Benjamin Franklin reminded us of the certainty of death and taxes. If doing your taxes was stressful, now is the time to start preparing for this time next year.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), there are four steps you can take now to make filing your federal income tax return a little easier. The first step is to create your account information at This online account allows you to securely access the latest information about your federal tax account and view information from your most recently-filed return.

Through this account you can view your tax records, change your address, apply for payment plans and make payments. You can also electronically-sign certain forms and manage your communication preferences with the IRS.

The second important step is to set-up a system to organize your tax records. The IRS doesn’t require a specific record-keeping system as long as it is accurate. File-folders are a time-tested method of staying organized. The files you need may include Income, Business Expenses, Medical, Mortgage, Student Loans, Investments, Retirement, Child Care, Home and Property, and Charitable Donations.

Depending on your situation, you may be able to get by with one folder labeled 2023 Taxes. If the trusty file-folder method seems too old-school, the IRS accepts scanned and digital receipts as long as they are clear and complete. Use a receipt tracking app to organize and save your images.

You can’t file your taxes until you have all of your tax records, which are required to be distributed each year by January 31. Your tax needs may include W-2 forms from employers, 1099 forms from banks, agencies and other payers, and form 1095-A from the Health Insurance Marketplace. Remember, most income is taxable including that from unemployment, interest, the gig economy, and digital assets. As a general rule of thumb, the IRS says you should keep your individual federal tax records for three years.

Step three is to make sure you’re withholding the right amount. If you owed a lot or received a large refund when you filed this year, consider adjusting your withholding. Changing your withholding can help you avoid a big tax bill or let you keep more money each payday. Remember that life changes such as getting married or divorced, having a child, or taking on a second job may also mean changing your withholding tax.

There is a convenient tool at called Tax Withholding Estimator that can help you determine the right amount of tax to have withheld from your paycheck. Any change will require you to submit a new Form W-4 to your employer. If you receive a substantial amount of non-wage income from self-employment, investments, and some pensions and annuities, you may want to consider setting up quarterly estimated tax payments.

Finally, the fourth suggested step is to set-up direct deposit. The fastest way for you to get your tax refund is to file electronically and opt for direct deposit. You will need your bank account and routing numbers. For those without bank accounts, the IRS offers some possible alternatives. Direct deposit avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen or returned to the IRS as undeliverable.

Paying taxes is a reality of life. This year’s deadline is behind us, but don’t wait to take the necessary steps to get prepared for next year. Tax season will come around again as sure as flowers bloom in spring, but we can simplify the process to make it a little less taxing.

Write Your Own Mission Statement

I’ve been adrift. Like a battered old rowboat, I allowed myself to be tossed about on the sea of life. I needed an anchor and something to remind me what floats my boat. With the help of several resources, I wrote a personal mission statement.

I am nothing short of shocked how a simple mission statement is helping me do everything with more confidence, clarity and inner peace. Every decision is easier. Life is easier.

Writing an effective mission statement can take time, but Laurie Beth Jones offers a helpful formula in her book The Path: Creating a Mission Statement for Work and for Life. This is certainly not the only way to write a mission statement, but it is an excellent way to get started. The idea is to fill in the missing blanks to create your personal mission statement.

My mission is to
_______________, ______________, and _________________
(your three verbs)

(your core value or values)
for (to or with)
(the group/cause which most moves/excites you)

Let’s look at an example. A woman Jones worked with initially said her mission was to raise a happy family. Sounds good, right? Wrong. This mission requires her family members to be happy, which isn’t within the woman’s control. The only thing she controls are her own values and actions. While a mission should benefit others, the hard truth is that the people in her family could leave her. If that should happen, she can and must continue with her mission.

Using Jones’ formula, here’s how that dedicated mom re-wrote her mission statement: My mission is to create, nurture, and maintain an environment of growth, challenge, and unlimited potential for all those around me.

Now it’s your turn. First, consider what is most important to you. These are your core values. Next, consider the talents you have that could help you move your core values into action. These are your verbs. Now, think about who will benefit from your mission and why. Finally, put it all together to write your mission statement. Shuffle it around, sleep on it, keep at it until it feels right.

Your personal mission statement should be broad enough to help you create a clear vision for all areas of life. When changing tides, unsettling ripples or tsumani-sized waves rock your boat, your personal mission statement allows you to stay steady, strong and unsinkable.

Making a wish for a boy in Uganda

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made a wish upon the first star I see at night. My childhood wishes were inspired by Jiminy Cricket who sang, “If you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.”

Once my children went out on their own, I found it comforting to know no matter how far away they were from me, they could look up at the night sky and remember we were all safe under the same blanket of stars. The wishes I’ve made for them are as numerous as the twinkling dots in the sky. This evening, I will make a wishful prayer on one of those stars for a little boy in Uganda who turns ten years old today.

Several years ago my husband and I began sponsoring Lukas through Compassion International, a Christian humanitarian aid organization. Lukas lives in a small village 300 miles away from the nearest city. Through the work of Compassion, Lukas and many of the children in his village are able to attend school a couple of days a week. On the other days he helps his father tend to animals, gather firewood, carry water and care for his brothers and sisters.

Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world. Most families depend on subsistence farming, and water shortages frequently cause food scarcity. Many Ugandan children are significantly malnourished. I don’t know if Lukas understands he lives in poverty. If so, his smiling school photos and crayon drawings of him playing soccer, climbing trees and laughing with friends outside his little home with the blue roof belie the fact.

When I find myself wishing for material things or for even more ease in my life, I think of Lukas and the three billion people on our planet who live in poverty. There is a quote I turn to when my life seems inadequate, when I let advertisements and social media make me feel small and envious.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself. Tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches. For to the creator, there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” Rilke’s words both shame and inspire me. I keep the quote close at hand, just in case I need to snap out of it.

Our sponsorship of Lukas includes annual Christmas and birthday gifts. He always writes to thank us and tell what he purchased with the money. Once it was a chicken. Another time he bought mosquito netting. Last year we were happy to know after buying a mattress there was enough money left over for a piece of candy. I am reminded of a quote by Ghandi, “Live simply so others may simple live.”

This week I sent a birthday message to Lukas through the Compassion website which an interpreter will help him read. I asked him to look up at the sky this evening. “Remember that we live on the same planet, under the same sky dotted with the same stars,” I wrote. “I am making a special wish on one of those stars, a prayer just for you, Lukas, for a very happy birthday.”

Spring cleaning gives us a fresh start

The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming and I am happily cleaning every nook and cranny of our home. I know, some of you might be more like my clever mom who said, “If I ever get the urge to clean, I lie down until the feeling passes!” Regardless of where the urge comes from or how long it lasts, spring cleaning can give us a fresh start.

Historically, spring cleaning can be traced back at least 3,000 years to a Persian tradition still practiced in some homes called Khāne Tekānī. The phrase literally means “shaking the house.” In Jewish tradition, not a crumb of leavened food is allowed in the house during Passover, so homes are carefully cleaned. Some consider these traditions to be the origin of spring cleaning, though many cultures have practices that include elements of spring cleaning.

Most experts in the field of human science believe there are biological reasons for spring cleaning. During the short, dark days of winter, our bodies produce more melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy. As days get longer, we receive a boost of energy from longer hours of daylight and produce less melatonin. So it may be a natural instinct to emerge from winter’s hibernation ready to clean and organize our environments.

There are also some very practical reasons that led to spring cleaning. Prior to the invention of the vacuum cleaner, spring was the best time for dusting because it was warm enough to open windows and doors, but not warm enough for bugs to be a big problem. In the days of coal furnaces, everything in the home got covered in a layer of black soot. Once winter was over, it was time to clean up the mess. Even with today’s improved home heating, ventilation and appliances, it makes sense to wait to do deep cleaning until it is nice enough to throw open the windows and doors.

Iconic comedienne Phyllis Diller joked, “Housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance?” The truth is, spring cleaning offers proven health benefits. An uncluttered home is safer than a cluttered one. Fires and falls are common causes of injury and death. Not only can clutter cause people to trip and fall, it can rapidly spread a fire and block doors and windows, reducing ability to escape or be rescued. Even if our clutter isn’t at a dangerous level (yet), addressing it at least once a year keeps us from gaining hoarder status.

A clean home can protect us from sickness. Dust, mildew, mold and pet dander are pollutants that tend to gather during winter months and can trigger our immune systems. We can also get sick from germs. One thing we learned from the Covid-19 pandemic was the importance of keeping surfaces clean, especially in bathrooms and kitchens.

Spring cleaning provides exercise and can reduce stress and help us sleep better. Doing household chores is a low-intensity exercise that burns calories and increases heart rate. The mindless repetitive tasks can turn off our our brains for a while and help us de-stress. Research shows sleeping in a clean, tranquil room can help us sleep more deeply and restfully.

Finally, tackling spring cleaning projects can boost our mood and give us a fresh start. Not only can cleaning leave us with a satisfying sense of accomplishment, it is proven to release endorphins in the brain which can improve our mood and energy level. Several studies show cleaning our home can motivate us to clean up other areas of our lives including diet, finances and relationships.

Dusting baseboards, washing windows and organizing closets might not seem that important but, like spring itself, it can inspire a new beginning. Professional organizer Peter Walsh said this about spring cleaning, “What I know for sure is that when you clean-up anything – whether it’s your home, your head or your heart – it is astounding what will flow into that space that will enrich you, your life and your family.

5 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

In addition to all the other joys of springtime, April is also National Poetry Month. Initiated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, the international event has become the world’s largest literary celebration with the goal to recognize poetry’s integral role in our culture.

As a middle school literature teacher, I found the beauty of spring could bring out the poet in the most unlikely students. Even if poetry has never been your thing, this might be your chance to see what all the fuss is about. Here are five specific ways you can celebrate National Poetry Month.

1. Start off the month by reading this light-hearted love poem by Mortimer Collins called The First of April. It’s a favorite of mine because my late parents actually tied the knot on April Fool’s Day 62 years ago.

Now if to be an April-fool
Is to delight in the song of the thrush,
To long for the swallow in air’s blue hollow,
And the nightingale’s riotous music-gush,
And to paint a vision of cities Elysian
Out away in the sunset-flush –
Then I grasp my flagon and swear thereby,
We are April-fools, my Love and I.

2. Get a free 2023 National Poetry Month poster, seen above. You can download it or order yours at This year’s poster was designed by Marc Brown, creator of Arthur books and television series. The poster features this important line from a poem written by current Poet Laureate Ada Limón, “…we were all meant for something.” 

3. Check out a book of poetry from the library, buy a new book or pull a dusty one from your own bookshelf, and read a poem every day this month. A favorite poetry book on my own shelf is titled Poems That Will Change Your Life by Fall River Press. My copy naturally opens to a dog-eared page with this beauty by Emily Dickinson titled If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Into his nest again,
I shall not live in vain

4. Celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, April 22 by going outside and reading or writing poetry inspired by nature. There’s nothing like being outside and reading a poetic verse like this from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palms of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

5. Participate in Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day on April 27. This event takes place every year during National Poetry Month. The idea is simple. Find a poem you love and carry it in your pocket to read yourself or share with family, friends and even strangers. You can even share it on social media using the hashtag #PocketPoem. Choosing a poem meaningful enough to carry with us is an exercise in itself. For years, I posted on my classroom door this poem by Langston Hughes called The Dream Keeper.

Bring me all of your dreams, you dreamers
Bring me all of your heart melodies
That I may wrap them in a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers of the world.

Each time I entered my classroom, the poem reminded me of my desire to educate and nurture students with tender hearts filled with hopeful dreams. Though I am retired now, the poem still speaks to me, so it remains tucked away in my purse pocket. It is a message I celebrate during National Poetry Month, and always.§

“Poetry, like jazz, is one of those dazzling diamonds of creative industry that help human beings make sense out of the comedies and tragedies that contextualize our lives.”
~ Aberjhani, American historian

Note to Subscribers ~ April 23 will be my last post on The Simple Swan. As I have often written about the changing seasons, I have been slow to realize I’ve entered a new season in my own life. It is a season of being more than doing, listening more than speaking, learning more than teaching, reading more than writing. Thank you for your loyal support. Love, Alicia