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Sound Safety Solutions Come from Detailed Accident Investigations

Man with hardhat and safety vest to demonstrate the importance of accident investigations

Originally Published by Cole Publishing
Nearly all worksite injuries and fatalities are preventable. John Brengosz, Loss Control Consultant for R & R Insurance, says one way to prevent workplace incidents is to determine the underlying causes and correct them. This requires a thorough incident investigation.
“Ideally, we would want to prevent somebody from getting injured. But at the very least, we want to learn from an injury so it doesn’t happen again and again,” Brengosz says.

Prepare a Response Strategy

OSHA encourages organizations to investigate all worksite incidents that result in injuries, plus close calls in which workers escape injury. Organizations are required to notify OSHA within 24 hours when incidents involve an amputation, loss of an eye, or admittance to a hospital.
Conducting a thorough incident investigation requires forethought. Injuries can occur at the most inconvenient times, so organizations should prepare an incident-response strategy in advance. Brengosz recommends developing several topic areas and questions based on the types of injuries that typically occur. Using this list, organizations are prepared to gather information, even in hurried or stressful situations.
In addition to this list, organizations also should fill out a standard incident investigation form. The form should include the injured employee’s name, time and date of the incident, department, and description of the incident.
“We don’t need to know the (employee’s) birth date, the hire date, or the rate of pay, for it has nothing to do with how this person got hurt,” Brengosz says. “We wasted a whole bunch of time just filling in boxes, and we haven’t even gotten to the investigation.”

Question Witnesses

Brengosz recommends investigating an incident as soon as possible, after medical care is provided, but while the incident is fresh in the minds of the people involved.
“You have to go out and talk to people and look at the scene as soon as you can,” he says. In addition to interviewing the worker involved in the incident, investigators also should interview witnesses.
“I rarely see any witness statements when reviewing completed investigations,” Brengosz says. “Maybe it’s a case that, ‘We’ve had enough.’ By the time we talk to the injured party, we think we’ve already ‘wasted too much time on this’ and just want it to be done. I understand that. I don’t like it, but I get it.”
A supervisor or lead person should complete the investigation report, not Human Resources or a Safety Committee, Brengosz says.
“Those folks can answer questions or help that person do the investigation, but it really should be the supervisory person to take responsibility for the injury and the fix,” Brengosz says.

Ask For the Injured Employee’s Account

In addition to answering the supervisor’s questions, injured employees should write their own version of the incident as a stand-alone document.
“It’s good to get their unfiltered description of how they were injured in case the story changes two years from now when we’re at a work comp hearing,” Brengosz says. Realistically, the supervisor’s and employee’s descriptions of the incident should be a close match.
“If not, you have to go back to the drawing board, and there’s more work to do,” he says.
Investigations can be tricky if the injured employee or the supervisor broke a safety rule or operational rule. They won’t necessarily jump in and admit it.
“The best way to address that is to have other people reviewing the completed reports,” Brengosz says.

Conversate, Don’t Interrogate

He tells supervisors to take a friendly approach when conducting an incident investigation.
“It’s way more effective if the supervisor can make it a conversation and not an interrogation,” he says.
He also suggests recording the interview, as long as the employee agrees to being recorded. A recording allows for a free-flowing conversation. It also creates an audio file that can be reviewed by others in the future. The conversation should begin with the employee describing what occurred. Afterwards, the interviewer can ask questions and gather details.
“If you’re just talking to them and having a discussion and asking questions, you don’t have to spend all this time writing things down and potentially missing important things that they’re saying,” Brengosz says, referring to the benefits of a recorded interview.

Avoid Sarcasm, Blame & Threats

Brengosz recommends using a tone of voice and mannerisms that invite employees to open up.
“Go in with the attitude of ‘We’re not doing this to trap you. We’re really doing it to find out what happened,’” Brengosz says. Avoid sarcasm, blame, and threats. Instead, investigators can encourage collaboration by asking employees for solutions: “What are your ideas to prevent this from happening again?”
“That gives them a chance to weigh in, too,” Brengosz says.
If investigators don’t think employees are being completely truthful, Brengosz recommends revisiting the facts.
“If the story changes, use tact and try to clear that up,” he says.

Get Everyone Involved to Review

In addition to filling out reports, investigators should take photos and videos to document the conditions at the work site.
Once the initial investigation concludes, the next step is a management incident review. The injured employee, supervisor, safety committee rep and human resources rep should meet with a high-ranking person in the company.
“I’m a huge fan of letting top management see those reports so they know what’s going on and also what we’re doing to stop the constant repeat of the same injuries,” Brengosz says. “I think it’s important for people working for your organization to know that you’re diving into this stuff and solving it.”
After reviewing the incident together, the management group should discuss what changes and training need to occur. Brengosz also recommends that safety committees review the incident investigation reports.
“Maybe somebody in that safety committee has seen a similar type of an injury or situation. They might know something that nobody else knew or realized to help the situation,” Brengosz says. “I don’t think this gets done enough.”

Learn and Take Action

The final step in the incident investigation process is to learn something from the incident and take corrective action.
“Don’t complete these reports, throw them in a file, and they never see the light of day again,” Brengosz says.
Although it’s easy to blame the incident on carelessness or failure to follow a rule, it’s better to determine the underlying causes of an incident. Then, identify what changes need to be made to prevent further incidents.
“It’s very common for me to see an organization that has all sorts of injuries related to lifting and material handling. I will ask them, ‘Hey, do you do training on material handling, lifting, use of hoists, etcetera?’” Brengosz says.

Accidents Are Costly

Preventing incidents from happening is a key to productivity and job satisfaction. A safe workplace also saves an organization money. Accidents can be costly. Brengosz estimates that organizations paying $1,000 for a worker’s compensation claim actually pay double in other “hidden” costs.
Organizations can demonstrate their commitment to workers’ health and well-being by maintaining a safe workplace, prioritizing safety training, and thoroughly investigating incidents. Incident investigations help organizations determine the root causes of an incident, so they can develop solutions that prevent the incident from recurring.

Grandma and Grandpa with our first grandchild

Baby Love: The Surprises of a First-Time Grandma

Grandma and Grandpa with our first grandson.

I’ve been a grandma for 15 months, and my life is richer because of it. When our daughter, Janet, was expecting, everyone told me I’d love being a grandma. That’s so true! The wonders of being a grandma continue to surprise me.

Unexpected Worries

The first surprising thing about my grandson, Walter, was the worry. I’m a mom, so it’s my job to worry. When he was born in February 2023, another little person entered my life to worry about. Bringing a baby into the world doesn’t always go as planned. So, I did my share of worrying during those first few days for Walter and his mom and dad.

The Joy of Bonding

Thankfully, the worry faded. Now I can enjoy the happy surprises of life as a grandmother. One of the biggest surprises is how wonderful it feels to have Walter stretch out his little baby hands for me to hold him. I feel like I won the lottery, because I was chosen over Mom, Dad, and his favorite person, Grandpa Bill. I’m also surprised by how much I love our one-on-one time. Over the past 15 months, we took walks together, played together, and built a snowman together. What a joy it is to hear him squeal with delight when I chase him and hear him babble when I talk to him. I am really getting to know him, and he’s getting to know me, too.

Diaper Dilemma

Another surprising thing – changing a diaper is tricky. The first time I changed Walter, I put the diaper on backwards. Diapers haven’t changed that much in 30 years, so it must have been me that changed. I admit I was rusty, I had no trouble the second time around. While Walter has grown and changed so much in 15 months, he’s still a baby who needs a lot of care – and a lot of diaper changes.

Cherished Moments

But sometimes, he seems so grown up. I remember one Sunday at church when little Walter surprised us all. Grandpa Bill was holding Walter during the Mass, when Walter imitated my folded hands and my singing. Bill thought he was holding an angel. What a moment!

Baby-Proof Adventures

I’m also surprised that the contents of my cabinets are so interesting. Walter loves to open the cabinet doors, pull everything out, and spread everything around on the floor. Our house isn’t baby-proofed. When Janet and Walter visited in April, Walter was exploring our bathroom cabinets while Janet was running his bath water. I heard Janet sigh with exasperation and say, “Oh, Walter!” He had pulled out the toilet bowl cleaner, Windex, and other no-nos. The cleaners all ended up on the countertop, out of his reach.

Parenting Comes Naturally

Finally, I’m surprised by how wonderful it is to see Janet and Tyler as parents. They sing him silly songs, play silly games, and use silly voices when they read books to him. They are naturals – so loving, fun and responsible as Mommy and Daddy.

Happy Mother’s Day

So far, being a grandmother has been everything it’s cracked up to be. I’m looking forward to more surprises in life as Walter’s grandma. Happy Mother’s Day to all moms and grandmothers, too.

Discover the Ultimate Solution for Handling Downpayments: An Estimate

Originally Published by Prosperity Bookkeeping

Woman bookkeeper seated at computer to show way of handling downpayments.

QuickBooks Online makes running a small business so much easier. This industry-leading accounting software automates business-finance tasks and puts financial statements at your fingertips. QuickBooks Online is a real time saver, offering a range of finance and accounting solutions for small businesses. Despite all of its advantages, once in a while, QuickBooks Online throws a wrench in your ability to manage a clean set of books. For example, why does QuickBooks show a negative number when you make a deposit in Accounts Receivable? This is a frustrating feature of QuickBooks Online’s default process for recording upfront payments and downpayments.

QuickBooks Online Accounts Receivable & Aging Summary

Consider this accounting scenario. A customer owes you a $1,000 downpayment for a project that will cost $5,000. The customer pays you the downpayment, and you go through the process of receiving payment and recording it in QuickBooks Online Accounts Receivables. After recording the transaction, QuickBooks creates a $1,000 credit for the customer.
Now, suppose you want to look at what customers owe you money, how much, and how many days their invoices are overdue. You’d click on Reports, then Accounts Receivable Aging Summary. When you view this report, you’ll see that the $1,000 downpayment you recorded displays as a negative balance on Accounts Receivable.

How to Maintain Accurate Days Sales Outstanding

Why is this an issue? Frankly, because it messes with your books when you’re performing complex financial analysis. When you check the financial status of your small business, one of the numbers to consider is Days Sales Outstanding. Just in case you’re new to accounting, Days Sales Outstanding shows how long it takes for you to collect on an invoice. Part of the calculation of DSO involves the whole Accounts Receivable balance. When a customer’s large downpayments is recorded in Accounts Receivables, it throws off the total AR number, Downpayments falsely reduce the amount of the open invoice balance as a negative amount, and QuickBooks subtracts the downpayment.

How to Record Downpayments as Nonposting Transactions

So, here’s a bookkeeping option to consider if you want to record a downpayment and maintain a clean set of books. Instead of just receiving a payment like usual, use a nonposting transaction by creating an estimate. You may wonder how a downpayment becomes an estimate, but bear with me.
Before creating an estimate, make sure that partial billing is available to you on QuickBooks Online. Partial billing isn’t available in every QuickBooks Online version, so you may need to upgrade. You can access the option for partial billing in QuickBooks Online by clicking the gear icon > Account and Settings > Sales > Progress Invoicing > Edit. Toggle the switch to turn on “Create Multiple Partial Invoices from a Single Estimate Feature”, and click Update, Save, and Done.

How to Create a Partial Payment as an Estimate

The process to create and save an estimate is the same as creating an invoice. However, as a nonposting transaction, an estimate will not post to your sales account right away. Click New > Estimate > Customer Name. Once you create and save an estimate, QuickBooks gives you the option to create an invoice. QuickBooks’ prompts allow you to charge a percentage of the total project cost. In our example, you would charge 20% of the total amount due ($5,000) and for a downpayment of $1,000. Alternatively, you can create a custom invoice. Perhaps you want to collect upfront for the product but not the labor. To do so, click Custom Invoice and fill in the product cost. Of course, you can customize the invoice any way you choose – whatever fits your cashflow and customer relationship objectives. QuickBooks creates an invoice that’s linked to the estimate. Then, when the customer pays the invoice, apply the payment to the estimate. Click on Receive Payment, and apply to the invoice.

How to Invoice a Remaining Balance

When the project is completed, it’s time to invoice the customer for the remaining balance. To do so, look up the customer’s account, open the estimate, and bill out the remainder by clicking “Remaining Total of All Lines.” If a project takes a long time to complete, you might decide to invoice the customer in increments, instead of simply invoicing for a downpayment and final payment. An estimate allows you to do that. Additionally, estimate if the scope of work changes, you can add new product or service costs to your original estimate. It’s worth noting that applicable sales tax will be applied to the correct tax period for the additional costs but won’t affect the sales tax of the downpayment. You can adjust an estimate without affecting the transactions in a closed period.

How Creating an Estimate Improves Bookkeeping Accuracy

Collecting upfront payments helps small businesses cover its liabilities and maintain cashflow for day-to-day business operations. By creating an estimate instead of simply applying a downpayment to Accounts Receivable, bookkeepers keep a clean set of books. Small businesses gain accurate and valuable insights into their financial data in order to make smart business decisions.

Talk to a QuickBooks ProAdvisor

Prosperity Bookkeeping is a QuickBooks ProAdvisor that is eager to help small businesses get the most benefit from QuickBooks accounting software. A ProAdvisor provides accurate, up-to-date information about QuickBooks, answers questions, and offers advice. This blog is just one example of the value that a QuickBooks ProAdvisor brings to the table. Visit the Prosperity Bookkeeping YouTube Channel to see Kristie Van Pay, owner of Prosperity Bookkeeping, demonstrate how to handle partial payments. If you have questions about partial payments or other accounting processes, visit the DIY Support page to schedule a QuickBooks ProAdvisor support call.

Oh Baby! This Grandma Can’t Wait to Meet You

Rubber duckie on baby shower cake.

In July, we learned the exciting news.
In August, I shopped at a zillion rummage sales, until my car was so full that I couldn’t fit another baby bib or onesie inside.
In November, I co-hosted a baby shower, with more cute rubber duckies than I’ve ever seen in my life.
In December, I opened a special Christmas gift, a sweatshirt with my soon-to-be new title, Grandma.
In February, the doctor set a date for Mom and Dad to be at the hospital for something incredible.
Today, we’re at T minus 6, and the waiting is really getting to me.

Such a Long Wait for This Grandma-To-Be

For heaven’s sake, nine months is long enough! I can’t imagine being an elephant’s grandma-to-be. Elephants have 22-month gestational periods! Plus, they’re too big to swaddle, hold in my arms, and just gaze at in wonder. I’m having trouble concentrating on work today. My mind keeps drifting to thoughts of Janet and Tyler and the baby boy they’re expecting.

Grandmotherly Advice

Over the last few months, I’ve heard from so many grandparents, and every one of them was excited to tell me that I will love being a grandma. In the summer, I volunteered at Vacation Bible School, and the 4- and 5-year-olds melted my heart. When one little girl sat next to me and rested her head against my arm at the closing prayer service, I couldn’t help but smile.
Then, last month I went on retreat with 30 teenagers, who offered me marvelous advice about how to be a phenomenal grandparent:

  • Always have cookies and good food on hand
  • Take trips to the park or play outside together
  • Slip the grandkids a little cash once in a while
  • Attend their concerts, sporting events, etc.
  • Never be too busy to listen
  • And the dubious advice that really cracked me up: Say “Yes” to the things that Mom and Dad say “No” to – within reason, of course.

The Road to Motherhood

The road to motherhood hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows for Janet, and I admire her for always doing what’s right for her and the baby. I also admire Tyler’s support through it all. They’ll make wonderful parents, that’s for certain.

I remember a few days after Janet got her driver’s license years ago, and she asked to use the car. To my surprise, she wanted to go visit Grandma Pat. I want to be that kind of Grandma. Just a few more days until I join the ranks of Grandparenthood.

Postscript Note from the New Grandmother

Here’s an update: Walter Carl was born on Feb. 18. Mom, Dad, and baby Walter all are doing well. So is Grandma Joan although I’m still getting accustomed to the title Grandma Joan. I had the chance to hold him and rock him when he was just a week old. Now, he’s smiling! And so am I.

Why Avoid the Danger of Mixing Business & Personal Money

Business owners paying invoices and not comingling funds

Originally Published by Prosperity Bookkeeping

Picture yourself with a shopping cart full of school supplies at the checkout – and you grab the wrong credit card to pay for them. Oops! You just paid for your kid’s backpack and everything that goes inside with your business credit card. Mistakes like these happen. In order to maintain the integrity of your financial statements, you need to go through a fairly painless process to adjust your accounting records. But if this school supply scenario is more than just a one-time glitch, we need to have a serious conversation.

Maintain Legal Liability Protection

Commingling personal and business accounts is a big no-no for any business owner, but especially if you’re operating your business as an LLC, S Corp or C Corp and not simply as a sole proprietor. (For advice about choosing a business structure, read this article by the U.S. Small Business Administration.) By mixing business and personal funds, you’re acting as if you and the business are the same entity. Therefore, you put your personal bank account and assets at risk. Your business entity loses the legal liability protection that comes with its corporate structure.

Preserve Accurate Bookkeeping Records

The second reason not to commingling personal and business accounts relates to the accuracy of your bookkeeping records. If you make personal purchases with your business account, whether mistakenly or routinely, you should record these purchases in your accounting program. Accurate financial statements are important for three main reasons:

  1. Improve your ability to make well-informed business decisions
  2. Present legitimate financial data to lenders, partners, and other interested parties
  3. Keep accurate books so it’s easier to prepare a business tax return

Can you imagine giving your business credit card to an employee and inviting the employee to buy groceries, lottery tickets, or gas? Of course not. The same policy applies to you. You shouldn’t use business accounts to pay for personal items. The correct way to compensate yourself as a business owner is to take a draw from the company or pay yourself a salary directly from a business account. After depositing the money in a personal account, you’re free to buy personal items using a personal checkbook or credit cards.

How to Adjust Your Accounting Records

Earlier in this article, I promised a fairly painless process to adjust your accounting records if you used a business account to purchase personal items. To adjust your accounting records, follow this 3-step process:

  • Confirm that you have an equity account set up for Owner’s Draws in your chart of accounts (It may be called Owner Distribution, Partner Draw/Distribution, etc.)
  • If an equity account doesn’t exist, create one
  • Record the purchase as you would any other purchase, and classify it to the Owner’s Draws account

To reimburse your company for the personal purchases, you can transfer funds from your personal account to your business account. To adjust your accounting records, follow this 2-step process:

  1. Create a deposit for the amount you are replacing
  2. Code the deposit to the same account – Owner’s Draw

This zeroes out the transaction and corrects your bookkeeping records all at the same time.

Avoid Sloppy Business Operations

In addition to the school supply scenario, there are other scenarios to avoid related to commingling funds. Perhaps a client makes a check out to your name instead of your business’ name. Maybe you use one bank account for business and personal needs or move money back and forth between a personal and business account without documentation. All of these are examples of sloppy business operations that increase your liabilities. When you treat your business’ money the same as your own, you become personally liable for business debts and lawsuits. Don’t put yourself in that position!
For more business tips, financial advice, and a full line of bookkeeping services, contact Prosperity Bookkeeping. Prosperity Bookkeeping provides a proven process that will have you spending less than one hour per month on bookkeeping-related tasks.

Have a Big Business Idea? | Legal Strategies for Startups

Originally Published by Cole Publishing

Woman holding an open sign. Legal documents for new businesses

Got a big idea for a new business? Well then, you need the Big 4 – an accountant, insurance agent, attorney, and banker. A successful business launch involves a jillion details, and many of these details require professional expertise. The Big 4 enables entrepreneurs to turn their business ideas into reality. Before opening their doors, new companies need to lay a foundation for operations. This foundation includes the legal documents to establish a business identity, organizational structure, and taxation.

“Anytime we’re creating a business entity, we’re always thinking through how an entity is going to be formed and also the tax designation you want,” says attorney Jim Ledvina, of the Law Firm of Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry, S.C. The structure of an organization depends on its activity, number of owners, and the goals the owners want to achieve. “There’s lots of ways to structure the entity, depending upon what folks are trying to accomplish,” Jim says.

Legal Structure of a New Business

New businesses typically fall into two categories, a limited liability company (LLC) or domestic corporation. For Jim’s clients, LLCs are the most popular business classification by far.
“The reason is, the LLC is significantly more flexible in terms of the management and control. The administrative requirements are not nearly as demanding as a corporation,” he says. Corporations are required to appoint officers and hold annual shareholder meetings and annual board of director meetings.
“That’s all very rigid in corporate law, versus an LLC, in which you can create any type of management structure you want,” he says.

Tax Classification of a Start-up

The second aspect to consider when launching a business is its tax classification. An LLC with a single owner falls under the disregarded entity status. Basically, the LLC is not taxed as a separate entity by the Internal Revenue Service, so the business owner doesn’t file a separate business tax return. All income and expenses flow to Schedule C of the owner’s 1040.
“It’s all very simple,” Jim says, and he means it. An LLC with a single owner is one of the simplest business structures that exists. When a business has two or more owners, it defaults to partnership tax status. However, the members of the LLC can elect to have their LLC treated as an S Corporation or C Corporation for tax purposes.

LLC vs. S Corp or C Corp

An S Corp has a “flow-through” tax designation. Thus, the business entity files an informational return, and income and loss “flow through” to a business owner’s 1040 via a K-1 IRS form. The percentage of ownership determines the share of the income or loss attributed to each owner. For an S Corp, business owners pay tax at the individual level and not the entity level. From a tax standpoint, it’s rare to have a C Corp because of what’s known as the “double tax.” With a C Corp, the entity pays tax. However, if the owners want to make distributions as a dividend, the owners would be taxed on the dividend. Hence, the double tax. Although tax legislation enacted in 2017 addressed the double tax, Jim says there’s still more benefits being an S Corp than C Corp.
S Corp owners can avoid some payroll taxes when making distributions. In addition, S Corps offer other tax benefits, depending on the activities of the entity. It’s best to consult an attorney and an accountant for advice.

Legal Documents for LLCs and Corporations

Both LLCs and corporations require a set of legal documents before the businesses open. A corporation files Articles of Incorporation, whereas an LLC files Articles of Organization. A corporation drafts bylaws and a shareholder agreement, whereas an LLC drafts an operating agreement. While the articles and bylaws are fairly standard and straightforward, the shareholder agreements and operating agreements differ significantly based on the entity. These agreements cover the management and control of the business. For example, an operating agreement outlines how decisions are made, who’s in control, who represents the business, and how an owner can sell his or her ownership interest in the entity.
“It’s not one size fits all. You might have silent partners, active partners, or individuals who want to be bought out,” Jim says. “You want to make sure you’re covering all the bases with documents that work appropriately for the business.”

Apply for an Employer Identification Number

Another legal document needed to open a business is an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Entrepreneurs will hit a roadblock at the bank if they don’t have an EIN. Banks require a business to obtain an EIN before opening a business banking account. Anyone can apply for an EIN at the IRS website at no cost. Obtaining an EIN is probably the simplest part of opening a new business.
In addition to filing for an EIN online, entrepreneurs can find sample legal documents on the internet. Entrepreneurs can do their own paperwork, but Jim advises against this, based on his experience. In one instance, a client brought Jim an operating agreement with language associated with real estate when the entity didn’t own any real estate.

“The language associated with valuing the real estate entity is going to be totally different than an operating entity,” he says. “There’s a big difference in how we draft the two.”

Role of a Business Law Attorney

Because opening a business involves complex legal details, an attorney plays an important role. Jim recommends working with an attorney who specializes in business law.
“You want somebody with a little bit of experience. They know what to look out for, and they know the issues and where the pain points may be,” he says. “If you have something complex, like multiple owners or unique situations, you might want to interview a couple of attorneys. Ask them about their experience and about the pros and cons of different types of entities.”

Role of the Big 4 for Entrepreneurs

Once you select your legal advisor, he or she will be able to recommend other members of the Big 4. A local financial institution can provide a start-up loan and a line of credit to support ongoing operations. Banks also provide financial services needed to pay employees, pay bills, receive payments, etc. A local insurance agent helps business owners mitigate risk with commercial general liability insurance and worker’s comp insurance. An accountant can set up sales tax, use tax, and employee tax withholding. Plus, accountants file taxes and ensure their clients comply with tax laws.
“If you make a mistake, especially on sales tax or payroll taxes, that’s almost always a death blow to an entity because the penalties and interest associated with those taxes are incredibly onerous,” Jim says.

A Successful Business Launch

Opening a business is a complex process, especially when it comes to paperwork. You can’t just step up to a legal document vending machine, drop in your coins and out pops the legal documents you need. If only a business launch was so easy! Consulting with an attorney, accountant, insurance agent, and banker can help you determine the best trajectory for your new business. These professionals know about tax implications and the federal and state requirements for start-ups. The Big 4 gives new businesses the big break they need to succeed.

Amazing Mountain Climb: Take Mt. Kilimanjaro Off the Bucket List

We did something big this month – as in 19,341 feet Mount Kilimanjaro big. It’s hard to top that! (Pun intended.) I use the word “we” loosely. My husband, Bill Koehne, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro while I remained in Abrams at a ridiculously low elevation of 696 feet. I may not have spent eight days climbing a mountain, but I was there in spirit. You see, Bill carried my mini-me Wonder Writer action figure to the summit to remind him of my support and to snap some rare photos of Wonder Writer soaring above the clouds.  

Do you have what it takes to climb Kilimanjaro?

For those who don’t live with a mountain climbing fanatic like I do, let me tell you a little about the amazing feat Bill achieved. On July 6, Bill departed O’Hare Airport and on July 7, arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport 8,000 miles away. Mount Kilimanjaro actually is a dormant volcano and has three volcanic cones. Located in Tanzania in eastern Africa, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. It’s higher than any mountain peak in the U.S. with the exception of Mount McKinley in Alaska. Although Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t a steep climb, summiting the mountain is extremely difficult. Here are a few reasons:

Acclimate to the high altitude

Bill’s group of seven climbed four days before spending two nights at 14,117 feet to let their bodies adjust to the elevation. The next day, they hiked to high camp, called the School Hut, at 15,518 feet to prepare for the summit the following day. One night, Bill’s blood oxygen level fell to 81 percent, which was a concern because levels under 80 end a hiker’s climb. Fortunately, Bill rebounded to an acceptable 93% the following day.

Endure cold, windy sections of the trail

For someone like Bill who detests Wisconsin winters, tenting in 15-degree temps is really uncomfortable. When you add in the rain and the wind, the mountain becomes even more inhospitable. With a sleeping bag liner and hand warmers tucked inside his mummy-shaped sleeping bag, he made the best of it.

Undergo an arduous summit day

The group started the day at 3am and ended the day 11 hours, 20 minutes later. First, they climbed to Gilman’s Point to see extraordinary views from the crater rim at 18,640 feet. After two more hours of hiking, they reached the summit of Uhura Peak at 19,341 feet. You’d never guess what Bill carried to the summit. Because the porters carried his pack, he carried something belonging to his mountain climbing guide – a ukulele in its case. Why a ukulele? His guide Ricardo, a musician, wanted to record a song on at the mountain top. Unbelievable!

Make it home safe and sound

Bill returned home on July 17 after this trip of a lifetime. Wonder Writer made it home, too, with a little volcanic dust on her costume but otherwise in good shape.

Check Mt Kilimanjaro off the bucket list

Bill has had some incredible experiences hiking and climbing in Hawaii, Colorado, France, and Spain. In July 2022, he added Mount Kilimanjaro to his list of accomplishments. I’m amazed by each one! Now when Bill tells me he wants to climb something or hike something, I take him seriously. How does he do it? He tells me it’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Joan, Bill and Will Koehne

Mother’s Day 2022 Lesson: Be There for Your Kids

Will's Birthday in Madison with Joan and Bill

Call it a mother’s intuition. It never failed that I was up just shy of 1 a.m. to see our son, Will, walk through the door on his visits home from Atlanta. He’d pull into the driveway after the 15-hour drive to Wisconsin, and I was there to welcome him home.

When Will arrived home in June, I was nowhere to be found. He was surprised by my absence, and he certainly let me know it! I didn’t realize how much it meant to be there for him. I should know better by now. You’re never too old to be loved by your mom.

Talking about age, I look at Will sometimes and wonder. How can this 30-year-old man be my son? I can still picture him as a baby in my arms. The 1 a.m. feedings when he was a baby lacked the welcome-home excitement that his cross-country road trips created. Instead, the middle-of-the-night meetings were exhausting, but a rite of passage nonetheless.

Will Moves to Madison

Nowadays, Will arrives home at a decent hour. He moved to Madison in May 2021 after 4 years in Atlanta and 2 years in Philadelphia during the travel-restricted COVID-19 years. 

Finally, one of our birdies flew closer to the nest! I remember Will opening Christmas gifts during a video call. Sure, it was the next best thing to being together in person, but a poor substitute. Now, Will attends all of the holiday gatherings, with a few extra visits thrown in. Plus, I get to visit him in Madison. We’ve gone to the Milwaukee Brewers game on Star Wars Night, walked to the Governor’s Mansion from his apartment, and toured Olbrich Botanical Garden. I met his girlfriend, Jenny, and I look forward to getting to know her. I bet she’s willing to wake up at 1 a.m. to greet him after a long absence.

So, what about the other birdie that flew the coop? Our daughter, Janet, and her husband, Tyler, are feathering their nest in Mellen and getting more comfortable in the home they purchased in the fall of 2019. Last week they planted two apple trees and ordered a weeping willow. It’s pretty obvious that they put down roots. Mellen, home of the Granite Diggers, is a Northern Wisconsin community where the people are friendly, the snow is deep, and the moon is bright. Needless to say, they like it Up North. Visiting their nest takes more time and more gasoline, but it’s worth it. It keeps my mothering instincts sharp.

This Mother’s Day I’m welcoming a new mom to the club! I just got a text message from my sister, Sue, the newest Marcks girl to become a grandma. 

Congratulations to all of the moms celebrating Mother’s Day, whether it’s your first, 30th or something even grander. Whatever your age and whatever the hour, always be there for your kids. It means more to them than you realize. To read last year’s Mother’s Day reflection, go to Mother’s Day 2021: Selfies & Family Movies

Carlsbad Caverns’ Birthday in the Chambers of Wonders

Carlsbad Caverns entrance
Look how small I am standing outside the cave entrance of Carlsbad Caverns!

I had the most magnificent birthday this year. It will be hard to top this in a million years. But I guess a million years is small-potatoes in the history of the earth. The wondrous venue where I celebrated my 57th birthday was a lot older than me! Bill and I were vacationing in New Mexico, home to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where 4- to 6-million years ago sulfuric acid dissolved the limestone and left behind gypsum, clay, and silt.

Carlsbad Caverns cave features

Without a guide and relying on the occasional light reflecting off the formations, we walked the 1.25-mile trail that slowly meandered down 75 stories to the base of the Big Room. The Big Room is aptly named. It’s the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. Every single cave I toured in my lifetime could have fit inside the Big Room.

At one point, after hiking for over an hour, we stopped to sit on stone benches. I sat in awe of the majesty of it all. So vast, top to bottom, side to side. So interesting, with mounds, curves, and rock that looked nothing like rock. Not beautiful. There was too much dirt to be beautiful, but stunning.

Carlsbad Caverns cave features

As I sat there, a felt a reverence for this big, open space. I hadn’t felt that way since I visited Rome and sat inside the majestic cathedrals with high arches and grandiose ceilings that took my breath away. Sitting in the Big Room, I marveled at the natural beauty found so deep underground.

Over our two weeks of hiking in New Mexico and Arizona, we saw even more beauty above ground. Sometimes, like on Cathedral Rock in Sedona, we hiked for miles before reaching the reward of a summit view.

I felt so small at times, while walking alongside the towering red rocks of Sedona or the mountains of New Mexico. Yet I never felt insignificant. Maybe it was because of all the happy birthday wishes, cards, and presents I received. Birthdays are so wonderful because of the outpouring of love – like a flash flood in the Arizona desert. Even as small as I was compared to the vast mountains and caves of the Southwest, I was big in the lives of my family and friends, especially my husband. Every time we vacation together, he tells me that he can’t imagine being with anyone else. A marriage like that is rock solid.

I am so thankful for our Southwest vacation, for the opportunity to leave everyday life behind and climb to amazing heights, travel to astounding depths, and see amazing sights. Definitely a birthday to remember. Thanks for all of the happy birthday wishes!

(To read another birthday post, go to Why I Love Turning 54.)

Carlsbad Caverns cave features
We loved our Southwest vacation, and spending my birthday with Bill at Carlsbad Caverns made the vacation even better.

Mother’s Day 2021: Selfies & Family Videos

Mother's  Day

Every Mother’s Day, I reflect on my past year as mom to Janet (Tyler) and Will. My favorite photo from the past year is the photo of Will, Janet, Bill, and me on the deck of Janet and Tyler’s home. We were out on the second-story deck shooting clay pigeons on an unseasonably warm November afternoon. We all lined up side-by-side for Bill to take a selfie. I looked at our four faces reflected on Bill’s cellphone and said, “Hey! That’s us!” Will laughed and said, “Of course, that’s us.”

Selfie Reminds Me How Family Looks

Why was I so surprised? Well, it had been a long time since I saw “us.” I guess I forgot what “us” looked like. You’d think it would be easy to get four people together more often than once a year. Not for us. This year was especially difficult. Distance is part of the problem. Although Bill and I haven’t moved from our Abrams home where we raised the kids, Will lives in Philadelphia and Janet lives in Northern Wisconsin. Covid-19 was another part of the problem. Family gatherings were few and far-between since March 2020. Trips were canceled. Holidays were smaller. Phone and video visits kept us connected, but it wasn’t the same as being together.

Family Videos = A Glimpse Into the Past

The highlight of our short weekend at Janet and Tyler’s in November was watching family videos. Those videos turned back the clock so we could see our family 20 years ago. We were reminded how we looked, the clothes we wore, but best of all, the fun we had being together.

What fun it was to see the kids doing science projects in the kitchen with soup cans and coins. Oh, did we laugh! The only clip that topped the science video was our trip to Gatorland in Florida, followed by a hilarious Gatorland re-creation by Willy and Janet and their stuffed animals. They put on a show even more entertaining than the original. We laughed until our sides hurt.

A Mother’s Day Wish

I miss those hectic days when the kids were little and the house was alive with activity. Even today, Will, Janet, and Tyler bring energy and laughter into our home when they visit. I wish those visits happened more often, so I can remember how “us” looks.

Well, I got my wish this Mother’s Day! All of us are vaccinated against Covid and feel more confident getting together. Plus, Will is moving back to Wisconsin at the end of May! He will live in Madison and work for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as a Preparedness and Emergency Health Care Epidemiologist. That’s a mouthful! I can’t wait to welcome him back home and pose for more photos of “us.”

To read last year’s Mother’s Day reflection, go to Role reversal: A Mother’s Day Tribute to Our Kids