365 Days of Pinterest: Day 4

I have been incredibly busy at work the last few weeks. Closing the books is not for the faint of heart! I’m so grateful that my husband has held down the fort at home – feeding the boy, caring for the pets, and making sure I had clean underwear. But with all the great recipes on Pinterest, I’ve actually missed cooking.

I beat the guys home one day (but just barely) and wanted to resist the urge to pick up fast food. We had some leftover pasta and ground turkey as a start but needed a green vege. Given my limited time, I searched for a quick, healthy recipe with green beans (since they were almost past their fridge life).

Roasted Green Bean Fries to the rescue! Green beans

We’ve roasted plenty of vegetables – Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, even okra – but I’d never thought to roast green beans. They are delicious! I really just used the idea from Pinterest rather than the recipe since I didn’t want to make a dipping sauce. I coated the green beans lightly with coconut oil and garlic salt and popped them into the oven for 25 minutes.

I wouldn’t say that they could replace French fries, but they were pretty darn good green beans. My 10-year-old ate them with his fingers, so maybe they can pass as finger food. I liked the roasted flavor and the coconut oil seemed to create a slightly different crunchiness than olive oil. I can’t wait to try the dipping sauce when I have more time. But for a quick side dish and a replacement for steamed green beans, this recipe rocks!

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365 Days of Pinterest: Day 3

Please note: My commitment to this blog has been on a temporary furlough due to my day job. But now I’m back!

I have been busily pinning but also trying some fabulous recipes. My Feeding the Family board has some awesome ideas that will hit the dinner table soon.

A couple of weekends ago, we had some ground turkey that was nearing its “use or freeze” date. I didn’t have much time to cook and the pantry was not stocked with our typical go-to foods. Then I remembered that I had pinned a turkey mini-meatloaf recipe that might do the trick.

BBQ Turkey Meatloaf Cups

Basically, this is a meatloaf recipe for the time challenged! I can’t tell you how many times that our meatloaf is still cooking after the sides are ready. You will never have this trouble with this recipe. Short cook time and perfect little individual loaves.

image

The recipe filled ten muffin cups with one package of ground turkey. The only ingredient that omitted was green peppers since I didn’t have any (and really don’t care for them anyway). I also didn’t have any cauliflower so I didn’t try the mashed cauliflower topping. Next time!

We all really liked the meatloaf. Good flavor for ground turkey that can be quite tasteless. My son complained a bit about the carrots, but I thought they were a great addition. I’m not sure that the muffin tins would work with beef since the fat content is so much higher than turkey. A definite addition to the dinner rotation!

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365 Days of Pinterest: Day 2

For several years, I have made it a New Year’s tradition to clean out the refrigerator. Purging expired salad dressings and open barbecue sauce just feels good!

While investigating the various bottles and jars, I opened the crisper drawers and was appalled by the disorganization. Fruits and vegetables all mixed up! Onions and apples in both drawers!

What a mess!

What a mess!

I have typically separated the items by fruit in one and vegetables in the other, but I had no idea why. Pinterest to the rescue!

Evidently the humidity level (determined by the little slides on the drawers) really does matter. Some fruits expel gas (ethylene) that causes them to rot if the gases are contained. This would include apples, pears, avocados and pitted fruits. Leafy green vegetables do not expel theses gases and are properly stored with the slide closed to keep the moisture in. Interestingly, strawberries and watermelon should be stored in high humidity since presumably they are sensitive to moisture loss.

I’ve rearranged the drawers but I had too many fresh items for them all to fit. I kept the bagged spinach and salad out to give the drawers some breathing room. The article suggested that ideally the drawers would only be 2/3 full. Maybe this will also help me see the old stuff that seems to sit on the bottom and offend my olfactory system.

I’m certain that this organization will go out the window after the next trip to the grocery, but I’m happy to have learned the proper way to store items in the crisper drawers.

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365 Days of Pinterest: Day 1

On the first day of Pinterest my true love said to me, “Why do you want to do this?”

I love Pinterest! So many ideas, so little time. Since I found Pinterest (albeit I was late to the party), I have made some pretty tasty recipes and renewed my love of crochet. I have boards for fashion, food for family meals, organizing tips and more. Sending my sister ideas for her new house couldn’t be easier!

So I thought it might be fun to see if I could use Pinterest in some way every day for a year. Not a New Year’s Resolution, just something fun to do. Here goes for Day 1:

Mexican Pancakes pinterest mexican_pancakes_009

My ten-year-old son loves pancakes. On regular school days, there’s no time for pancake-making, so it has become a bit of a tradition for me to make pancakes on the weekend. I stopped using a mix when I found when a great fluffy pancake recipe. Also, I generally make them with wheat flour so I feel a bit healthier.

By the way, if you don’t know about King Arthur flour, you should really look them up. An employee-owned company in Vermont that does school visits and teaches kids about bread-making. Our entire elementary-school community made bread to support the local food pantry thanks to this generous company.
King Arthur flour

I pinned a recipe for Mexican Pancakes that tasted just like churros. Who doesn’t love churros! We had planned enchiladas for our New Year’s Day meal, so I thought these pancakes would be perfect to start the day and keep with the theme.

The recipe said that it made 12 pancakes, but I made 21 pancakes. Glad I have an electric griddle – otherwise I would have been cooking for quite a while. Griddle

Once I realized that I’d have way too many pancakes, I cut back on the amount of syrup that I made. Browning the butter and adding the warm maple syrup made a delicious sauce – very sweet – but perfect for the pancakes.

No lie, they tasted just like a churro. My guys liked that they were thinner than my normal fluffy pancakes. They loved the maple syrup/brown butter on top. So I think they were a success!

Here’s my version – with a side of bacon:

Yum!

Yum!

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IRS Offers Rainbow After Storm

Hurricane Sandy has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on the eastern shore of the United States. While my New York family generally fared well in the storm, hundreds of thousands of folks have been displaced, are still without power or are sorting through waterlogged possessions. The impacted include small and large business owners who have seen payroll tax due dates come and go while they are sorting through the mess.

Thankfully, the IRS has issued several relief provisions related to Hurricane Sandy. The first was IRS News Release IR-2012-82 that extended the deadline for filing any returns and making payments due on October 31 until November 7, 2012. This relief included all taxpayers and tax preparers affected by the storm. The relief is automatic – meaning that the taxpayer does not have to file anything to get it. If a penalty is assessed, the taxpayer just needs to call the IRS and request penalty abatement due to the storm.

More specific relief was provided yesterday in IRS News Release IR-2012-83. Taxpayers in specific counties in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have extended filing and payment deadlines. All payroll and excise tax returns due for the third and fourth quarters (normally due between October 31, 2012 and January 31, 2013) are due on February 1, 2013. Individual estimated tax payments normally due on January 15, 2013 will be due on February 1, 2013. All interest, late-payment or late-filing penalties applied will be abated automatically. The IRS is also waiving penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits due after October 30, 2012 through November 26, 2012 if the payments are made by November 26, 2012.

Additional relief was announced in IRS News Release IR-2012-84 related to qualified disaster relief payments. These payments made by an employer or any person can be excluded from the recipient’s taxable income. Qualified disaster relief payments include amounts used to cover personal, family, living or funeral expenses that are not covered by insurance. In addition, payments can be used to repair or rehabilitate personal residences or repairs or replace personal goods that were not covered by insurance. Because Hurricane Sandy is a qualified disaster, employer-sponsored private foundations may provide disaster relief to employees who are victims without losing their tax-exempt status.

This type of penalty relief is often issued after major weather events, however with the magnitude of the storm and its focus on a US financial capital, many taxpayers will take advantage of the extensions. It relieves stress by extending paperwork deadlines and deferring cash payments. This relief is critical to recovery efforts – offering a rainbow after the storm.

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End to the Payroll Tax Holiday

I don’t know if you heard, but the AARP does not support an extension of the Social Security tax cut scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. Neither does the Obama administration. Romney remains silent on the matter which is likely confirmation that he doesn’t either. Without an extension, every working American will pay an additional 2% in tax starting on 1/1/2013. Experts say that the average American will pay an additional $1,000 annually as a result of this tax cut expiration – a $38.46 reduction to your biweekly paycheck. You’ll feel the hit in the first paycheck in January as your take-home pay goes down.

To figure out the impact to your pocketbook, you can do a rough calculation using 2% of Social Security wages on last year’s W-2 (Box 3). For a per paycheck amount, just take the Social Security wages off a current pay stub times 2%. In 2012, you are only taxed (for Social Security purposes) on the first $110,100 of wages, so if you make more than that, your additional tax is $2,202.

If you want to get more precise or you are expecting different wages in 2013, you’ll need a bit of knowledge on the difference between Social Security wages and gross wages to do the calculation. Probably good to understand it anyway.

Start with gross wages (your salary including bonus). Subtract the employee cost of medical & dental insurance. Subtract any dependent care deductions. Subtract any parking or subway pass deductions. This calculation will get you pretty close to Social Security wages. Multiply by 2% to get the additional tax you’ll pay annually.

We don’t know what Congress will do, but experts seem to agree that the payroll tax holiday will not be extended. So plan ahead and include this additional tax in your budget for 2013.

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Finding My Strengths

I moderated a mini-StrengthsQuest seminar for my co-workers today. If you aren’t familiar with the Now, Discover Your Strengths book by Buckingham/Clifton, you should really check it out. The online assessment that comes with the book identifies your top “Themes”. By understanding your themes/talents, you can develop strengths for personal and professional success.

I had taken this assessment about ten years ago with a previous employer, put the book on the shelf, and kinda forgot about it. When I dusted it off a few weeks ago, I found that the themes still really resonated with me. My top themes are Individualization, Maximizer, Ideation, Input and Learner. None surprised me – more like self-evident truths.

As I reflected on my themes, I realized that writing is an obvious outlet and use of my strengths. The Input theme is about collecting information. The Ideation theme is about putting disparate ideas together. The Individualization theme is focused on knowing people and creating ways to connect with them as individuals. The Learner theme creates a never-ending quest for knowledge. The Maximizer theme takes a good idea/process and makes it better. It also sometimes prevents me from putting an idea out there until it is perfect. Like this blog —

So (big sigh), I’m going to move beyond my perfectionist tendencies and put my ideas/collections/learned knowledge out there for you to read. I promise, the next blog entry will be less personal and contain more information. In the meantime, consider going on your own StrengthsQuest.

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Freed from the Burden

Understatement of the year — the tax code is complicated. Have you ever looked at the instructions to most tax forms? The IRS prints an estimate of the amount of time required to complete the form – or as they call it on the Form 1040 an “estimated average taxpayer burden.” The 2011 Form 1040 estimates a burden of 22 hours and an average cost of $290. No joke!

Not content to leave well-enough alone, a new form was developed for the 2011 filing year – the Form 1099-K. If Form 1099-K is not familiar to you, it is an information form requiring companies that process credit and debit cards, including third party network payment providers such as PayPal , Amazon and Google, to report to merchants the total transactions that they processed. There are exceptions – fewer than 200 transactions and less than $20,000—but lots of businesses have received these forms this year for the first time. By businesses, I mean big businesses, small businesses, nonprofits, and sole-proprietors.

So if getting new information forms wasn’t bad enough, the IRS had proposed requiring businesses to reconcile the amounts reported on Form 1099-K to their tax returns. Why is this a bad thing? Well, first the payment processors only have information about what amount of cash was transferred to settle the transaction. They don’t know anything about returns, sales tax, tips, store credits, etc. Second, tax reporting has never much cared how a business was paid – check, credit card, debit card, PayPal, cash, etc. In order to properly reconcile, I would assume that you need to split your receipts based on how the customer paid. Not fun!

The National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) fought this proposal tooth and toenail. So this week’s announcement that the IRS will abandon its plan to require reconciliation should get a big “YEEHAW” from business owners – and maybe a thank you note to the NFIB. Despite the good news, caution is still in order. You may not have to formally reconcile on your return, but large discrepancies between receipts and Form 1099-K will likely trigger an inquiry from the IRS. So, use the information from the Form 1099-K to do a reasonableness check on your gross receipts.

Your tax burden just got a little lighter — quick step on the scales before the next IRS announcement that might not be as favorable!

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Feeling Grateful

My Google mailbox flashes snippets of news, the word of the day and thought-provoking quotes. Today’s quote from William Arthur Ward was “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

I hate to admit it, but I’ve done that – both not expressing gratitude timely and wrapping presents and never giving them. I just ran across a wedding gift for a college friend in my packing for our move from Texas to Maine. She got married at least five years ago. I have a baby present for a former colleague sitting on my dresser. The baby was born 9 months ago. These things make me ashamed and probably mean that I’m not that great of a friend. Or at best it just means that I have good intentions but terrible follow-through.

Just like this blog. I certainly did not mean to abandon it, but five months is a long time to be away. I can come up with a good number of excuses, but that’s what they’d be – just excuses. So, whether the topic of this blog is of interest to anyone or just a way to express my inner author, I am recommitting to this blog.

To relate this blog to today’s quote, I am grateful to the IRS for offering Free File. The IRS announced today that Free File is available for 2011 returns. Free File enables many folks to use brand-named tax software to prepare and electronically file their tax returns for no charge. For higher income folks, the IRS offers Free File Fillable Forms (try saying that three times quickly).

I am an e-file convert. I had my doubts that an electronically filed tax return was better than a paper filed one. When I’m giving away that much money, it is frankly more satisfying to sign my name to a paper document than approving an on-screen return with an e-signature. However, I believe that the IRS is much more likely to process my return properly if I e-file it. Do you remember the little problem that the IRS had several years ago with overworked employees failing to process returns and letting them sit in the corner untouched for years or thrown into the trash? An e-filed return is unlikely to get “lost” before it is processed by the IRS computers.

So go forth and e-file as of today! And I’ll work on getting those presents delivered.

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Living together doesn’t always get you benefits

The IRS has won one against folks who are dating and living together. A couple in Massachusetts were dating. She moved into his house that he had purchased by himself. They agreed to share in the expenses of the household, including the mortgage. They improved the house together and agreed to share in any profits from the house if they sold it. They had a child together. He stopped working and became the primary caregiver for their child. So she was paying the mortgage and household expenses by herself. Common enough story, so let’s look at how they filed their taxes.

For several years, she did not ask to be an owner in the home. He claimed the entire home mortgage interest deduction on his tax return. Some time after she started paying all the expenses, they agreed to become joint owners of the home. It took them several months to get the paperwork filed and she became an owner in June of 2007. She claimed the home mortgage interest deduction for the whole year.

The IRS audited her return. They disallowed the interest deduction for the time that she was not listed as an owner of the residence. Their argument was that she did not have the obligation to pay the mortgage nor the risks associated with home ownership prior to June, so she was not entitled to the mortgage interest deduction for that part of the year. The IRS won.

To me, this case highlights the disparity between the law and equality. I can’t change the law (at least not very easily), but I can point out that agreements between two people that make economic sense do not always produce equitable results from a tax perspective. The result would have been different if the couple was married because they would have filed a tax return as married filing jointly. The result would have been different if she had become an owner in the house as soon as she started paying part of the mortgage.

The moral of the story (if there is one) – Living together doesn’t always get you the benefits you think you deserve.

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