Wednesday, January 26, 2005
What a difference a week makes. This photo panorama of Jeannette's house was taken my Mark. He stitched 3 photos together to make this composite picture. Pretty nice work!
As you can see, much of the framing is already done. The have already begun putting on the "skin" of the house. Hopefully it won't rain or snow too much until they get the trusses up and roof on.
When my house was just at this stage, we got about 8 inches of snowfall on my brand new sub-floor. Sure enough, now we have a few squeaks in the floor because of the warping that took place. (As a matter of fact, the sub-floor of mom and dad's house got wet when it was being built, and it too has had a history of squeaks and creaks.)
It's exciting to see progress taking place. Framing is always fun to watch, because you begin to see what the house is really going to look like, and its such a dramatic change from a flat foundation. We'll keep checking back for progress.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
The accounting department has to balance the information that I have gathered from my programs for the W2's with the information that they have already sent to the IRS for tax reporting purposes. We will produce a file that we Send to Social Security (SSA) that has each employee's earnings and withholdings. SSA will then forward the information to the IRS. Meanwhile all throughout the year, the IRS has been receiving tax information from the employer regarding earnings and tax withholdings, as the withheld taxes have been remitted to the government. The numbers sent to the IRS are just aggregate numbers for the employer, not each individual's personal tax information. The data we send to SSA contains each individual taxpayer's earnings and withholdings. When SSA passes the detailed information along to IRS, then IRS compares the aggregate tax and earnings information with the detailed information received from SSA. If they don't balance, guess who's in trouble?
So naturally we take great pains to make sure that the detailed data (SSA) balances with the aggregate data (IRS) before we send it in -- and before we print paper W2's for employees. It is interesting that the detailed data is not due to be sent in to SSA until March 31st of each year.
If you are an early tax filer, and getting a refund, you can have your tax refund cashed long before the IRS even knows what your taxable earnings and withholdings really were. Of course, once they do get the information, it will be cross referenced with your tax return information. If what the employer has sent in via the detailed SSA data, and what was on your return didn't match -- you can expect to get a nasty letter from the IRS. Bottom line is -- Don't Cheat! You might get away with it for a little while, but sooner or later that nasty letter will come, and along with it a whole "Bucket O' Trouble".
You might be interested to know, that even if you file your taxes on paper forms, rather than using electronic filing (via a software package like Turbo Tax, or with a professional tax preparer) that your paper tax return has to be manually entered into the IRS database by an IRS employee. It eventually will appear on the IRS computer systems essentially the same, whether you filed electronically, or on paper. However, with paper filing, you run an additional risk-factor that the IRS employee who typed your return into the database might have a "happy finger moment" and unintentionally type an error on your return information. It is possible that you could get a "nasty" letter by mistake. I'm sure the likelihood of a typo is relatively low, but it is an added risk to filing with paper returns. (Imagine if you worked for the IRS, and it was your job to data enter tax returns all day, every day -- wouldn't that be just about the most boring, mind-numbing job you could think of?) It takes several months for all of the paper returns to be entered into the IRS database (until about August or September, if I remember right). So if you file by paper, and there is a problem, your "Nasty" letter might not show up until the Fall sometime.
Next I will be processing the W2's we just printed into our imaging system at work. That way the finance department will be able to print out copies of returns, as they are requested by employees. Usually reprint requests come in two varieties. People who have lost their W2, and people who are applying for a loan.
People who have lost their W2's usually don't discover this (alleged) fact until about 5:00 pm on April 14th. Now they are in a hurry to finally start on their taxes, and suddenly discover they can't locate their W2.
On the other hand, every time somebody wants to buy or refinance a home mortgage, or get an new auto loan, they need to have the last 2 or 3 years worth of W2's. With the low interest rates we have experienced the last few years, we have had a lot of requests for back-year W2's. Until we started imaging them, this was quite a hardship on the finance employees. Now they can bring up a W2 for any of the last 4 years, and print out a copy in seconds without having to leave their desk. That sure beats having to go find the bound employer copies in the archives, and make a photo copy of each year requested.
I also have a redundant way of producing W2's outside of the imaging system. We keep the W2 data on line for each year. I create an overlay image of the W2 form each year, and then run a program that retrieves the data, and merges it with the form overlay and prints out a "new" W2. That just gives us double coverage of the W2 information, incase the imaging system goes down for any reason (its only been down about a total of 30 minutes in the last 4 years! - and then all I had to do was re-boot the imaging server, and it was good-to-go).
Well, that's probably more than you ever wanted to know about W2's and filing taxes, but its something that most people don't know.
Tomorrow, I will be getting my charitable donations receipt from the church. It will be the last thing I need before beginning work on my taxes. As for me, I will be using Turbo Tax.
Merry Tax Season, Everyone!
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
This is a group of LDS Church members who are of Jewish heritage. A good number of them are 1st generation members of the church. They have members all around the world.. Some of whom live in Israel. Here is their official mission statement:
"B'nai Shalom (Children of Peace) is an organization of members of TheChurch of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints, who share a common Jewish heritage or have an interest and love for the Jewish People and their culture. Within theframework of existing LDS programs, B'nai Shalom promotes greater understandingof Jewish culture, heritage and traditions, and encourages, assists and promotesJewish genealogy."When I was on my mission in Vancouver, BC, I met several Jewish families. One of my areas had a rather large Jewish population. We had a set of discussions specifically designed for teaching Jews. One of the more striking departures from the regular discussions was the way in which prayers were taught. Instead of closing the prayer in the mane of the Savior, prayers were ended by saying "In the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." We understand that these are just two different names for the same Deity, but for them it was easier to accept in the beginning -- at least until they understood the full mission of Jehovah.
I can't say that I had any Jewish converts. But it was an interesting experience. I had the opportunity to attend Some Synagogue services, and learn more about the Jewish people, and their traditions.
After returning home from my mission, I read several novels by Chaim Potok, who also was a Rabbi. Rabbi Potok came to BYU to give a lecture in the early 1980's, which I attended and found to be quite fascinating. This further interested me in Jewish culture and traditions. In the early to mid 1980's attended several of the B'nai Shalom meetings, and found it quite interesting. I have always had a great respect for our Jewish Brothers and Sisters.
I thought of Barb L. (Dawn Ann's Sister-in-Law) when I saw the article in the newspaper. I was especially interested to see that one of the purposes of the group is to promote Jewish family history research, which may be of help to Barb.
Monday, January 17, 2005
It's been about a month since we the last posted a photo of the progress Jeannette's new house. The piles of dirt have been smoothed out since last time. We're not sure how much has been done with the roughed-in plumbing, and concrete sub-floor. We can't tell too much because everything was covered over, and it is still quite muddy. I didn't really want to slog through the mud to look under covers.
Between the holidays, and the spate of bad weather we've had recently, I guess its understandable that not a lot has been done during the past week or two.
I looked around the area, and I saw a completed home across the street that looked like it might be similar to what the final product will look like.
We'll check back again on the progress of the house, in a few more weeks, after the framing is underway.
Usually in the week before I give a talk, much of my free time is taken up in talk preparation. Next month is stake conference, so I won't have to give a regular sacrament meeting talk. However, I have to prepare a training session for Bishops and Ward Mission Leaders as part of the Priesthood leadership meeting of stake conference.
The last Sunday of February, I am also assigned to go to a youth correctional facility. This is a youth detention center, for those who have been in trouble with the law. Our stake has responsibility to provide non-denominational religious services to the inmates. We have a branch presidency that has been called. Once a month, a member of the high council attends the correctional facility to help assist in teaching classes there. There are four different groups of youths there, and non of the groups are permitted to intermingle with each other. I will be responsible for teaching a class. However, I have to teach it four times, once for each group. Also, since this is a state-run facility, the services have to be non-denominational, we can only teach from the Bible, not the other Standard Works.
That will be an interesting experience. In a couple of weeks, I will attend Sunday services there just so that I can get an idea of how things work, and how best to prepare for the class that I will be teaching at the end of February.
I'll let you know how it turns out.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Raw sewage is becoming a real problem. Approximately 1.5 million gallons per day is flowing into both the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers. Sewer line repairs were expected to be completed by Sunday night.
It is estimated that 20,000 lineal feet of rock will be needed to line the banks of the river to prevent further erosion. This will cost somewhere between $40-60 million.
Only 152 homeowners in Washington County were covered by National Flood Insurance. Nearly all of those who lost their homes were not covered. Many of them will have to declare bankruptcy. Some of the homes lost were in the $2-3 million price range.
Looming in the background are the Pine Valley Mountains. Huge amounts of snowfall have fallen there. These mountains are headwaters of the Santa Clara River. Depending on how rapidly that snow melts, there could be more flooding of the river in days or weeks to come. Hopefully the snow pack will melt gradually, causing no further damage.
Various banks and credit unions are accepting donations on behalf of the flood victims. I have encouraged them to create links on their web sites to enable credit card donations via the Internet. That way people who may not live anywhere near one of the bank branch locations, can make a donoation (from anywhere in the world). I will post a link to help the flood victims, as soon as one of them provides the link.
Hello to all, Since we have made the national news, although very briefly, I thought I would write to you about my own thoughts and relay some of the sights I have seen or experienced.
The flood started in earnest by Sunday. The Santa Clara River started rising after the snow we enjoyed on Saturday melted. By Monday morning, we received an early morning call to help sand bag. Brent was able to help before leaving for work. Marcus, Brent and myself sand bagged in the early morning hours by the light of the fire trucks. BOY, are those bags heavy. It was easy to fill them, but tying them and tossing them proved to be more of a challenge for me. It continued to rain throughout the day. Consistent rain….
Tuesday morning I ventured down to the river side to see for myself. I notice my neighbors were also there. I stared in disbelief at the sight. Their property (Tony it was the Grafs, if you remember them) was gone. Completely gone, the barn, corrals, chicken coups, farm land, everything! Luckily there were no animals involved. As I stood on the banks of the river (not too close), I saw three trees disappear before my eyes within about 15 minutes. The river was cutting away underneath and things would drop off without warning. I quickly backed up a bit more.
I was near the apricot orchard the church owns a little bit in front of the shed where they store all the ladders. I noticed all the ladders were on the other side of the orchard. One man said while sand bagging the previous morning that we had an assignment to help prune the orchard, but said he didn’t think we would be doing it in the rain. So when I saw all the ladders out there, I thought, boy that is dedication because of the raging river and rain. Then I notice the shed all those ladders were stored in, it was hanging off the edge of the river. They weren’t pruning, they were saving the equipment.
I talked with my neighbor and offered what words of comfort I could muster. Her eyes held disbelief and sadness. All that history was gone. Their grandfathers land, work, and efforts -- gone. It was so sad. There is no other way to describe the feelings. It is just so sad here. They commented on the Cook’s home that was three weeks away from being finished being in danger. I looked at the home, but it was still a good 50 feet away from the edge of the river. But with the river eating away at the land at a rate of 1 foot per minute (and that is NOT an exaggeration!) I understood later what they were talking about. The Cook’s had been laying tile that morning. It was the first house to go into the river. It is one that is seen on TV. That was only two hours later from when I was standing there looking at it that it fell into the river.
The river was so unpredictable. It would change course without notice. The river has its own course now and they are trying to get it back on course. The river now flows behind the Swiss Village Condo’s (although early in the storm it was an island in the river) and took out another house behind the condo’s and changes direction to flow in front of the Jacob Hamblin home (the home is fine - high and dry - the water is up to the first row of peach trees). Then it turns back south to it’s original course. It makes a sharp turn towards the post office along the road next to the orchard. The orchard seems to have survived, although everything on the other side of the orchard (fields and one house are completely gone). I think there are a few trees missing in the orchard, but as a whole it faired very well compared to everything surrounding it.
The banks of the river in places are 10-12 feet high now (some places it is higher and some lower). That was when there was water in it. I don’t know how tall they are now with the water receding.
The river normally flows at this time of year at 5 cubic feet a second. At the peak of the flood, it was flowing at 6,500 cubic feet a second, and currently it was at 275 cubic feet a second. It was a creek and I thought the word “river” was so big for such a tiny creek. I knew the history of the river and respected the name, but I’ll tell you what, EVERYBODY in town understands its name now! It was a creek my kids played in on hot summer days, splashing and playing around in (even Calvin when he was only 2 because it was so low even at the highest level). People live on the other side and just drive their vehicles across it without difficulty. There is no paved road, just dirt.
I have watched from different places in the heights the growth of the river. By the orchards it is now about 100 yards wide. The river was the biggest thing I saw when looking out over the valley. Now it is a huge scar as the water recedes.
They have blasted the river to clean the debris away. It isn’t the remains of the homes (17 homes total went into the river and 10 more that cannot be lived in because of hanging off the edge or partial loss) they are clearing away, it is the cotton wood trees, logs, and other vegetation that seems to be the biggest problem. They have remarked on the news that they still haven’t seen parts of the homes that went into the river. They are only finding small pieces maybe a foot long. Chunks of concrete mostly. The homes went into the river and became a toy, easily destroyed. The homes (parts) passed under the numerous (narrow in some places) bridges without difficulty.
The blasting really bugged me a lot. I was talking with my mother-in-law when yet another blast hit. I was reduced to tears while talking with her. I guess an uncertain day of high emotions and the unexpected blasts that shook the house and hit my chest while sitting in my own home (knocked things off my neighbors walls) was more than I could handle that night. The blasting finally ended at 11:00 pm only to resume the next day with one really large blast. So far nothing today.
Today as I went to my look out points I notice there wasn’t the chatter I have heard from days previous among the onlookers. There is only silence as people look. They don’t even talk to their own group. It is only silence. I feel like I’m alone while looking, free to get lost in my thoughts and am surprised to look around to see a crowd that had gathered since my coming. Only silence as the clean up begins.
It is a huge task. Millions of dollars worth of damage. I’m not sure what the dollar figures are for just Santa Clara (we lost sewage, water, utility, and phone lines) but they are saying 68 million dollars. I’m not sure if that includes the loss of the homes. I don’t think it does. They are still assessing the damage and the dollar figure rises daily. We are not affected here in the heights except for the conservation of all water usage because of the strain on a system very much compromised.
The next few days we will be removing the sand bags from the homes, only to store them for the coming spring run off. We have a lot of snow on the mountains right now. The reservoirs are spilling over and no vegetation to help.
So there you have my view of it. It has been an exhausting week. From the sand bagging to silence of the moment. Overall, I’m amazed at the destruction, blessings, and am in awe of both nature and fellow human beings.
People here have been superb. In Green Valley (hardest hit) a group of people would go from house to house and clean it out within 30 minutes and have it loaded in a truck for these people. U-haul offered their trucks free with only asking they return them full of gas. People have sand bagged, hauled the bags in their own trucks to the location they were needed. Others have offered storage in their empty garages, and other here in Santa Clara cooked meals for those volunteering. A plea for help during the peak of the flood went out in Santa Clara and 200 men from the town showed up for whatever task they were assigned.
It has been so overwhelming in so many ways. Good and certainly the bad. It deepens my sense of what life is about. Things have come to memory giving this further meaning. I’m so glad I live here in Santa Clara. The people are great. This happened a 100 years ago to my ancestors and now I get the chance to create a new history …
Pray for our town. We need it.
All my love,
Friday, January 14, 2005
Writing has always been a challenge for Bryan, but this gives him a motivation to write. He would love to get some comments at the end of his posts. So leave him a note of encouragement, if you would. I'm sure he would really appreciate it.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Perhaps you may have heard by now of the flooding in the St. George area. One life has already been lost, and several homes have been washed away. In some areas water, sewer, and natural gas lines have been broken. Some homes have had flood water coming up in their toilets and drains.
The general area of the flooding is in the proximity or two rivers in the area, the Santa Clara River, and the Virgin River. (See adjacent graphic).
Two reservoirs, (Gunlock and Enterprise) that last summer were nearly bone dry, are now filled to capacity, and overflowing their spillways. Heavy rains have fallen in the last 5 days. One reporting station on the West Side of the Pine Valley Mountains reported a storm total of 22.5 inches of rain in the last 5 days.
One man was swept away after his car had become disabled in the floodwaters. He climbed out of his car and stood on top of it. Suddenly a large wave overcame him and he was swept away. His body has yet to be found. A female passenger was also in the car. She remained inside, and was later rescued.
A state of emergency has been declared in several communities. All hands are devoted to flood control efforts. In St. George, all city employees are on flood duty. The Army National Guard has been called out to assist the local governments. Utah's Governor, John Huntsman Jr. has declared the area a disaster area, and was to view the damage by air earlier today.
Numerous volunteers have been organized to help fill sandbags to protect homes in areas most vulnerable to flood damage. Today it was announced that all Washington County Schools will be closed.
To the consternation of public safety officials, several people insist on playing in the floodwaters. When the adventurers get into trouble, valuable time and resources have to be diverted to rescuing these individuals who not only endanger themselves, but endanger the lives of rescue crews as well.
The good news is that the storm should be clearing out tomorrow, and there should be several days of warm and dry weather. It often takes a day or two for the floodwaters to receded, even after the rain stops. Hopefully it will not get too warm, which would melt snow that has fallen in the midlevel elevations, which would keep the water levels in the river high.
More good news is that family members living in the Santa Clara are all right. Their homes are far enough away from (and above) the swollen rivers that they have not experienced flood damage. The cousins will be out of school tomorrow -- For the kids, I would guess, that's good news too!
You can read more about the St. George flooding at these locations:
- The Spectrum
- The Deseret Morning News
- The Salt Lake Tribune
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Perhaps you are familiar with the California Cheese Board's line of advertising. There are a series of commercials featuring Holstein cows.
In one of the commercials all the cows are out grazing in an idyllic pasture, such as this one depicted in this photo. Some of the young calves, then turn to their grandma cow, and ask her what it was like where she came from.
Opening up to your view is a vision of a cow in the midst of a blizzard. The wind is howling, and snow is blowing. (Inferring how terribly those poor cows Wisconsin have it, I believe.)
Well, yesterday we had one of those Wisconsin Cow days here. The wind was howling, up to 50 MPH gusts. There were times when it was snowing as well. The snow wasn't really falling, it was blowing sideways. I can see a bus stop outside my office window at work. There were people who didn't have proper coats out there. Some of their faces had turned bright red from the wind and the cold.
The temperature on the thermometer was about 30 degrees, but with the wind gusts, it was closer to zero.
It made me long for the warmth and sunshine of St. George again.
By the way, this photo is not one of my own. It is from Flickr. When I post my photos to the flickr web site, I also have the ability to see other people's photos as well. This particular photo is from a person who lives in Vancouver, BC Canada, where I served my mission, who goes by the nickname of "Seawallrunner". If you click on the picture of the Cows, it will show you a larger version of the cow photo. You can view more of her photos of the Vancouver area here, and if you do, you will see why I have come to appreciate her photos. She does great work. It also is a way for me to see things that remind me of my time in British Columbia. With flickr, you can see photos from people from all around the world, and you can do searches for photos of virtually anything you are interested in.
In the next week or two, I will put together a folder on flickr of family history related photos. At first, I will upload photos of headstones from family members. I will add information along with the photo giving directions to the cemetery, and then how to find the grave site once your are at the cemetery. I have thought that at some point, I would like to borrow my brother Mark's GPS locator device, and include the GPS coordinates for family grave sites as well. Eventually we could also upload digital photos (which includes scanned photos) of ancestors, as well as locations where ancestors once lived. Having all this information in one place, where everyone can access it would be very convenient for everyone. Then you could download the images to your own computer, and add them to your own personal family history information.
You can sign up for a flickr account for free, and store up to 100 digital photos at a time. (If you subscribe to their paid service, you can post virtually unlimited photos.) You can choose whether you want everyone to see or photos, or you can mark them as private. You can form groups where only those you invite can see the photos (such as a family group, etc.) If you would like to participate, it would be a fun way to share photos of family members with one another. In the near future, I will probably send out email invitations to sign up for flickr. The email will have a link to that will help you sign up. Or, you can just go to the flickr web site to sign up on your own.
Friday, January 07, 2005
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
I have decided to set a goal for myself to read all of the Sunday School and Priesthood lessons prior to each Sunday's church meetings. After I have studied for each lesson, I will write about the things I have learned -- kind of like a book report. I would then post my thoughts on the Gospel Study Blog, along with my monthly talks.
One possibility to think about would be to make it a group blog. Where family members could share their thoughts and ideas. Even though, as a family, we are spread out all across the continent, we still have the same Sunday School lessons, and many of the same Priesthood/Relief Society lessons. Let me know if you would have any interest such a study group. Send me an email, or post a comment at the end of this posting if you are interested.
UPDATE: I have created the a new blog called Gospel Study. You can view it here Also, I have created a link to it on the left sidebar in the Links Section under the name: Gospel Study Page. There will be 2-3 postings per week on the Gospel Study Page. More, if anyone else is interested in contributing.
Just for fun, I entered Dawn Ann's name, and came up with the followng results:
- A NECTAR DRAWN PENN
- NEW PRANCE AND RANT
- PRANCE AND WARN TEN
- NEW DARN NAP TRANCE
Give it a try, maybe you'll come up with a new identiy!
This time, however, we were able to catch it in the beginning stages. Last week, Dawn Ann went to her Neurologist, and got a new prescription for physical therapy. As it turns out, she has been able to receive treatment from the same therapist who helped her last time, with good success. She started therapy last week, and will continue with 4 treatments this week. At this point, she hopes that this will be all the treatments she will need for this episode (our health insurance only covers 12 physical therapy sessions per year).
For a few days last week, it was too painful for her to sleep in bed at night. So she spent the nights in the recliner instead. There were some nights when she didn't sleep at all. However, things have eased up some, and she is able to sleep in bed again. Its good to see her getting on top of the situation, with out the long months of severe pain she experienced last time. We are counting our blessings, and giving thanks to the Lord for helping her through this challenge.
It turns out that some of the people at work have been having a little harder time getting back into the swing of things. Yesterday, we ran our first payroll processing of the new year. We have administrative assistants at in each of the city departments enter the time card data. (I am the programmer, and designer of the payroll system). One of the administrative assistants forgot to enter about 2/3 of the time cards in her department. We ran the payroll update, and noticed that some of the reports were showing smaller amounts than usual. Then G.F., in the finance department (who does the same job in our city as Jeannette does in her city) gave me a call and mentioned that two people’s deductions were missing from a report where they usually appear. As it turned out, they hadn’t been paid at all. GF then looked at some other reports, and discovered that there were 42 time cards missing! For those 42 people, that would have been no way to ring in the New Year.
We pay employees by direct deposit. We had already sent the direct deposit data to the bank before making the discovery of the missing time cards. GF quickly called the bank and put the data on hold. Then I went about restoring the payroll system back to the state it was just prior to the update. (Good thing we back the payroll system up before running the final update!) I jumped through a few hoops, and performed some programming gymnastics, and was able to import the missing time card data into the system. We were then able to re-run the payroll update, with everyone getting paid (694 Employees in all), and the correct direct deposit information sent to the bank. -- And all was well in the City (and the employees' bank accounts!) once more.
Saturday, January 01, 2005
In addition to having our game-playing marathon, we had our traditional snack-a-thon as well. Mom fixed a wonderful potato and bacon chowder, stuffed mushrooms, and other treats and goodies.
Another of the activities also was putting together the jigsaw puzzle that the Better-half-note and I gave to mom and dad for Christmas. The Puzzle is of the Logan, Utah area, and highlights the Logan Temple, where mom and dad were married. This photo was taken at 1:08 am on New Year's Day. Shortly after, we left to return to our house.
After we left, Grandpa C, Jeannette and Mark all stayed up awhile longer and worked on the puzzle, finishing most of it. Later on, after a few hours sleep, Grandma C. finished the puzzle.
Major Lynn Birrell is my brother's, father-in-law. He is being deployed on Wednesday, 1/5/05 for Germany, to care for soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. He works as a physicians assistant, and is an army major. This is his 39th year in the military. His family, has also served extensively in the military, including one brother who was killed while fighting with the Marines in Korea.
We appreciate him, the Birrell Family, and all those who serve with him for their service to our country.