Note to Self: Start Tax Return Earlier

I just got my first paycheck with revised withholding as result of tax reform (Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017). My paycheck is bigger which, on the surface, seems fantastic. Who doesn’t enjoy a bigger paycheck?

However, I’m a little bit worried about how this reduction in tax withholding will play out when I go to file my 2018 taxes. I am not a fan of either big refund checks or making a big payment with the return. The first option (refund) indicates that I gave the government a loan. The second option (payment) suggests that I might be penalized for underpayment.

My solution to this worry is to review my 2018 tax situation as I prepare my 2017 return. As I go through 2017 return prep, I can outline all the changes that may impact me and determine an estimate of the impact. For me, these changes include:

No personal allowance
Potential child tax credit
Increased standard deduction
Limitation on itemized deduction for state tax
Change in tax rate (taxable income brackets)

Since my history may or may not include electronically filing on the last day in a panic at 11pm, I better start earlier this year.

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So You Think You Can Tuft?

I’ve been trolling the Internet for tufted headboards for a very long time. Color, shape, fabric, style – so many choices, but not one seemed exactly right. My bed sits against a slanted wall – room above the garage – so height of the headboard is really a problem.

Since you know I love Pinterest, it won’t surprise you that I started looking at instructions for making my own headboard. I knew it would be a big project and I admittedly was a bit worried if this would be an epic fail.

I searched quite carefully for thorough instructions and found them here. The photos and instructions (including plenty of tips and tricks) seemed easy to follow. Additionally, the author provided cheaper solutions for the common materials.

So a few weekends ago, I embarked on a tufted headboard journey. This post will not be a how-to since the original Pinterest post was great but I will provide some tips and modifications that I made.

I found upholstery grade fabric at a local discount store that buys in bulk. You never know what they will have, but I found the perfect tan cotton suede. For the headboard structure, I used 1×3″ wood for the frame and pegboard for the back. In order to tuft, you have to have holes to pull the button thread through. With pegboard, there are already evenly spaced holes so no drilling is necessary. Brilliant idea from my Pinterest peeps!

As you can see, I had excellent help from my husband. We stapled the frame together, then nailed the pegboard to the frame. The whole process, including sawing the miter joints, took about an hour. We don’t have any fancy tools, just a miter box and hand saw.

Then I took the frame inside to cover it with foam. I bought a piece of 2″ craft foam at Wal-Mart and a twin-size mattress topper. The foam wasn’t quite big enough to fully cover the headboard, but the mattress topper was larger than I needed, so I doubled up a section of the mattress topper to cover the bottom of the headboard. I used spray adhesive to stick the foam to the pegboard and then a bit more adhesive to stick the mattress topper to the foam. I covered the entire board with batting to secure it all together and provide a nice neat covering.
All covered up

Let the tufting begin! First I had to deal with the buttons. I tried two different brands of covered button kits. My fabric was just too thick! So I looked at other button options and decided that regular buttons would work and chose mismatched medium-sized buttons in brown tones. Instead of tying them off from the front, I found it easier to tie them off at the back. I employed my son and husband to help out (both work for food). It was ever so much easier to tie them off and keep the tuft tight when an assistant pushed the button from the front while I tied the back.

The first few rows looked awesome! The tufting was really much easier than I thought. I completed one row at a time and made sure the diamond pattern looked even. To finish off the back, I stapled the fabric tightly all around.

The finished product:

I attached the headboard to the wall with a French cleat. I love how it looks! Finished just in time for my mom’s visit next week.

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All Oats Are Not Equal

Although I haven’t posted in a while, the problem is not that I’ve lacked Pinterest inspiration. In fact, I’ve made a bunch of delicious dishes, most eaten so quickly that I didn’t get a picture. Actually, I’ve completely forgotten to capture the process and result photographically. I admit, I get so excited by serving up the result that I fail to stop for even the minute that it takes to snap the proof. And then it is gone – a forkful here, a spoonful there. The photograph ruined. 

However, there a good number of pins that I will make again, including French Toast Breakfast Muffins, Rustic Strawberry Peach Tart, Brazilian Limeade and Creamy Shrimp and Mushroom Pasta. Maybe I’ll get a picture next time. I will not be making the Baked Salmon with Parmesan Herb Crust again. I questioned putting cheese on fish and should have trusted my instincts. 

This morning, I awoke to a very hungry 11-year-old asking what I was making for breakfast and when would it be done. Given that it was 7am on a Sunday and that I had not had a first cup of coffee (and we were out of San Antonio blend), I shocked myself when I agreed to make something “special”. Evidently, the grits greedily consumed on Saturday were too ordinary for Sunday. I still haven’t purchased a waffle iron (which he has been begging for), so a baked treat would have to do. 

I’m not a big fan of chocolate for breakfast, but I had recently pinned Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Scones that somehow spoke to me in my blurry-eyed review of my breakfast board. I’ve never made scones before but that didn’t stop me from hauling out the ingredients from the cupboard. 

The pre-baked result looked pretty tempting, and the final result smelled delicious! Thumbs up from the boy, but, really, what kid isn’t going to like chocolate and peanut butter for breakfast. The oats made me feel a little better about my “special” breakfast offering. 

Recipe notes: I had to cook it about 5 minutes longer than suggested – maybe mine was a bit thicker than the example. Other than that, a very simple recipe. Also, I don’t keep buttermilk on hand, so I just used the 1-2T white vinegar in milk trick. Let it sit while you are putting the rest of the ingredients together and no one will know the difference. 


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Three-in-One: Pinterest Days 12-14

Every parent knows that Cub Scouts is actually more work for the parent than it is for the kid. Double checking the requirements, collecting the materials, motivating through completion – all tasks in the parent’s unwritten handbook.

Cub Scouts culminates in the Crossover Ceremony where the Cubs become Boy Scouts. Our pack celebrates the crossover with a pot-luck and a themed decorated cake contest. This year’s theme was airplanes.

When Sam excitedly said that he wanted to make a cake, I was not feeling quite as eager. I have always left the decorated cakes to my super-talented sister (some day I’ll tell the stories of the 2-foot tall neopolitan Superhero skyscraper cake transported to the bowling alley and the frosted rice crispy treat castle with moat for the Knights & Dragons party).

But he was very matter-of-fact about participating, leaving me little choice but to get my (read Pinterest’s) creative juices flowing. The first idea we found was a banana airplane as decoration. Super cute! That led to deciding to make a banana cake. But we also had to have clouds so meringue icing was an obvious choice. Three Pinterest finds on one cake – probably not a record, but still impressive. Take a look at the finished product —

Airplane cake

The best part of the project was working with Sam. He really did most of it himself – I think the recent Kid’s Baking Championship on the Food Network was a motivator. I supervised and was on clean-up duty, but he embraced this project. The kicker – he doesn’t like cake – well he says it’s the icing but … :-) He successfully carefully transported his cake to the event and proudly placed it on the table to be judged. The judges awarded him with The Most Outside The Box. He is still smiling about it.

Recipe comments: We probably will try a different banana cake recipe next time. This one was quite dry and more of a banana bread than a cake. But the meringue frosting was fabulous! I’ve had meringue fail in the past, so I had a little trepidation going into the cloud-making project. This recipe was a 10! Not too sweet, very fluffy, and easy to pipe on the cake. I will definitely use this recipe again! And Sam says that he might eat a cupcake if I use this icing :-)

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Be My Valentine: Pinterest Day 11

Several months ago, I found out that the Cub Scout winter camp-out would be on Valentine’s weekend. My husband seemed to take it harder than I did – maybe the dread of winter camping in Maine played a role or maybe it was his image of the Valentine romantic ideal – either way, he was really concerned about my being alone on the holiday. Although I appreciated the concern, I had thoughts of curling up with a good book or binge-watching HGTV or re-painting the stair risers. Thirty-four hours of alone-time is really not that hard to fill and we could celebrate Valentine’s Day on Sunday when they returned.

Then the local meteorologist started to see signs of a serious weather event and Blizzard Neptune was born. Twelve to twenty-four inches of snow, 50 mph winds, negative temps – doesn’t sound like ideal camping conditions. Mainers are tough so the camp-out must go on! Bags were packed and they took out Friday evening.

I started getting texts of happy kids. The facility was nice and warm. Lots of snacks. Fun plans for Saturday. Then dawn arrived and the leaders said “feel free to leave early…the camp site does have a tendency to lose electricity at winds over 25 mph…no one wants to be stuck there”. So by 3pm Saturday, I got a text that (all) the guys were on their way home.

I was not planning a big dinner for myself. Maybe some hummus and pita chips. Nice glass of wine. But my Valentines were on their way home! I quickly looked through the refrigerator and freezer. A nice jalapeño tilapia pasta dish started taking shape. And then I got to dessert. Valentine’s dinner had to have a special dessert!

Thankfully I had a frozen puff pastry in the freezer and some beautiful strawberries. A simple Strawberry Tart with a balsamic honey glaze would be perfect.


Even though it looked and tasted really good, I had some issues during the cooking. I put it in the oven just as we sat down for dinner. Unfortunately, halfway through dinner I started smelling smoke. The glaze had dripped off the cookie sheet and into the oven. Burnt sugar is not a pleasant accompaniment to a nice dinner. My guys were very kind (or well trained to expect burnt offerings). Thankfully the tart was fine so I quickly moved it to a pan with a lip and let it finish cooking.


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Snack Time: Pinterest Day 10

The other day, I really wanted some chips – something salty, something crunchy, something totally not good for me. But I resisted! Instead I turned to the idea factory (aka Pinterest) for a healthier option.

A quick survey of the pantry and refrigerator did not look promising for potential ingredients. Then I noticed the can of chickpeas – perfect!

Less than an hour later I was enjoying Sweet and Salty Roasted Chickpeas. I didn’t make them exactly as the recipe suggested. This time not from purposeful edits but instead from not reading the recipe before starting. The recipe clearly says to roast the chickpeas without the seasoning. Oops – didn’t read that part before all the ingredients were in the bowl. I forged ahead and put them in the oven (I only had one can of chickpeas).

I was a little worried about whether the brown sugar would burn, so I kept an eye on the oven more than usual. Good news – it didn’t seem to matter!

They were perfect, crispy little nuggets! Yum! The only disappointment was that I couldn’t get anyone else in the house to try them. My son “hates beans” and my husband doesn’t like the smell of roasting sugar. Oh well – more for me! I think these would be great for a party. Easy to make and gluten-free. And did I say so easy to make?

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The Frozen Salad Dressing Dilemma: Day 9

We had a beautiful salad last night – spinach, feta & pomegranates – to accompany marinated steak tips. Then I went into the fridge for salad dressing – looking for the balsamic – but what I found surprised me. Both the Caesar and Italian had frozen. Not solid but definitely not the proper consistency. Obviously, shoving dressing to the back of the top shelf is not the ideal storage spot! The creamy dressings seemed to be fine but neither blue cheese or ranch were the right choice for this salad. And no balsamic to be found.

When I expressed dismay at the situation, Hal suggested that I make one (he may have been joking). Little did he know that Pinterest would save the day. Exactly six minutes later, I had made an awesome balsamic vinaigrette.

I made the recipe basically as written with the exception of the minced garlic. We normally buy jarred minced garlic but only had chopped in the fridge. I thought chopped garlic might overpower the dressing and taste too much like raw garlic, so I added garlic powder instead. As the recipe suggests, it is a rather thick dressing, but quite tasty! Perfect for the salad!

When Hal asked if balsamic should be added to the grocery list, I confidently answered “No.” No more bottled balsamic vinaigrette in this house. Not when it is so easy to make fresh. I really hope you’ll try it too!

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Because Sometimes You Need Fries: Pinterest Day 8

I got rid of my Fry Daddy many years ago and rarely fry anything. However, I’ve been really curious to attempt sweet potato fries. Baked would clearly be the healthier option but I like my fries extra crispy and salty. Hard to do in the oven.

The Cuban chicken dish that I made last week suggested pairing with yams. Seemed to be the right time for sweet potato fries!

A Pinterest search led me to a recipe for “the crispiest sweet potato fries” that you’ll make at home. The first taste test didn’t disappoint. My boy loved them! The ones that I sliced most thinly were definitely the best. Perfect with a taste of blue cheese dressing!image

The problem was that several batches later, the first batches were limp and cold. I can’t imagine how you could time dinner to serve everyone hot crispy fries and eat together. Maybe keep them in the oven warmer?

Overall, what a disappointment! And the clean-up was a mess. Reminded me why fried food will be a rarity in our home. Back to baking!

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365 Days of Pinterest: Day 7

Finally, a week’s worth of Pinterest! And I’m already trying variations on recipes.

You may remember that I wanted to add more oatmeal (without the mush or any extra time) to my morning routine. So I tried another recipe for baked oatmeal. Sam wasn’t a huge fan of the last version because of the fruit. So I searched for a recipe with brown sugar and cinnamon to mimic his favorite instant version. image

The recipe that I found is super flexible. Basically, Michigan Baked Oatmeal is fantastic! I used the base idea and added my own ingredients. Someday I might try it exactly according to the recipe but this time I put a southern twist to it.

Instead of almonds and walnuts, I used pecans. And no visible fruit this time! I added applesauce in place of the apples and did not add the dried fruit. A drizzle of maple syrup (from New Hampshire) and it was perfect!image

The top wasn’t quite as crunchy as the last version but the flavor was more satisfying to me. It made plenty so it gave me a few work days of extra which I have enjoyed this week. I could even quickly pack it up if I’m running late. I’ll add a bit more cinnamon next time, but since even my husband (a lunch-for-breakfast eater) liked it, I think it’s a keeper!

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365 Days of Pinterest: Day 6

Sometimes we need a snow day. I mean, we REALLY need a snow day. Honestly, we have a pretty good shot in Maine. This past week did not disappoint!

When the forecast is for blizzard conditions and 24 inches of snow, your office generally is closed. I worked from home so was able to try out a recipe that caught my eye: Cuban Chicken.

We eat a lot of basic roasted chicken. I had high hopes for this recipe with its citrus focus. I actually meant to make it on the previous Sunday but didn’t read the recipe closely enough. We were too hungry to allow for even an hour of marinating time. So the snow allowed for an earlier start.

I prepared the chicken and marinade around 3pm for a 6pm dinner. I didn’t actually get the chicken in until 4:45pm, so it had almost two hours to marinate. The onions, peppers and citrus smelled delicious before I poured them into the pot with the chicken. image

Unfortunately, the finished product just tasted like juicy, roasted chicken. The “sauce” left in the pot was great, but we really needed something to put it on. I think it might have been better as a chicken and rice dish where I just used chicken breast and mixed the marinade with the rice. It could be a good dish with a bit of modification. We’ll see if I try it again. But the snow day was definitely a welcome respite from the typical day. Let it snow!

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